College seminars begin to expand

In spite of a recent decrease in the number of seminars offered, Yale is seeking to expand the program’s reach.
In spite of a recent decrease in the number of seminars offered, Yale is seeking to expand the program’s reach. Photo by Earl Lee.

After a sharp decrease in course offerings last year, the residential college seminar program is looking for ways to expand.

The program has traditionally comprised over 20 seminars per semester, but that number dropped to 12 last spring after former director Catherine Suttle retired and the program went under review. George Levesque, assistant dean of academic affairs and acting director of the residential college seminar program, said he plans to up the number of classes next semester while still maintaining equity between colleges by approving two or three seminars to be sponsored by Yale College as a whole in addition to the 12 hosted by individual colleges.

“It’s largely a way to have some flexibility with the number of seminars we offer in a given term as well as to have a mechanism for hosting courses that might create extraordinary demand,” Levesque said.

This semester the program has 13 seminars, one of which is sponsored by Yale College. Levesque said he cannot predict when the number of offerings will return to previous levels, but he added that the program must first have adequate funding and infrastructure.

While the program remains at its diminished size, the number of students hoping to take its courses each semester far surpasses the number of available seats. The 12 residential college-sponsored seminars received an average of 56 applications each, and about 300 students applied to the Yale College seminar “Great Big Ideas,” which presents key concepts in a variety of fields. Levesque said the University may offer another version of “Great Big Ideas” in the spring in light of the course’s overwhelming popularity.

Lauren Phillips ’12, a student member of the Yale College-wide seminar committee, said she thinks the seminars draw such great interest from students because they cover topics not often addressed in academic settings. She added that she wishes the program could accept more of the course proposals put forward by instructors.

“There are so many fantastic course proposals that we have to turn down every year because we can only take 12,” she said.

Students are not the only ones lining up to take part in the college seminars: the program has received far more course proposals from instructors than it can accept. Residential college selection committees must choose from 36 proposals for next semester.

Levesque added that the additional Yale College seminars might include courses for undergraduates taught by faculty and staff from the professional schools.

Levesque said he is working with students to develop more efficient systems for evaluating this influx of instructors’ course proposals. In the past, he said, potential instructors have interviewed with residential college student committees on different nights, and he would like to arrange all the interviews on one day so that instructors do not have to make multiple trips to New Haven.

“There are major advantages to coordinating the interviews to one night,” said Joseph Gordon, dean of undergraduate education. “Non-local instructors are much more likely to put themselves forward of they do not have to make multiple brief visits but instead accomplish this goal with a single trip.”

The 12 seminars offered last spring received over 100 applications each on average.

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