Freshman seminar offerings increase

This year’s freshman seminar program boasted several firsts — including the first freshman seminar taught by a School of Art professor, titled “Paper,” and “Varieties of English,” the first freshman seminar in linguistics — and the new Yale College Seminar Office is just getting started.

Officials at the new office — which will oversee both the freshman seminar and residential college seminar programs — are planning to diversify the freshman seminar program to include historically underrepresented fields, including the social sciences and the fine arts. But despite the number of courses the office has added this year, the number of students applying to these seminars has continued to outpace the number of spots available.

Now housed in one office, the Yale College Seminar Office is being overseen by Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs George Levesque. History professor John Mack Faragher, who now serves in the newly created position of director of undergraduate studies for the freshman seminar program, will focus on recruiting professors in Yale’s professional schools as well as in Yale College.

Because Faragher’s appointment did not go into effect until the beginning of the new fiscal year in July, Levesque was largely responsible for recruiting new professors in the freshman seminar program for the 2009-’10 academic year.

“We encouraged faculty to the see the freshman seminar program as an occasion to do something they might not otherwise do,” Levesque said. “It’s like a laboratory, a nice environment to try new things and be a bit more adventurous.”

Music professor Seth Brodsky is new to the freshman seminar program this year, but his “Music and Melancholy” course is not new to Yale College.

“I created a prototype of the course a few years ago and I told my students at the time that it would be an experiment,” Brodsky said. “I wasn’t sure if I would teach it again.”

But after a fellow music professor told Brodsky that his class might be appropriate as a freshman seminar, Brodsky worked with the seminar office and other faculty who have taught in the seminar program before to further develop the course. All 18 spots in his seminar were taken as of last week, Brodsky said.

Even as the seminar program expands, student demand continues to exceed the supply of courses within the program. Levesque said the seminar office received 713 applications for 460 spaces in 26 seminars this fall alone. (Each student is allowed to apply to up to five seminars.)

Jordi Gassó ’13 applied to only one seminar, the political science course “Ethics of War,” which had the highest number of applicants of any seminar this semester, and won a spot in the course.

“It was the only seminar that drew me in,” Gassó said. “I like the pace of the class, [and] I like the professor’s method of teaching. It’s very intense but you learn in a very dynamic way.”

Harriet Weaver ’13 said she was taken aback when she did not win a place in her top choice seminar, “The Viking Age,” nor in any of the other four seminars to which she had applied.

“Now I realized I shouldn’t have been [surprised],” Weaver said. “There were tons of students applying for really small seminars.”

During his tenure as DUS, Faragher said he plans to focus on meeting student demand, eventually planning to increase the size of the program to as many as 70 seminars from the 48 offered this academic year. More important than simply adding courses, Faragher said, will be strategic growth.

“Two thirds of all [freshman seminars] taught have been taught by humanities faculty,” Faragher said. “I’m interested in increasing [the number of courses taught by] scientists and social scientists, which is my assignment for this year particularly.”

The freshman seminar program began in fall 2004 with 16 seminars.

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