Highlighting and underlining courses in a Blue Book, officially known as the Yale College Programs of Study, may soon be a thing of the past.
In an effort to be more environmentally friendly and to save money, the Yale College Publications Office will likely allow students to opt out of receiving a hard copy of the Blue Book for the upcoming academic year, administrators said — a first step toward potentially eliminating the books entirely. The new option not to receive the printed Blue Book is contingent upon approval later this month from the Registrar’s Office, which must determine whether it can implement the new system. The option will not be available to freshmen, who will automatically receive the Blue Book in the mail.
“My mandate is to reduce unnecessary expenses,” Laurie Ongley, managing editor of University Publications, said. “But I don’t presume to know which students consider the YCPS necessary and which don’t.”
‘NOT READY FOR THAT DAY YET’
The proposed change comes after a similar move at Harvard University, which announced earlier this month that it would eliminate the print versions of many of its own major publications, including its course handbook. And while the new option still requires official support from the Registrar’s Office, Ongley expressed confidence in an interview that the measure would be approved.
Every spring, Yale undergraduates receive an e-mail from the registrar’s office asking them to either confirm the address to which they want their Blue Book sent, enter a different address, choose to have their book held at the University or decide to have it priority mailed. This semester, though, students may have a fifth option — not to receive one at all.
Students who choose this option will not be without course selection materials, Ongley said. They will still have access to the Online Course Information system as well as the HTML and PDF versions of the Blue Book. Those who choose to go online-only will also be entered into a raffle for gift certificates to the Yale Bookstore.
“Some students already do most of their course searches online,” Ongley said, adding that she does not know how many students might choose to opt out. “It doesn’t make sense to print a 644-page book for those students. They’re just going to throw it away.”
The opt-out alternative will serve as a gradual test to gauge student support, Associate Dean of Yale College Penelope Laurans said. While Laurans noted that students have cherished hard-copy Blue Books for generations, dog-earing and underlining them, the current generation may feel differently about them, she said.
Laurans said she thinks that an online version of the book would not be the same as a physical copy. Yale College Dean Mary Miller agreed.
“I’m not ready for that day yet,” Miller said of the potential elimination of the printed volume.
THE SUSTAINABILITY PERSPECTIVE
Yale College Publications has a long history of trying to be more environmentally sustainable, Ongley said, and administrators have been discussing elimination of the Blue Book since at least 2003. Over the past several years, various handbooks — including those for professors, sophomores and directors of undergraduate studies — have been made online-only. In 2006, Ongley’s office circulated an online survey to all undergraduates asking about their usage of the Blue Book.
“Students unequivocally told us to keep the print YCPS,” Ongley said.
Following this survey, the publications steering committee agreed that the Blue Book had to stay. And it will stay for now, at least — as long as students want the volume, Ongley said, it will continue to be printed. But when there is a critical mass of students in favor of elimination, and when instructors and administrators are onboard, the Blue Book may go online only, Ongley said.
Recent budget cutbacks have added a sense of urgency to the Blue Book initiative, as more than 12,000 Blue Books are printed each year at a cost of $3 apiece. Mailing all of the Blue Books costs about $2,000, Ongley said.
But the most important motivation, Ongley said, was the University goal of reducing Yale’s carbon footprint.
Melissa Goodall, assistant director of the Yale Office of Sustainability, said she thinks the new option is a “wonderful idea.” But she said she had some qualms about the phrasing of the option.
“From the sustainability perspective, it makes 100 percent sense,” Goodall said about the option in its current form. “But I would rather see an opt-in program. A lot of students will default to the easiest thing.”
She said she thinks students will choose to browse course options online not just to be sustainable but also to be efficient.
“[Students] are fully immersed in digital culture, and I don’t think the physical book would be missed,” Goodall said.
Still, although the 15 students interviewed said they primarily use OCI for course selection, nine said they will likely choose to receive the Blue Book. But if the book were to be eliminated altogether, 13 of the students, including Alison Grubbs ’12, said they would not be greatly affected.
“It’s a nice resource, but not necessary,” Grubbs said.
Another student, Andrew Tschirhart ’10, said that he would opt out if given the choice but that the administration should improve online course software before eliminating the Blue Book. He said he would like the Online Course Selection program to allow students to begin adding classes to their course worksheets as soon as courses are put online rather than waiting until days before the semester begins.
John Gambell, the University printer, said some of Yale’s graduate and professional schools are considering similar initiatives to reduce distribution of certain publications, but he declined to specify which ones.
“I think Yale should be strongly considering a Web-only approach to publishing when it comes to administrative documents that don’t have a promotional content to them,” Gambell said.
The School of Drama, the Law School and the School of Management distribute hard-copy course bulletins to all students, while the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Public Health offer them only to incoming students. Administrators at the School of Public Health are currently discussing whether or not to continue distributing hard copies to students. The School of Medicine provides its course bulletin to students in digital form only, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Divinity School will follow suit in the fall.