Community audits courses

Betty Lou Blumberg and Sue Cohen are just two of Yale College’s many auditors.
Betty Lou Blumberg and Sue Cohen are just two of Yale College’s many auditors. Photo by Joy Chen.

Every Monday and Wednesday, Betty Lou Blumberg and Sue Cohen claim the same spots in room in Linsly-Chittenden Hall for the English lecture “The American Novel since 1945” — the back row of the right section.

The two students, who have been friends since they met in New Haven over 50 years ago, are not slackers. The 74-year-old women say they are grateful to take Yale courses as auditors, even if they do not consider themselves a part of the Yale community.

“If Yale weren’t here, it would be terrible to live in New Haven,” said Blumberg, who grew up in New Haven and teaches two English courses at Quinnipiac University in Hamden. “We would be bored out of our minds.”

But while Yale allows students and a specific set of University affiliates, as well as all alumni, to audit classes without receiving academic credit, community members with loose or no ties to Yale make their own agreements with professors based on a mutual respect for continued education. For those with no connection to the University, this is the only way to study at Yale, which offers free public lectures and online courses rather than formally inviting community members to participate in the classroom.

To the formally registered auditors and informal participants, these options are no replacement for the intellectual experience of a course at Yale.

WELCOME TO STAY?

According to the Yale College Academic Regulations, only Yale students, faculty, employees and their spouses may audit courses for free, though employees and spouses of affiliates must request permission from the Yale College Special Programs Office. Alumni auditors must register through the admissions office’s Alumni Auditing Program and pay a $500 fee per term course. Through this program, Associate Director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions Patricia Wei said that between five and 10 new auditors are admitted each term. Faculty are directed to keep out all additional auditors.

Blumberg and Cohen maintain vague relations to the University: Blumberg was a fellow of the Yale Shakespeare Institute in 1959 and has ties to the Yale Center for British Art. Cohen worked as a psychology research assistant for a little more than a year. Though they did not register through the Alumni Auditing Program, Blumberg and Cohen said their professor, Amy Hungerford, gave them permission to sit in on the course.

When the women audited their first course, “A Guided Tour of the Constitution” with Yale Law School professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 in fall 2009, they were not directed through a formal process. Last spring, Blumberg and Cohen simply showed up for Alexander Nemerov’s 330-person introductory History of Art lecture.

“I felt very guilty about that,” Blumberg said about going to class without permission, “but it was in the Law School Auditorium and there were many, many seats.”

Soon after, Blumberg said she felt compelled to stay after class and introduce herself to Nemerov. She told him she wasn’t sure that she should be in the course, but Nemerov told her she was welcome to stay.

Nemerov cannot definitively say how many people are auditing his course this spring, though he estimated about 10 adults and a handful of undergraduates e-mailed him for permission to do so. He speculates that there are likely more people who attend. Last Monday, a student’s father and a hospital volunteer were both in class to visit for the day.

“How can you possibly police your classroom? Anyone can come in,” Nemerov said. “There’s a rule against it, but if you really want to take it you can.”

As undergraduate auditors filter in and out, Nemerov said, a core group of interested adults remains in the course. This semester, according to director of Yale Summer Session Kathryn Young, around 60 students have formally registered as auditors throughout Yale College. On average, she said there are 80.

Because of the size of his lecture course, Nemerov may not know each of the auditors individually nor their auditing status. Still, Young said she believes most community members who audit classes do go through this registration process.

“IT’S LIKE CATNIP”

Blumberg and Cohen have yet to miss a lecture this semester. Cohen explained that neither felt it was their place to ask to join a section, joking that “at least there will be no papers!”

While Coordinator of the Hebrew Program Ayala Dvoretzky said her program is open to auditing, she expects participants in Hebrew seminars to fully commit.

“For us, they are regular students,” she said. “I don’t care if you are an auditor. You participate, you do everything that’s needed.”

Because the number of auditors in each seminar has remained low, Dvoretsky said that faculty in her program have yet to turn anyone away. All participants had some ties to Yale, she said, including a graduate from the class of 1945 who took one of her Hebrew courses last year. The perspective he brought to the other students was “priceless,” she said.

