At long last, students had their first look last week at the much-anticipated results of the yearlong Yale College academic review. The report, written by Dean Brodhead and the members of the review committee, outlines a number of major proposed changes in University faculty, curriculum and infrastructure. The committee’s proposals have the potential to improve dramatically undergraduate education at Yale.
The report comprehensively address some — but not all– of the major academic issues in need of reconsideration: distributional requirements, international studies, advising, the sciences and the arts. We were particularly disappointed to see only a single paragraph devoted to what may be students’ and professors’ most auspicious academic frustration: discussion sections. In its apt consideration of the importance of close contact between teachers and students, the report says just “a word on graduate students as undergraduate teachers.” The committee admits Yale’s current undergraduate curriculum includes too many sections with too little educational purpose but fails to articulate concrete suggestions or broad plans for improving this unwieldy system. Instead, the report nebulously encourages individual faculty members and departments to re-evaluate the system themselves.
Also conspicuously absent is a substantial analysis of the weak spots in what Yale otherwise does best: the humanities. Given what seems to be a fairly cursory once-over, the University’s trademark humanities programs — particularly those in music and the performing arts — seem to have escaped scrutiny that might have ensured their continued strength or even helped to make them better. For example, a close look at seminars required for Group II and III majors might have revealed problems both with the number available and the means by which students register for them. We second the committee’s recommendation to increase by at least 10 percent the size of the faculty, and we anticipate that, if financially viable, the addition of professors will ease the situation. But the committee would have done well to re-evaluate the seminar registration process, which would be much more effective if it occurred electronically and before the semester begins.
Recognizing these omissions, we look now to what the report does include. To start, it offers many worthwhile affirmations and encouragements however dubious in their ability to affect widespread change. More substantial and worthy of focus, though, are the specific changes the committee set down as identifiable goals. They range from the simple — changes in classroom allocations to help destigmatize Science Hill, for example — to the byzantine, including the construction of several new buildings and reconfiguration of groups.
Collectively, the structural changes seem to be aimed not only at improving academics but also at modifying how we think of them. The unspoken implication of the 86-page review is that ultimately a university is not shaped by what a committee recommends, but by how administrators, faculty and students approach education. For that reason, now is the most important time in the academic review process. In the coming weeks, the News will examine each of the major areas addressed in the report, and we encourage everyone to do the same. Some of the committee’s proposals have the potential to improve significantly academics at Yale, but the only way the academic review will be successful is if professors and students are engaged in implementing its recommendations.