With senior Yale faculty members set to vote Thursday on several major proposals described in April’s undergraduate curricular review, professors said they expect heated debate on what they called the review’s most contentious recommendations — changes to the distributional group and foreign-language requirements.
The faculty vote comes two years after the University’s tercentennial celebration, when Yale President Richard Levin appointed Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead to lead a faculty and student committee in drafting Yale’s first comprehensive curricular review in over 30 years.
The 41-member Committee on Yale College Education is calling for changes in undergraduate distributional requirements, recommending that undergraduates be required to take two courses each in the humanities and arts, social sciences and natural sciences. The committee is also requiring students to take two courses focusing on writing skills and two in quantitative reasoning.
In a separate recommendation, the committee is proposing to alter foreign-language requirements. The proposal requires all students to take at least one term of foreign-language study, regardless of proficiency. It also decreases the foreign-language requirement for students entering Yale without proficiency from four to three semesters.
Controversy now centers on the committee’s proposed alteration of the distributional and foreign-language requirements, Astronomy chairman and committee member Charles Bailyn said Monday.
“Clearly, the most important [recommendation] is this change in the distributional requirements,” Bailyn said.
Physics chairman Ramamurti Shankar said the committee’s recommendation would ensure that students leave Yale proficient in both writing and quantitative analysis.
It is currently possible for students to graduate from Yale without taking any courses that require significant writing or quantitative analysis, Brodhead said.
“We don’t want to make this place an inferno of restriction, [but] we want to make it clear about what the substance of those requirements [is],” Brodhead said. “We never intended for students’ math skills to rot and erode while they were in college.”
Currently, courses are designated in distributional groups based on the course professor’s appointed department. Under the proposed changes, Brodhead would appoint a faculty council to designate courses in distributional groups on an individual basis.
“[The current system] is actually not such a great thing because it isn’t exactly true,” Bailyn said, “For example, [it says] that any course taught by a scientist is science.”
‘A matter of overall Yale curriculum’
In the other hotly debated recommendation, the committee proposes adjustments to Yale’s foreign-language requirement. Brodhead said the language proposal has been met with “sustained controversy” within the language departments.
Brodhead said the proposed requirements would give students “a serious working command” of another language. He said the current requirement that students without proficiency take six of their 36 course credits in a foreign language is not proportionally representative of a student’s ideal undergraduate education.
“Especially in the sciences, a student who comes with very little language training is going to have to [devote] one-sixth of their whole Yale education to fulfill the current requirement,” Brodhead said. “It leaves almost no freedom for the exploration that’s a central value of a liberal arts education.”
History chairman and committee member Jon Butler said the proposal is “not a language matter.”
“It is a matter of overall Yale curriculum and how to construct a curriculum for a four-year bachelor’s degree that is appropriate at this University,” Butler said.
But many language professors said they are critical of the committee’s recommendation.
Italian chairman Giuseppe Mazzotta said decreasing the requirement from four to three semesters would result in an insufficient amount of instruction for students without prior language experience.
“I do not see the exact rationale for the reduction of the language requirement,” Mazzotta said.
In addition to proposing changes to the distributional-group and foreign-language requirements, the committee is recommending improvements in science teaching for non-science majors that include increasing the size of the faculty by 10 percent, increasing the number of seminars offered to underclassmen and improving the freshman-advising system.