Alums to go Greek in a summer DS program

Just one week after a new Directed Studies summer program for alumni was announced, nearly half of the 36 available slots are already filled.

Alumni will each pay $6,500 to attend lectures and seminars inspired by the year-long, Directed Studies program in the humanities for freshmen for two weeks in late May and early June. Administrators said they are pleased that 14 alums have already signed up for the program, which focuses on selected Greek texts taught at the beginning of the freshman course, despite its length and steep cost, which covers meals, lodging and cleaning services in Swing Space.

“I’m excited by this,” said Pamela Schirmeister, the director of the program and an associate dean for Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “It’s not a small amount of money, and it’s a big time commitment for working adults.”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the program is intended for both graduates of the Directed Studies program who wish to revisit the texts, and also for those who wish they had taken the courses as freshmen.

Charles Hill, a diplomat-in-residence who will teach seminars on the history of politics, said many people regret not studying the foundational texts included in the syllabus. The course will include books such as the “The Republic” by Plato, “Metaphysics” by Aristotle and “The Odyssey” by Homer.

“Without understanding these texts, it’s hard to understand what is happening in the world today,” he said.

Humanities lecturer Norma Thompson, who will lead the philosophy seminars in the program, said she expects to see many recent graduates who work full-time take the course this summer.

“What I hear from alumni that come back is how little they read because there’s so much demand on their time, and they miss it,” she said.

Jane Levin, director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies, said she had expected retired alumni to show the most interest in the program since many people cannot afford to take two weeks off from work. But Schirmeister said that while some of the registered participants are in their 70s, several of the 14 people registered graduated less than 10 years ago. She added that she was surprised that the program garnered interest from such a broad demographic.

Thompson and other professors in the program said they do not expect the age difference to change how they teach, but it could alter the discussion. Thompson said having years of life experience under one’s belt changes how a person analyzes a text.

“They’re looking back on their lives instead of looking forward,” she said. “I predict it won’t be as spirited, but it will have something different.”

Miller said the program’s intellectual focus distinguishes it from other programs for alumni. The Association of Yale Alumni offers many trips to foreign countries that provide participants with reading lists, she said, but no program puts such an emphasis on the texts themselves.

While Schirmeister said she expects more than enough applicants to fill the 36 slots, which are allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis, the program may open to those outside the Yale community if there is space.

Schirmeister said interest in the program would determine whether it continues in future years. The program will cover only the Greek texts freshmen study at the beginning of Directed Studies, she said, in part to leave open the possibility of offering the next part of the syllabus next summer.

Directed Studies began as a two-year program in 1946, Levin said, and in 1976 adopted a one-year structure with sections on philosophy, literature and the history of politics.

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