Students lobby for health major

The Yale College Council urged the Health Studies Advisory Committee to expedite the creation of a new health studies major on Wednesday night, and passed a resolution calling on the University to create new courses in the field — the first step in the process.

The authors of the YCC resolution said the administration has not moved quickly enough to expand course offerings in health studies or to incorporate students into discussions about the possible new major, which was recommended by the Committee on Yale College Education Report in 2003. Administrators said they have made progress toward adding classes in public health, but recruiting faculty members and designing a curriculum will take more time.

Robert Nelb ’08, who co-wrote the resolution, said he brought the issue of health studies to the YCC because Yale is not fulfilling the goal it set for itself in the CYCE report to add courses on health in the disciplines that would comprise a health studies major.

“If the University doesn’t make it a priority, it’s just not going to happen,” Nelb said. “We as students are just keeping them in check.”

Nelb said an online petition he designed that asks the University to create a health studies major has garnered more than 100 signatures to date.

William Segraves, an associate dean of Yale College who is working on the health studies program, said the committee’s short-term objective is to create new public health courses that could become part of a new major. The administration has committed resources for the new classes, he said, and epidemiology and public health professor Elizabeth Bradley will teach a new political science course on the U.S. health care system next year.

But administrators said they will not reach a final decision on the prospective new major for at least two years, while the University identifies faculty who can teach health studies courses. While resources are already committed to fund new classes, the creation of a major will require greater funding from the University, Segraves said.

“The challenge in building a new program like this from scratch is to make sure that before we announce the new major, we have a critical mass of faculty in place to support the new coursework and the administration of the new major,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.

While a new major is not planned for the immediate future, Segraves said a Web site is planned to provide a comprehensive list of relevant courses offered throughout the University for students interested in public health.

Faculty and administrators working to develop new health studies courses said undergraduates would benefit from a concentration in public health because of its relevance to social and economic problems worldwide.

“It’s become clear over the last couple decades that issues of health and fighting disease … are at the center of processes of development,” said economics professor Christopher Udry, who sits on the health studies committee.

At the YCC meeting on Wednesday, students said the current options for undergraduates interested in health studies are too limited. While many students major in history of science, history of medicine in order to study public health, YCC representative Govind Rangrass ’08 said, the HSHM major’s emphasis on history rather than social science does not match the interests of many students pursuing an education in public health. The new five-year joint master’s degree in public health program offered through Yale College and the School of Public Health is too selective to satisfy all students interested in public health, and it may not be a plausible option for students considering medical school, Rangrass said.

But Irving Ye ’07, the only YCC representative to vote against the resolution, said he was concerned that a health studies major could become a de facto “premed major.” While a health studies major could be useful, Ye said, he would only support its creation if it had a curriculum that emphasized social science rather than the prerequisite courses for medical school.

Salovey said a major in health studies might be structured as a second major akin to international studies, so students would have to acquire a disciplinary specialty as well as the interdisciplinary expertise of a public health program. It might be possible to institute a second major within two years, he said.

“I’m interested in moving more quickly too, but I don’t want to sacrifice quality,” he said.

A health studies major would likely incorporate courses from a number of different disciplines, administrators said, including economics, political science and the natural sciences.

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