In 1972, the year of the last comprehensive review of Yale’s undergraduate education, the University had just emerged from a decade that, in addition to bringing riots and bomb scares to campus, fundamentally changed the makeup of Yale’s undergraduate student body. For the first time, more students came from public schools than private schools. Women were finally admitted after more than 250 years of exclusion. The work of University President Kingman Brewster and his deans of admissions ensured that the ethnic makeup of the University more realistically reflected the country as a whole. After such drastic changes in whom Yale College taught, a review of what Yale College taught was desperately needed.
At last October’s tercentennial convocation, University President Richard Levin announced the next review of Yale College’s curriculum. Without question, the last 10 years at Yale have been much less revolutionary than the years from 1962 to 1972. But this only makes the 2002 review more important and more difficult for those of us serving on the review committee. Instead of reacting to changes that have already occurred, we have been charged with determining what an educated person will need to know in the 21st century. We now face the immense challenge of predicting and planning for an unknown future: We must determine what the world will look like in 20 years and how Yale College must change to prepare for that world.
Although the committee has been charged with planning for the future of Yale College, the practical questions this poses are directly related to the everyday lives of every member of the classes of 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Should the distributional requirements be maintained, altered or scrapped? Should we institute a core curriculum? Should we have some classes based more on practical experience than classroom discussion? What is wrong with the advising system and how can we fix it? Should more be done to encourage study abroad? Why are we learning what we are learning, and is it what we should be learning?
I am one of eight undergraduates charged with addressing these questions. While the members of the committee have proposed some answers, the best way to discover the problems we are confronting and the solutions we must implement is to search among current undergraduates, because the experiences that yield answers to these questions are freshest in the minds of the current student body. Without your participation, the review will inevitably be marred by myopia and misperceptions, so we beg you to think critically about your own experiences at Yale and to force the committee members to re-evaluate our own ideas by sharing with us your thoughts.
Starting tonight and running through the end of the semester, we will be hosting gatherings in six different colleges where you will have the opportunity to share your thoughts and experiences with College Dean Richard Brodhead and other committee members. For students who would prefer to put their ideas in writing, the committee has established a Web page at http://www.yale.edu/yce that includes contact information for all of the committee members and a form for sending your thoughts to the entire committee. Because Candace Feldman, Barbara Wexelman and I are on the committee coordinating the efforts of the four working groups — one on the humanities and the arts, on social and international studies, on biomedical education, and on the physical sciences, respectively — we encourage you to write to us with any concerns that do not seem to fit into the particular concerns of the specific working groups.
Although the committee has been charged with a difficult task, our work will not be without consequence. In 1828, our predecessors in reviewing Yale College’s curriculum established a philosophy based on the “discipline” and “furniture” of the mind that would shape undergraduate education both at Yale and throughout the country for the next 175 years. In 2002, we have the opportunity to shape the next 20 — or 200 — years of undergraduate education.
Patrick Casey Pitts is a junior in Berkeley College. He is a member of the coordinating committee of the Committee on Yale College Education.