Declining enrollment spurs DS to action

The Directed Studies program is taking advantage of Bulldog Days for its own recruitment.

At a panel today, the Directed Studies program — a competitive freshman year survey course of the classics of Western Civilization — will feature former and current students alongside Timothy Dwight Master and DS professor Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 to pitch the program to potential Yale students. The panel is a first for the program, according to DS Director of Undergraduate Studies Kathryn Slanski, who said the effort comes in response to declining enrollment.

“As far as I know, our numbers have been decreasing a little bit over the last five years,” Slanski said.

Slanski added that, in light of the economic recession, declining enrollment speaks more broadly to students being less eager to pursue the humanities while facing a shaky job market. This trend has also been seen across humanities departments at Harvard and Stanford, Slanski said.

Looking forward, Slanski said that the focus of the Directed Studies faculty is not on reforming the program internally but on changing the way it is presented.

“We have thought about how to make our point clear that if you study the humanities, you know how to read and analyze difficult texts, and you know how to write persuasively and participate in discussions in a positive and persuasive manner,” Slanski said. “We haven’t thought about how to make it clear to people who are concerned about their futures that these are precisely the tools you want to have.”

Classics and humanities professor Joshua Billings, who teaches literature in the DS program, said that a potential reason for the decline in enrollment is the program’s reputation as a major time commitment that prevents participants from studying topics beyond the humanities. David Goldman, a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy who also teaches in the program, said DS consumes “a tremendous amount of time” and is in competition with many other opportunities for freshmen.

Political science professor Steven Smith, who teaches a DS section of History and Politics in the fall, said fewer freshmen are committing to Directed Studies because they are discouraged by older students. Smith said that before students arrive on campus they are exposed to a “concerted propaganda effort,” largely initiated by those who did not take Directed Studies, who claim that the program puts a strain on student social life — an opinion with which Smith said he vehemently disagrees with, pointing to the strong alumni base of DS.

“The fact that there are people out there with a deliberate effort to undermine the program indicates a shameful ignorance of an important piece of Yale history,” Smith said.

In addition to the Bulldog Days panel discussion, DS is also launching an “ambassador” program, where DS alumni can answer questions from prospective students. The ambassadors will host a brief meet-and-greet during Bulldog Days.

Reed Morgan ’17, who left the DS program after one semester, said he decided to branch out in order to take courses with a greater amount of specificity in contrast to DS’s broad survey format.

But Marianna Gailus ’17, a current DS student, said she appreciates having DS map her classes out for her, saving her the hassle of shopping for classes and figuring out her schedule.

Another current DS student, Russell Cohen ’17, said the social aspect of Directed Studies is underplayed, adding that he has made a great group of friends from his participation in the program.

For prospective students interested in DS who will not be able to attend Bulldog Days, the informational panel will be filmed and made available online.

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