Freshmen adapt to curricular changes

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Blue-Booking freshmen may appear to speak a different language than upperclassmen this week as they navigate new curricular terms, tossing around acronyms such as L, QR and WR. They are part of the undergraduate curricular changes that go into effect this semester for the Class of 2009, overhauling Yale’s distributional group and foreign language requirements.

The curricular reforms, which were recommended by the 2003 academic review, require members of the Class of 2009 and subsequent classes to take two courses in each of six categories — humanities and arts, social sciences, natural sciences, quantitative reasoning, writing and foreign language. The changes will not effect upperclassmen, who will continue to take courses in the traditional four distributional groups.

“I don’t think it’s any more difficult to understand the new requirements than the old requirements,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. “Freshmen, because they’ve never had any other system, will take to this quickly, and upperclassmen won’t have to understand it.”

Though the changes require students to take writing and quantitative courses, Salovey said the changes still constitute roughly one-third of a student’s course requirements at Yale.

Administrators and faculty members have taken steps toward implementing the curricular changes since faculty members overwhelmingly approved the reforms in November 2003. Last spring, two faculty councils for the quantitative reasoning and natural science categories reviewed more than 400 syllabi to determine how courses should be classified.

“Quantitative reasoning — that’s a whole new requirement that we’ve never had before,” said Astronomy professor Charles Bailyn, a member of the curricular review committee. “We’ve had to come up with some new courses, and also to recast some of the existing courses.”

Some former Group IV introductory courses in computer science, statistics and astronomy have been re-tooled to satisfy both the quantitative reasoning and natural science requirements. In that sense, the changes may also affect upperclassmen who enroll in those classes, Bailyn said.

Unlike upperclassmen, all freshmen must study a foreign language during their time at Yale regardless of their level of proficiency upon matriculation. Language course descriptions now include level designations of one through five, depending on the difficulty of the course. Members of the Class of 2009 must take one to three language courses, depending upon their level of skill upon entering Yale.

In order to accommodate students with advanced language skills, departments created new upper level language courses. In addition, some lecture courses in a variety of disciplines will offer sections incorporating a foreign language, Bailyn said.

“I think upperclassmen will benefit from some of the changes and some of the new courses that are being offered,” he said. “The so-called L5 courses — those are really interesting-looking courses, there’s been a whole bunch of new courses that have been invented.”

Incoming freshmen received information outlining the new curricular requirements over the summer, and faculty members, residential college deans and freshman counselors have been briefed about the changes, Salovey said.

Jeremy Ershow ’06, a Saybrook freshman counselor, said significant time during the four-day orientation he and other counselors went through was dedicated to the new curriculum. He said most counselors now feel prepared to field questions from freshmen about the new requirements.

“I think that for us we know our stuff and we’re well trained … and we should be able to give all the necessary advice,” Ershow said.

But freshmen counselors may no longer be able to provide the same kind of insider advice about courses, Branford College Dean Thomas McDow said.

“A lot of upperclassmen spend time gaming the system,” McDow said. “That conventional wisdom, old wives tales maybe won’t have the same value.”

Rachelle Alpern ’09, who is considering taking courses in the sciences this fall, said she has not thought much about the new requirements and does not think they will be particularly problematic.

“I figure it’ll just be something that’ll just work out,” Alpern said. “But the Blue Book was impossible.”

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