Auditor Kem Edwards ’49 audited his first course in 1996 while working for the alumni fund because he wanted to learn how the University has changed since he earned his English degree at Yale. Since then, the 82-year-old Edwards has audited an additional 100 courses ranging from biology to economics to Chaucer through the Alumni Auditing Program.

“Once I got started, wow. It’s like catnip. You just can’t stop,” Edwards said. “I took one nice course after the next … In fact, I think that there’s very few that I wasn’t that crazy about.”

Edwards said his professors always make him feel welcome, though he said some students may mistake him for a professor — or another student’s grandfather — when he walks through campus.

Arthur Nacht DRA ’06 has only audited 10 courses thus far, but he said Edwards is a great role model. Formerly involved in corporate finance and the holder of an MBA from Harvard Business School, Nacht, 63, finished a master’s degree in theater management from the Yale Drama School in 2006. He now works from New Haven as a consultant for non-profit theater companies and pays to take classes through the Alumni Auditing Program.

One of the perks of staying put after finishing his degree, he said, is the opportunity for he and his wife to audit courses.

“If you can afford it, it’s quite a bargain,” Nacht said. “Yale College is a great school. Anytime you can audit a class that deals with a subject that’s of interest it’s really a gift.”

IVY AUDITORS

All auditors interviewed said they are grateful for the opportunity to take courses at Yale, but not all are clear on the rules — even after spending years in the classroom.

Blumberg said she feels it is important that Yale know she and Cohen are willing to pay to participate in an auditing program, though no formal option exists that would allow non-Yale affiliates to audit classes.

“My wish is that there would be that kind of program at Yale and that I wouldn’t feel like I’m intruding,” Blumberg said.

For the past 15 years, the University of Pennsylvania has offered a Senior Auditing Program to Penn affiliates and community members 65 or older. According to the Program Coordinator Lauren More, about 150 community members participate each term, paying $500 per course. Many stay for more than one semester, she said.

“We target senior citizens because we feel like they’re at a point in their life where they want to continue their education but don’t necessarily need a degree,” More said.

Any community member is eligible to participate in Princeton University’s Community Auditing Program, established by the university in 1999 and now managed by the school’s Office of Community Affairs. Auditors pay $125 per course and may select from a list of about 200 classes, though they must sit in the back row, cannot call or write professors and are asked to refrain from commenting during class. Auditor enrollment is limited to 10 percent of the undergraduate enrollment in the course.

Still, Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget said between 600 and 700 residents participate in the program each semester, with preference given to Princeton residents and alums.

Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, former associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said there is no need for such a program at Yale in an e-mail Sunday.

“In my many years living in New Haven and working at Yale, such programs have never been a major issue raised by any of our neighbors,” Morand said. “I wouldn’t need a second hand to count the total number of times anyone has raised the topic, and I can’t recall anyone raising it at all in recent years.”

Yale allows select New Haven high school juniors and seniors to take courses in Yale College for free and for credit, he added.

Morand, in addition to most of the auditors, faculty and administrators interviewed, said Yale offers many intellectual opportunities to affiliates and New Haven community members alike, including free museums, master’s teas, online Open Yale Courses and public lectures.

Edwards said he understands why Yale tries to place limits on its auditing program, adding that he believes a completely open program could detract from community education programs at surrounding colleges and universities. The purpose of any adult education program, whether at Yale or another institution, is to stay sharp and keep learning.

“At the age of 82, if you don’t keep moving, you slow down,” Edwards said. “There’s a great deal that we need to learn to do to keep our minds open and functioning and I think this is a marvelous way to do it.”

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    The late Professor *Jastrow’s Earth Science* course was the rage at Dartmouth in 1986.

    He kindly allowed me to sit in on the 300+ student lectures, and even to attend his weekly seminar, at no cost with no forms to fill out. His lectures did not disappoint.

    As a newcomer to the Upper Valley at that time I was deeply grateful for this connection to the world of ideas.

  • ds747

    Excellent article! It’s nice to finally know who those elderly women in my english lecture are.