New course draws guest lecturers

Political science professor Jacob Hacker GRD ’00 is listed as the instructor for “Gateway to American Public Policy,” but by the end of the semester, he will have delivered only four of the lectures.

The course — which will include lectures from former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, Democratic political strategist Stanley Greenberg and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert — is the latest to feature a series of visiting lecturers instead of a single professor. Hacker said he modeled this spring’s course after “Gateway to Global Affairs,” first offered by the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs in fall 2010. Administrators acknowledged that the unconventional format, which is also used by several science courses, sometimes sacrifices continuity, but they said it gives students valuable exposure to experts in a variety of fields.

“The main benefit is that students get a relatively unmediated view of what makes public policymakers tick — what drives them, how they think about complex issues and how they do the analysis necessary to make tough decisions,” Hacker, who directs Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, said of his course.

Hacker said he gave the first three lectures to provide context for the rest of the course, and he will deliver the final lecture to review the topics covered. He has discussed themes of the course with the instructors, Hacker said, and he plans to film the guests and share the videos with subsequent lecturers.

He added that lectures by experts provide insight into policy making processes that academic sources often struggle to convey.

Lecturers for “Gateway to Global Affairs” have included retired four-star Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former New York Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn, former CIA director James Woolsey and Richard Goldstone, United Nations chief prosecutor for the Bosnian and Rwandan war crimes trials.

“There is a real advantage to hearing about energy policy and national security from the former director of the CIA or having a set of classes on the war in Afghanistan run by the general who oversaw the war there,” said Jim Levinsohn, director of the Jackson Institute and instructor of “Gateway to Global Affairs.”

Seven students interviewed who are currently enrolled in Hacker’s course said they are excited to engage with well-known policy experts, but three of four students who have already taken “Gateway to Global Affairs” said while the visiting lecturers have much practical experience, they often struggle to deliver engaging lectures and build on previous material.

Gavin Schiffres ’15, who is taking “Gateway to American Public Policy,” said he was drawn to the visiting lecturer system because of the complexity of public policy issues. Nate Janis ’15 and Hamp Watson ’12, political science majors who are also taking Hacker’s course, said they enrolled for the opportunity to directly question the guest lecturers, who may not have had their ideas challenged by students.

“You don’t normally get to engage with the people you learn about,” Janis said.

But some students who took “Gateway to Global Affairs” said while the lecturers are experts in their field, many of them lack strong teaching skills.

Arvind Mohan ’14 said many of lectures in the fall 2010 course were “dry,” but he thought that the class had the potential to succeed if professors selected the right guests.

Margaret Zhang ’14, who took Levinsohn’s class in 2010, said the best lectures were given by guests who were already professors, and other lecturers struggled to clearly communicate their ideas, she said.

Directed Studies, a yearlong freshman humanities program, is based on a similar model of lectures by experts in the field, but it draws only from Yale professors.

“Yale has extraordinary resources among those teaching and lecturing in D.S., and where the humanities are concerned, there is no need to seek outside help,” said Howard Bloch, director of Directed Studies. “Every instructor attends every lecture, and the lectures, which develop as a coherent sequential conversation over the course of the semester and the year, are among the most meaningful students will encounter in their undergraduate days.”

Jane Levin, director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies, added that the involvement of Yale professors in survey courses allows students to discover teachers whose courses they wish to take in the future.

“Gateway to American Public Policy” currently has 121 students enrolled, according to Course Demand Statistics.

Comments

  • highandelm

    “There is a real advantage to hearing about energy policy and national security from the former director of the CIA or having a set of classes on the war in Afghanistan run by the general who oversaw the war there,” said Jim Levinsohn, director of the Jackson Institute and instructor of “Gateway to Global Affairs.”

    Sorry, professor Levinsohn, but James Woolsey was a horrendous lecturer who clearly spent no time preparing for lecture every day. The sections he taught were incredibly disorganized and scattered, and, frankly, I had a “real advantage in hearing about energy policy and national security” from my TA than I did from Woolsey. The guest professors need to understand that they aren’t just giving aimless talks where everyone will sit in awe at the fact that they’re famous — they should be here to actually teach.