Freshmen should get as much academic prep as sex ed

To the Editor:

Christina Pryor’s article “For top HS grads, new struggle” (1/19) highlights the differences in preparation that each new Eli faces when arriving on campus. For students from abstinence-only schools, Yale Community Health Educators provide mandatory workshops to teach freshmen about safe sex. Why do we not have workshops to make up for other areas where high schools may have faltered? In addition to passing around the dental dam and condom, freshmen should be shown model essays specifically tailored for each subject they might encounter. Most of us learned the standard five-paragraph essay written in third person with a catchy introduction and transitional phrases. This format is not the standard for political science or economics, where you might be tacitly expected to write in first person and have headers for each paragraph. Professors expect their students to be familiar with the essay format for their subject and often only instruct students about content. An hour-long freshman writing workshop would begin to balance the inequalities of our high schools and prevent many of us from having a disheartening first paper experience where we are penalized for our high-school background.

Stephanie Friend ’09

Jan. 19

More open evaluations would benefit shopping students

To the Editor:

I was heartened to learn from professor Charles Bailyn in the News (Letters, 1/17) that the Online Course Evaluation system, which is currently available for only two weeks per semester, will soon be tied into the less transient system at This is a long-overdue move that will mark an important and, frankly, painless increase in the utility of course evaluations for students. And it seems only fair, as we are the ones supplying all of the data.

That’s one reason why Bailyn’s arguments against solving the other long-standing problem with the current system — its absence of information collected about teaching assistants — are so baffling. The other is his assertion that nothing is better than something.

Yes, many TAs teach different courses from year to year. Because of curriculum shifts and sabbaticals, the same is true of many professors. But just because some teachers are bounced from course to course does not mean that all teachers are. Some TAs, like some professors, have been grading the same problem sets or variations on the same paper topics for years. The evaluations for these TAs, at the very least, should be available to students.

The information flow should stop there only if the Committee on Teaching and Learning actually believes that a professor’s or TA’s evaluations from other courses are, as Bailyn suggests, “highly misleading.” I do not.

Sure, a teacher’s abilities can (and should) rapidly increase with experience. And obviously he or she may be more excited about or better prepared for some courses than others. Most TAs or professors would likely prefer to design a course based on their particular area of study than to teach an introductory survey. But I find it difficult to believe that any teacher will offer a completely different persona from one course to the next, or that allowing students to read their past evaluations would provide a completely unrealistic expectation from year to year.

I sincerely appreciate and share Bailyn’s sympathy for the hard work TAs put in and the pressures they face. But the same can be said of any young teacher at Yale, and since TAs are teaching undergraduates, we should know as much about them as we do about any other instructor, or at least as much as possible.

If the committee’s concern is that the current OCE simply does not provide enough information to accurately sketch the instructor or the course, there is a simple fix — the system already has much more that could easily be made available to students. Let us see more than just the two graphs, the responses to one question (the one that seems the most repetitive when you’re filling out the evaluations), and the big blank space where instructor comments should go.

I’m glad to hear that student opinions really do count when it comes to evaluating their classes and teachers at Yale. I just wish I knew what those opinions were.

Jeff Muskus ’07

Jan. 17

The writer is a former Editor in Chief of the News.