College seminars popular, overbooked

Oversubscription to residential college seminars this semester has frustrated many applicants, but the classes’ popularity makes it more likely that the seminar program will continue next fall.

With the program under review and offerings limited, seminars received exceptionally high numbers of applications — five of six instructors interviewed said they evaluated over 100 applications for 18 spots. However, chair of the committee reviewing the residential college seminars John Rogers said he and his colleagues will recommend that the program continue next fall, adding that he was delighted to hear about the high level of interest.

“[The large number of applications] is a clear and loud student declaration of the importance and the value of the college seminar program, and it confirms our stance that it has an important place in the Yale College curriculum,” he said.

Rogers said the provost’s office will ultimately have to provide the funding to secure the future of the program, but Deputy Provost for Academic Resources Lloyd Suttle said student interest is one of many factors that will be taken into consideration when his office makes a decision.

Because the program is under review, administrators chose to offer seminars that had succeeded in the past, but did not introduce any new ones, and only 12 seminars were offered this semester, compared to 22 last spring. Last fall, the 21 residential college seminars offered each received an average of nearly 57 applications — far fewer applicants than for this semester’s courses.

Rogers said it is unfortunate that so many students had to be turned away this semester but added that this is only a transitional period. He said his committee has not yet determined whether it will advise a return to what was previously a normal number of seminars or an increase.

Still, some students are disappointed that so many people were denied.

“Students are paying a lot of money to come here,” said Sudharshan Mohanram ’13. “If there is a demand, people should have the opportunity to take [a residential college seminar].”

The residential college seminar office encouraged instructors to give preference to seniors, particularly those who have never taken a residential college seminar, a policy that is consistent with past years. Instructors varied in how closely they followed this recommendation, but all six interviewed said they admitted few underclassmen. Henry Fernaine, who was the executive producer for the movie “Revolutionary Road” and is teaching “The Business of Film Production,” said he admitted only seniors.

Katherine Urban-Mead ’13 said she does not think seniors should have preference, since senior year is the last chance for students to take all Yale courses, not just residential college seminars.

“It seems kind of strange,” she said. “It would be one thing if there were senior seminars like we have freshman seminars.”

But other students said it is appropriate that seniors have a better chance because other students have more time to take a seminar.

Rogers said this preference to seniors is one aspect of the program that his committee is analyzing, and he said he thinks it makes sense that seniors have priority.

The committee is also analyzing the application process. Most instructors said they like the current system, in which student are limited to 500 characters in their application, and said they think there is enough space to gauge applicants. Alfred Guy, whose seminar, “Science Fiction and New Ideas of Human Nature,” received 155 applications, said it is easier to distinguish between large numbers of students when the responses are short.

But David Berg, who is teaming up with politician Howard Dean to teach a seminar called “Understanding Politics and Politicians,” said the pair felt they needed more information to decide which of their 190 applicants to admit. He said students cannot understand the nature of his course by simply reading the short description, so he and Dean have invited 50 applicants to come to the first class on Wednesday. For the first hour of the class, Berg and Dean will talk about the course and field questions, he said, and then they will ask the students to “do something,” on which he declined to elaborate because he does not want the students to prepare for it.

Because of the reduction in seminars offered, students could apply to only two residential college seminars and could only enroll in only one. Last year, students could apply to three seminars and enroll in two.

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