With only 45 students per class, International Studies is one of the most exclusive programs at Yale.
But while the major itself may be selective, its curriculum is less so, covering subjects from architecture to religion to globalization. As a result, some have questioned the cohesiveness and legitimacy of the program.
While some have found the curriculum too broad, others have found choosing among only three senior seminars too limiting. This required yearlong seminar has become a problem for a few students, even prompting withdrawals from the major.
Ishai Eshkol ’02 said he dropped the program, which only is offered as a second major, after a year because of its lack of organization and focus.
“I was really excited to be an international studies major,” Eshkol said. “I lived in five different countries and I speak three different languages. It seemed like it was meant for me, so it was very hard to drop the major. But there are some things I won’t do to pad my resume.”
Yet others have defended the major and the program has made significant strides in its decadelong existence. This past year, political science professor Charles Hill began teaching “International Ideas and Institutions,” a yearlong course required for all juniors in the major and a course that both professors and students have called a success.
And although plans are not yet definite, the program may offer an introductory international studies course for non-majors as well as an economics class geared toward majors in the near future, James Vreeland, the program’s director of undergraduate studies, said.
Vreeland said there are no plans to make international studies a stand-alone major and that it functions well in its current state.
“[I’m] very happy with the major,” Vreeland said.
Too broad a focus?
As indicated by the diversity of affiliated courses, international studies is a broad major that offers a wide range of potential areas of focus, but it is also one that some have said lacks focus.
While more than 75 percent of the students have made political science, economics or history their primary field of study, the International Studies Program has no specific disciplinary focus. Vreeland described the program instead as “broad” and “interdisciplinary.”
Classes as diverse as “Environmental Geoscience” and “Financial Theory” can count toward the major.
Eshkol thought the program was too broad but said the one redeeming aspect of the program was Hill’s seminar. Eshkol added that he was initially apprehensive that the course would be a superficial survey class because it covered so many topics, but was ultimately impressed by Hill’s ability to create an interesting and organized course.
International Studies chairman William Foltz said Hill’s course has been an important step in bringing a sense of cohesion to the program. But citing the broad nature of the field, Foltz added that the lack of a rigidly structured curriculum is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Coherence isn’t necessarily the greatest of virtues,” Foltz said. “[International studies] is something in which an individual is put out there to find and seek their own coherence.”
Nilanj Desai ’02 said he likes the current system and does not believe International Studies could be any more focused than it is now.
“The reason they only offer it as a second major is because by nature it’s not comprehensive or coherent,” said Desai, who is an international studies major. “It works with a lot of majors and gives them an international focus. So given that view, I think it’s a great program.”
Richard Ullman, a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said the curriculum at Princeton is also very interdisciplinary.
“I don’t think anybody in this field has a clear mission or a clear purpose,” Ullman said. “It’s too lumpy a subject. A cohesive program with a set of goals or missions would come at the price of intellectual rigor.”
“A crapshoot with pretty good odds”?
Following Hill’s required junior core course, international studies majors are required to choose among three senior seminars.
Vreeland said the program tries to create three different types of seminars — one on a particular region of the world, one on the developing world, and one on the industrialized world. Vreeland added that while the vast majority of seniors are satisfied with their seminars, there are always a few students who end up unhappy.
“It’s a crapshoot with pretty good odds,” Vreeland said.
Eshkol, a victim of this “crapshoot,” said that even though he was admitted to his first-choice seminar he thought the class was “painfully boring and desperately disorganized.” He also said that he was particularly disappointed because his expectation was that the senior seminar would be the most rewarding portion of the major.
“It used to be all about the senior seminar because that’s when you get to really dig into the major,” Eshkol said. “But it’s really not. Now, it’s all about Hill’s junior seminar, so where does the major come into play? My only regret is that the major failed me, not the other way around.”
But Vreeland said that for the majority of students and professors, the senior seminars are usually “a wonderful experience for everyone involved.”
Overall, Vreeland said he is happy with the current state of the international studies major.
“[I’m] confident that it’s one of the strongest majors in the University,” Vreeland said.