For Yalies, still no urban studies program

Although the number of interdisciplinary majors at Yale has increased substantially over the past decade, a growing body of students and faculty would like to see one more added to the Bluebook — urban studies.

While majors like Ethics, Politics and Economics (EP&E) and Architecture allow students to pursue a concentration in urban studies, Yale does not offer an urban studies major. Yale’s urban studies website lists over 50 courses that pertain to urban studies, but some students and faculty feel that the lack of an urban studies department makes it difficult to create a cohesive plan of study, which puts Yale a step behind its peer institutions. Several other Ivy League schools — including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Brown, Cornell and Princeton — offer undergraduate programs in urban studies.

“Right now, if you are interested in urban studies you have to seek out a lot of the opportunities through different paths,” said Alan Sage ’14 who plans to work in urban development after graduating. “There isn’t much cohesion, and I think a major would provide that.”

Urban studies at Yale has a storied past. When Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02 was a sophomore at Yale in 1968-’69, he planned to major in city planning — a program that was under the School of Architecture. But that same year, the major was cut because it was perceived as being too “pre-professional,” Gitlin said. He said that the major was replaced with a single introductory course, called “Study of the City.”

Since that program was cut, Gitlin and several other faculty members have expressed interest in launching an urban studies program. In 1994, four professors from different departments came together to create “New Haven and the American City,” a class about cities that uses New Haven as an example. Both Cynthia Farrar ’76 and Alan Plattus ’76 helped create the class 20 years ago with the hope that this would help jump start an urban studies major. But 20 years later no official program or major has been institutionalized.

“Yale is increasingly open to the idea of interdisciplinary work and I think if there were a commitment by faculty to this, it could certainly happen,” she said. “What it needs is a group of faculty being able to devote time to it. And that’s the challenge.”

In 2001, Farrar along with several other professors in an Urban Studies Committee drafted a proposal to make urban studies a correlated program, which students could complete in addition to their major, similar to a minor. But in 2002, the committee withdrew the proposal because it did not align with the administration’s vision for a correlated program.

“It just wasn’t a good fit between what we wanted to do and what they wanted correlated programs to do,” Plattus told the News after the committee withdrew the proposal.

Since 2002, there have been no formal proposals for an urban studies major. But professors and students interested in the field are continuing to work towards increasing urban studies opportunities at Yale.

In an effort to facilitate the process of locating urban studies classes at Yale, architecture professor Elihu Rubin ’99 revamped the urban studies website last fall and compiled a list of the Yale classes related to urban studies. He said that the website had not been updated for at least three years.

For Rubin, urban studies does not necessarily need to become its own major. He said he just wants to ensure that students interested in the field have ways to pursue it, whether that be through more classes, speaker events or modifying the website to better relay information to students.

“My attitude is one step at a time. I think that there are a lot of ways to strengthen the urban studies community at Yale and many of us are working to do that,” Rubin said. “I think that down the line, it may be that turning it into a formal major is the best path, but its not absolutely necessary in order to students to pursue urban studies.”

President of Yale student organization Urban Collective Josh Isackson ’15 agreed that there are a number of options for students interested in urban studies. He said that even if there were an urban studies major, he is not sure whether he would choose it over the architecture major with an urban studies concentration.

Still, Isackson supported the creation of an urban studies major because the cohesive department would mean more funding for speakers and research projects, he said.

But other students and faculty said that there is no excuse for Yale not to have an urban studies program. Drew Morrison ’14, who is focusing on urban studies within his political science major, said that in a time where more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in an urban environment, Yale should put more focus on studying cities.

“As a University interested in public service and how the world works, for Yale to not show an interest in cities is to miss the ball on what the 20th century is about” Morrison said.

Gitlin, who now teaches in the history department, agreed, noting that most Yale graduates move to cities like New York or D.C. Gitlin said that he plans to bring up the idea of an urban studies major to other faculty this May, when they get together to select a recipient of the Richard Hegel Prize for a Senior essay on New Haven. Gitlin added that Yale’s location in an urban setting is an added reason to offer an urban studies program.

“One of the attractions and problems of Yale is that we are in an urban environment. I think we owe it to ourselves to know more about the city and the relationship between Yale and New Haven,” he said.

Yale’s new urban studies website was launched on Nov. 3, 2013.

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