For 60 years, the Directed Studies program has had Yale undergraduates read the great books of the Western canon. But it is through the writing of a book that the program may firmly establish its own place in history.
Under the guidance of Jane Levin, director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies, Justin Zaremby ’03 is conducting research to pen a historical account of the program, concentrating on its evolution and political implications.
“The purpose of the book is to place Directed Studies at the crossroads of American democracy, liberal education and Yale,” Zaremby said. “It will deal with lots of issues that still affect the University today, like the role of liberal education and the concept of Yale as a breeding ground for leaders.”
Zaremby is a staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.
Currently in its preliminary stages, Zaremby said he is planning to finish writing the work at the end of the academic year and have it published by the spring of 2003, when a D.S. reunion may take place.
Although plans for the gathering are very preliminary, Levin said a reunion is something she potentially would like to have.
It was approximately a year ago that Levin and Maria Rosa Menocal, director of the Whitney Humanities Center, first toyed with the idea of creating a historical account of the program.
“I think the tercentennial provided the idea of a retrospective look at Directed Studies — how it was founded, how it has evolved, how it has affected Yale,” Levin said.
Former Yale College Dean William DeVane started Directed Studies in 1946 as a response to World War II and the higher education issues that resulted from it.
“It was DeVane’s way of holding back the influence of the German university, which gives us things like grad schools, which are focused on research,” Zaremby said. “DeVane wanted to make sure that Yale would maintain its higher standards of liberal education when the American public was questioning how useful such education was.”
Both students and faculty praised D.S. for its ability to withstand time and continue to thrive, despite changing political and social climates.
“Views about what is academically of merit and views of politics change over time,” Humanities professor Charles Hill said. “And it’ll be interesting to see how those changes have affected D.S..”
Zaremby said the program’s survival is impressive, especially in comparison with attempts by other institutions.
“Directed Studies has lasted for nearly 60 years when others couldn’t last for more than five,” he said. “It’s always reacted to cultural and academic changes in the University, so it’s not a stagnant program, but the ideals of the program have maintained themselves since the founding.”
It is precisely this timeless aspect of the program’s ideals that has attracted political science professor Steven Smith to it.
“It’s unique because of what it has retained,” Smith said. “If anything serves as a common core at Yale, Directed Studies does. It’s a survival from the past, when universities had common core curriculums.”
The survival of D.S. over half a century is all the more noteworthy after considering the academic climate of the 1970s, political science professor Norma Thompson said.
This era saw the rise and development of new fields, such as women’s and gender studies, Thompson said. But consequently, many great books programs like D.S. were criticized for their Western focus and eventually discontinued.
Despite the influence the program has had on Yale, not everyone was impressed by Zaremby’s project.
“Yeah, it’s a good program, but I don’t know if it’s worthy of having a book written about it,” D.S. alumnus Jason Wrubleski ’04 said.
But Thompson said the book could serve a valuable purpose.
“I’m looking forward to reading the book,” Thompson said. “The history of Directed Studies will tell us a lot about the history of higher education. It’s worthy of historical notes because there aren’t any other programs that are in the same league as D.S.”