Seminar offices combine forces

The Yale College Dean’s Office will centralize the administration of freshman and residential college seminars into a single office beginning in fall 2009, the office announced this week.

The new Yale College Seminar Office will join the two programs, which currently operate separately, under the direction of George Levesque, the assistant dean of academic affairs. The new office will recruit faculty to teach seminars and handle paperwork affiliated with the courses. Departmental seminars, however, will still be managed by individual academic departments.

“This office centralizes and focuses our existing resources and efforts to maintain a vibrant freshman seminar program and renew our long-standing commitment to residential college seminars,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said in a statement.

Levesque said the motivation behind the move was twofold. In part, he said, the office is intended to streamline both offices by consolidating administrative support. Residential college seminar coordinator Cathy Suttle will relocate to SSS, and Clare Schlegel, currently a senior administrative assistant in the Dean’s Office, will serve the new, combined office.

Before the shift, Suttle was the only person in charge of administering the residential college seminar program, Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said. She had no secretarial support because her office at 35 Broadway was isolated from other University operations, Gordon added.

The new office will also allow the two seminar programs to collaborate and share ideas, Levesque said.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Levesque said. “We want to signal the importance of seminars, particularly for students who have not yet specialized.”

A new position — director of undergraduate studies for the freshman seminar program — will also be created, to be filled by John Faragher, professor of history.

Faragher, who taught his first seminar, “Violence and Justice in America,” this semester, said the course has been one of the best teaching experiences of his career.

“It’s been a revelation to me,” Faragher said. “Freshmen are so enthusiastic and willing to learn that they are wonderful subjects for the learning experiment.”

As DUS, Faragher said he hopes to increase the number of freshman seminars offered. Next year, there will be around 40, but Faragher said he does not think that will be able to meet the demand. Faragher said he also hopes to encourage social science faculty to teach more seminars.

In addition to uniting the two extant seminar programs, the seminar office could also become a “logical home” for a sophomore seminar program, should administrators decide to discuss such an idea.

Since September, the Sophomore Class Council has advocated for more of the sophomore-only courses, SCC Chair Sonia Gupta ’11 said, adding that she is looking forward to seeing what action the office could potentially take. Gupta said the University’s commitments to existing college seminar programs and its efforts to increase seminar offerings for freshmen pose obstacles to a more formalized sophomore seminar program.

“I think making one office will help bring sophomore seminars more into focus,” she said.

The decision to create the Seminar Office was made by the Yale College Dean’s Office in conjunction with Judith Krauss, the chair of the Council of Masters, and the Committee on the Freshman Year.

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