Letter: A case for mandatory section

Re: “Officials mull future of section” (April 26): The news that more lecture courses may have optional rather than compulsory sections is alarming, and would be more alarming were not Jon Butler still dean of the Graduate School and very careful, as ever, with the intellectual and personal needs of graduate students. I cannot speak for sections across the curriculum, but in the English Department and in other departments of the humanities, sections are vital to the education of both undergraduates who take them and graduate students who teach them. Years ago, it was possible to earn a Ph.D. in English without having taught a class, and for several decades it was possible to earn a Ph.D. without having been taught anything about teaching a class. We have come a long way since then — a long and happy way that could be reversed if lecture courses in English had optional sections rather than required weekly sections well-monitored by professors who meet regularly with their TFs and visit their sections.

Yale is still the preeminent teaching university in the Ivy League, and we have good reason to take pride in the attention we give both to graduate students as future teachers and to undergraduates, whose most intense intellectual confrontations are more likely to come in great section moments than in passive audition of lectures.

It is true that, occasionally, the needs of graduate students and the needs of undergraduates do not overlap. Sometimes small sections are maintained rather than combined to make one large section because graduate students need the teaching experience. And sometimes, though thankfully very rarely, a graduate student who is not particularly gifted is assigned a second semester of teaching because we have a contractual obligation to provide two semesters of teaching experience. In the interest of economy and the undergraduates, it might be necessary to cut back the teaching commitment to graduate students to one semester and leave further semesters of teaching as plums for the worthy. But we need to make sure that there are plenty of plums!

Leslie Brisman

April 26

The writer is the Karl Young Professor of English.