Science courses for non-majors aren’t second-tier

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see the News advocating closer intellectual ties between science and the rest of Yale (News’ View: “Bridging the Science Hill-center campus gap,” 1/14), and I agree with much of what you recommend. But I was distressed to see you reinforce the myth that science courses specifically designed for non-scientists are necessarily a second-rate option.

If, as you suggest, science majors and non-science majors require different grading schemes and different exercises, it makes little sense for them to listen to the same lectures.

In fact, introductory courses for majors and non-majors have different purposes. In one case, they need to lay a foundation for future study; in the other, they must hit the high points of the field for students who will not study it further. In scientific and technical disciplines, these goals are often incompatible.

Ideally, science courses designed for non-majors can serve the same purpose as literature courses in which Homer is taught in English. Both accept some losses in translation in order to render the great achievements of humanity accessible to a wide range of students. Both deserve the best efforts of students and faculty alike.



Charles Bailyn ’81

Jan. 16, 2005

The writer is Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Astronomy and chairman of the Astronomy Department.

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