For some of us, this year’s shopping period marked our last first day of school. We are settling our course schedules and, for the first time at Yale, are actually being accepted into the seminars that we want to take. Some of these seminars will start us on the path to becoming doctors, lawyers or academics. Then there are the classes that we’ve come to expect from Yale, the classes that lead us on the path to becoming radio journalists, biotech entrepreneurs and Viking Age historians. In 1968, when the University approved the Residential College Seminar Program, it did so to expose students to both off-the-beaten-path professions and academic niches.
This spring, there will be fewer classes like these. Residential college seminars have been suspended for next semester as a committee of residential college masters, deans, faculty members and students begins to review the program. We haven’t been told the names of its members. Neither has most of campus.
Worse, we do not know why the University has decided the program can’t continue in the spring — even if it were to require the appointment of a temporary seminar coordinator to replace Cathy Suttle.
From its inception 42 years ago, the College Seminar program has given students here the rare opportunity to have a say as to which courses appear in the Blue Book. We are dismayed that we cannot take these special seminars next semester. We want our say.
This is not to say that the program should be free from review. As John Hall, who created the program when he was the master of Morse College, explained, the success of the program relies on “continued serious application of ingenuity.” And indeed, there are aspects about the program that could be improved — expediting the selection process for seminars, for instance, would do a lot of good. But, at the same time, there is no need for the University to turn its back on the program during this review period. After all, though the Committee on Yale College Education is scrutinizing distributional requirements, we still have to take science and writing classes.
Of course, this comparison may seem extreme: No one argues to do away with the requirements because they provide a framework for students to shape their liberal arts education and hone their reasoning skills. But so do the courses on American criminal justice or former News Chairman William F. Buckley Jr. ’50. This semester, three college seminars fulfill the writing requirement; eight have been pre-approved for credit in a major. Classes exist to fulfill each of the area distributional requirements, humanities, social science and natural science.
Another useful comparison is the University’s current review of teaching sections for large lectures. We wouldn’t want to deny graduate students opportunities to teach as we examine their program. Likewise, we should not deny, even for a semester, local non-academic professionals from teaching Yale students.
At Yale, college seminars fill voids — between departments, between students and administrators, between a liberal arts education and one more focused on what we will do when we graduate. We agree the classes should be reviewed. But they should also be offered this spring.