For some professors, Obama trumps classes

History professor Matthew Jacobson’s midday lecture, “The Formation of Modern American Culture, 1920 to the Present,” among other 11:35 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. classes, will be canceled today. Instead, he said, Inauguration Day itself will serve as the lecture.

Jacobson’s students are assigned to “study the day,” he said, by interviewing people, analyzing the media coverage and reading news reports by different sources, including the international press and the black press.

According to Yale’s online course selection system, 113 undergraduate classes are scheduled to be in session at noon today when Obama is sworn in. Of 29 professors who responded to inquiries from the News, 12 said they would cancel class, three said they would end class early and 14 said they would teach as scheduled.

Jacobson himself will be in Washington, working on a documentary and contributing material to National Public Radio. He said he will share some of his own work with students on Thursday, when his class of over 100 students will reconvene to discuss the inauguration.

The other professors who have canceled their classes may not be able to relate the inauguration to their course as much as Jacobson can, but in interviews, they said they still feel that the inauguration will be a historic moment that neither they nor their students should miss.

That’s not to say canceling class came easily for many of them. Jonathan Schell, who teaches the lecture “Dilemmas of the Nuclear Age,” said on Saturday that he was unsure about whether to hold class today. But by Sunday, with the inauguration 48 hours away, he decided he would not.

“I think there’s a terrific will to see it and it would be a pity to deprive people of the opportunity,” he said. “Somehow seeing it on a TiVo isn’t the same thing.”

Schell said he will ask his students to watch the swearing-in in the Luce Hall common room, which is upstairs from their original classroom. Although his class will not discuss the inauguration directly, he said he will discuss Obama’s nuclear policies later this semester.

History professor David Blight, who teaches “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877,” agreed that the inauguration “is an extremely important event.” While his class is from 10:30 to 11:20 a.m., Blight said he might have canceled the class had it met right at noon, even with the obvious difficulty of rescheduling a 300-person lecture.

“I have looked forward to this all of my life given the subject I teach, and I’m not going to miss it,” he said.

While the Yale College Dean’s Office has no official opinion on the matter, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she is “sure faculty members who suspend their classes for all or part of the time of the actual inauguration tomorrow will plan to make those classes up.”

But some professors said they consider class time too valuable to cancel or postpone. History of art professor Robert Thompson, the master of Timothy Dwight College, said he will hold his class “From West Africa to the Black Americas: The Black Atlantic Visual Tradition” at the scheduled hour and dedicate it to Obama.

Whether or not students actually come to class, Thompson and the other professors said they will stick to their syllabi. Anthropology professor Andrew Hill said that although he would prefer to watch the inauguration live, he thinks his teaching takes precedence. However empty the classroom, he said, he will be in the Environmental Science Center, lecturing on the geological context of human evolution.

Still, the professors predicted they would not be teaching to an entirely empty room — and many students seemed to agree. “I don’t think it’s the kind of moment that absolutely needs to be experienced in real time,” said Hunter Wolk ’12, whose film studies class on Tuesday was canceled.

But of course, Wolk noted, “it was a very nice thing” for his professor to cancel class.


  • typical

    Did professors cancel class for Bush?

    This makes no sense.

    Adding another national holiday following MLK Day is not what our nation needs in the midst of a recession.

    Get back out and work people.

  • ex-Democrat

    From the weird Obama cult of personality, to his embrace of big-government and deficit dove love, there is one thing this election has done.

    It has pushed me over the edge to libertarianism. Democrats/Republicans are fools. The political class are the real thieves and crooks.

    Let liberty and property and the rule of law reign. Not subsidies, bailouts, quotas and planning.

    We are a one-party system now. Republicrats all.

    We are screwed. Get ready for the economy to absolutely crash.

    Martial law could be coming sooner than you think.

    Instead of a "New, New Deal" we will be getting a New, Dark Age.

  • Jammy

    Elis pay way too much for these professors to be canceling classes. If they cancel classes, they should give students a partial refund.

  • Bob

    Come on, it's Formac, it's not like the lecture has any content anyway. :)

  • Proud AmStud Alum

    Go FORMAC yourself, Bob.

  • Anonymous

    This isn't about a liberally biased university, this is about an historic moment that should be celebrated for what it represents, and studied for what it tells us.

    And our attending classes doesn't help the national economy one bit. Not attending classes doesn't hurt it one bit, either.

  • nonsense

    This was a dog and pony show. No more, no less. I would expect my fellow Yalies to be able to see beyond the rhetoric.

  • anonymous

    Well written piece on a potentially problematic topic - the slobbering over obama by all institutions liberal - including universities and newspapers.