To the Editor:
The proposed ER&M major has many merits. It would introduce students to a rapidly growing field of great significance in international relations, and to the ever-expanding role of global viewpoints in the modern world. However, great care needs to be taken by the administration not to create a major simply because it might be “useful” to people seeking employment in such a field.
Yale has always been a liberal arts college, a fact that has set it apart from its peers. Other schools concentrate on the development of skills to be used by professionals, and thus do not attract the sorts of creative, intellectual student minds that Yale, Harvard, and Princeton do year after year.
The reason for the perpetuation of the Western canon is not, in fact, because a group of people think that these works are “better” than any others. Rather, these works have survived in academia because of their complexity and their ability to withstand the test of time without becoming obsolete. Together, they comprise a rich, varied, potentially stimulating web of thought and comment that has intrigued students and teachers throughout generations.
Also, and not to be discounted, each work has been endlessly critiqued and commented upon, and studying these works requires that the student analyze and digest this vast amount of information and add to it himself. Thus, the object of such an education is not to memorize these works, but to teach the student how to think critically and analytically, to compose intelligent thoughts and make comments of his own.
Is there enough substance in ER&M to challenge the intellect of a large group of students? Has there been enough intelligent commentary written on the subjects it covers, or is the academic side of the field simply composed of a collection of basic doctoral theses explaining a large amount of primary information, documents, and statistics?
What is essential for a major’s success is that it cannot be transient; that is, it cannot be a field of study that will, at one point or another, be rendered irrelevant by changing circumstances. Rather, it must have enough depth to maintain a high level of intellectual rigor throughout the ages.
ER&M may or may not pass this test, and it will be up to the administration to make the determination, not based on the pressure of a few dozen interested students and professors, but based on their background in academia, which all of Yale’s administrators have, in spades.
Leigh Spielberg ’01
February 21, 2002