At the end of this semester, the Committee on Yale College Education will have spent a year evaluating the state of undergraduate education at Yale. Over the course of the year, ideas bubbled, popped, developed, grew and gained momentum. And it is our sincere hope that each change, development and institution that emerges (and I promise, they will) from the eventual report of the CYCE will not only create a more advanced learning environment within Yale College, but also will inspire greater intellectual ambition in the student body.
One of the committee’s most difficult charges is to improve science education for non-science majors. This task is institutional code for “change the defunct Group IV requirement.” All students, regardless of major, have issues with the science requirements at Yale. Some just hate science. Some loathe the fact that students can satisfy the science requirement without even learning science. And some wish that there were some significant course offerings that cater to a subset of students that do not major in science but have a legitimate interest in furthering their knowledge in the areas that Group IV covers.
If you are one of these students, here is your chance to change the system.
The CYCE subcommittee on physical science and science for non-science majors requests your participation in answering the question of what a non-scientist should do with respect to science while he or she is a Yale undergraduate. If you are a senior who took three or fewer science classes at Yale through this semester (which is the bare minimum requirement), you will receive a survey in your P.O. Box within the next couple of days. We designed the survey to gauge the sentiments of a self-selected group of Yale students who, for one reason or another, have decided to satisfy the Group IV requirement with the minimum of prescribed courses. It is safe to assume that these people have the lowest level of interest in the sciences at Yale, and we want to know why.
More than 80 percent of Yale students came to Yale with a 4 or higher on a calculus (AB or BC) Advanced Placement exam, and many performed similarly well on AP exams in biology, chemistry and physics. Most Yale students, from an anecdotal perspective, hold genuine interest in science and math, and as the crude AP test results demonstrate, many of these same students have great aptitudes in these areas as well.
So why are students running from science like Scopes from a theology class?
If you are a senior who receives this survey, send it back, because students in the future will benefit from the input you give the committee. The Group IV requirement will change — this is a certainty. At the very least, distribution of a course will depend on the content of the course, not the faculty appointment of the professor. Yale College will offer a better selection of science courses aimed at non-science majors. But we cannot offer courses that students will embrace without the opinions of the students who least appreciate the current offerings.
Do you hate taking classes with pre-meds? Is it the trek up Science Hill that turns you off from science? Would you be more likely to take a science class if there were student activities and shopping areas on Science Hill?
Questions like these appear on the survey, and only your most honest, scathing answers will permit any change. Please do not limit your comments to what we ask you on the survey, and do not let feasibility, cost or rationality influence your opinions. You have the ideas, we’ll worry about the execution.
Send back your surveys quickly, and we will take every opinion into account. The committee already counts eight undergraduates in its membership, and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead has held a number of forums in residential colleges during which he listened to the opinions of students. If you are not a recipient of this survey, please e-mail your opinions about this issue to myself or Barbara Wexelman, your student members of the science for non-science majors subcommittee. We have made questions about the undergraduate education our lives, and we want to hear every voice that wants to be heard.
Justin C. Cohen is a junior in Pierson College.