Yale’s course catalogue has thickened in certain fields this year to accommodate increasing student demand, as the University moves forward with plans to add new majors in those areas.
Course offerings have increased in South Asian Studies, which became a major last year, and Modern Middle East Studies and Health Studies, which are on the way to becoming majors. Administrators said the growth in these fields represents a response to trends anticipated by professors as well as vocal student demand in past semesters.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said once faculty and administrators noticed the interest in these three subject areas, the University began to make a more concerted effort to add additional courses and to ensure that the fields contained enough institutional and structural support to sustain a growing student population. Each of the three fields faced unique problems when it came to expanding, Salovey said: South Asian studies required a more formal structure, Modern Middle East studies needed more faculty, and Health Studies had to utilize faculty resources from Yale’s professional schools rather than the College.
South Asian Studies Council Chair Phyllis Granoff, who also serves as the major’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, said the number of courses on the region increased this year and are now being offered in more departments. There are more offerings on pre-modern as well as contemporary India, including a course on Bollywood film and the first freshman seminar related to South Asia.
While Granoff said the creation of the major did push the program’s expansion forward, she said the growth would have happened regardless of the formal major, since students have been increasingly interested in South Asia. New faculty members, including a full time appointment in anthropology as well as one in Hindi, will help to sustain the increasing demand for courses, she said.
“We’d like to be able to continue to expand our courses and offerings,” Granoff said. “We’re on a roll. The South Asia program is very active and vibrant.”
Associate Professor of Political Science Ellen Lust-Okar, who chairs the Council on Middle East Studies and helped write the proposal for a Modern Middle East Studies major, said the course offerings on the Middle East have increased this year as well. Many of these classes are being taught by the eight visiting faculty members who were brought to Yale through an initiative unveiled last spring, which committed additional University resources to study of the contemporary Middle East. Lust-Okar said most of the movement that has taken place in expanding this field of study has been a direct result of student demand.
“Growing interest and demand among students is the reason that it makes sense to have a major,” she said.
Lust-Okar said the Political Science Department has already made two faculty hires in Middle East Studies, and searches are still ongoing for a senior faculty member to fill an interdisciplinary position on the Middle East and a junior professor whose work focuses on North Africa.
Rob Nelb ’08, the coordinator of the new student-run Yale College Public Health Coalition, has worked closely with both students and administrators in the past several years to establish a Health Studies major, which administrators said is still at least one year away. While Nelb said he thinks the University still has a long way to go before a sustainable major can be created — including hiring more faculty and offering courses on additional subjects like global health — he said students have already begun to notice the difference in the Blue Book, which this year contains 37 health-related options.
“There definitely has been an increase in health studies courses and in interdisciplinary health studies course,” Nelb said. “There’s more to go to develop a full major, but it’s a step in the right direction. Students are pleased that there are more course offerings.”
To promote student interest in public health, the YCPH will continue to increase awareness on campus about the study of public health and how the field intersects with other academic disciplines, Nelb said.
Yale administrators began a discussion about the need for a formal Health Studies major in the Committee on Yale College Education Report released in 2003, and during the 2006-2007 academic year, students circulated a petition urging that the College create the major. Last year, the College piloted an undergraduate Global Health Research workshop and the newly-formed Health Studies Advisory Committee. The Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs also launched the Yale College Fellowships for International Research in the Sciences and Health Studies, which provided funding for students interested in doing public health research abroad last summer.