Yale’s unique residential college seminar program will undergo a review this year under the watch of a new joint committee of faculty and students.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said the review will not be cursory and will fundamentally reexamine the seminars.
Conceived in 1969, the program has brought Yale students into classroom contact with nationally recognized lobbyists, journalists, pediatricians and even furniture makers, many of whom are not Yale professors.
Under guidelines set by the Committee on Teaching in the Residential Colleges, the program originally served two purposes — to give students a chance to take seminars under instructors who were not members of the Yale faculty, and to give tenured professors a venue for testing new courses.
But three decades later, Brodhead said he does not feel either purpose is being served completely by the program.
Fewer outside instructors teach the courses, and tenured professors now have more room for experimentation in their own departments, he said.
Headed by Berkeley College Master John Rogers, the committee features three other faculty members, two students, a residential college dean and representatives from the Yale College Dean’s Office.
“This new review committee is eager to explore ways for the program to build on its well-established strengths and to suggest paths for improvement,” Rogers wrote in an e-mail.
While some residential college seminar instructors have no affiliation with Yale whatsoever, many are doctoral candidates and graduate students who have special interests in topics not covered by the curricula of Yale College’s myriad academic departments.
Under current guidelines, the program offers up to 36 courses per year, each of which is usually sponsored by two of Yale’s 12 residential colleges.
Students in the sponsoring colleges get first preference for admission to the often-competitive seminars.
Jonathan Herczeg ’03, one of the committee’s two students, said he is unsure exactly what aspects of the program he will help to evaluate, but added that his own experience with residential college seminars has been positive.
“I did take a seminar last year with former Common Cause director Ned Cabot [’60], and we studied immigration at the same time as he was representing an immigrant before a Hartford court,” said Herczeg, who co-coordinates Branford College’s seminar selection process.
“He’s a lawyer, and his real world experience certainly added to the course.”
Herczeg said he didn’t think the course was “any less scholarly” because Cabot is not a Yale professor, but he did say that he thought Cabot “wanted to have fun with the course.” This notion translated into a class trip to Mory’s.
English professor Paul Fry, who is head of the Committee on Teaching in the Residential Colleges, would not comment extensively on the program, but he said he supported Brodhead’s decision.
“The best thing is just to wait and see what the appointed committee has to say,” Fry said in an e-mail message yesterday. “I’m delighted that Dean Brodhead has appointed a committee, which those involved in the program have been awaiting eagerly.”