As the global affairs major runs the course of its inaugural year, faculty are addressing a flaw in the curriculum.

The University’s newest major hit a curricular snag this fall when many students reported that they lacked the quantitative background needed for one of the major’s core classes, “Approaches to International Development.” Faculty have already responded to student concerns by deciding to switch the order of two required courses for the 2012-’13 academic year. Despite the problem, nine of 10 global affairs majors interviewed — out of roughly 50 global affairs majors at Yale in total — said they are still satisfied with their choice of study and they believe the major will improve over time.

“We are brand-new, since this is the first year of the major and we don’t even have any seniors yet, but so far, so good,” James Levinsohn, director of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, said in a Friday email. “The biggest strength of any major is the students themselves, and we have an amazing group of global affairs majors.”

Global affairs majors are required to take a quantitative reasoning course, “Applied Quantitative Analysis,” and two core courses: “Approaches to International Development” and “Approaches to International Security.” They must also take introductory micro- and macroeconomics and demonstrate proficiency in a modern language other than English through L5. The courses in international development and international security are new classes this year that were created explicitly for the major, Levinsohn said, while the quantitative methods course was introduced last year and has “grown exponentially” based on student interest.

Though “Approaches to International Development” and “Applied Quantitative Analysis” were offered in the fall this year, followed by “Approaches to International Security” in the spring, students said the current ordering caused problems. “Approaches to International Development” did not specify any prerequisites but still assumed a significant math and economics background, and students said the quantitative analysis class should have been required beforehand.

“Many of us are struggling in that class because we are expected to understand various quantitative concepts which we have little or no experience with, such as various levels of economics and statistics,” Monica Landy ’13 said in a Monday email.

While Landy said she did not expect the Global Affairs program to be “flawless” in its first year, she felt there was a “disconnect” between administrators and students regarding the preparation expected of them for the development course. Landy said she is still pleased with the program overall.

Because students entered the development course with varying quantitative backgrounds, economics professor Daniel Keniston, who teaches “Approaches to International Development,” said he has found it difficult to build on students’ existing skills while ensuring everyone could follow along.

In what Levinsohn called a “big change” to the major for the 2012-’13 academic year, the development course will be offered second semester. The altered course ordering will ensure that students have taken “Applied Quantitative Analysis” before tackling the development class, he added.

For the time being, Keniston said he has modified the assessments in his course so that problem sets and exams focus more on “the broad intuitions of the course” and less on students’ problem-solving abilities.
But one global affairs major interviewed, who asked to remain anonymous because she was strongly criticizing the program, said she thinks making those course changes next year “is not good enough” to help the first class of global affairs majors. She added that two of her friends in the major are considering dropping global affairs because of their experience so far.

Nine other students interviewed, however, said they thought the current curricular issues could be overcome.

Though he did not feel prepared for the “quantitative rigor” of the development course, Dan Pitcairn ’13 said he feels the difficulty of the class has helped bond the first group of global affairs majors.

Majors Molly Ma ’13 and Melissa Hou ’13 said they feel faculty members have been responsive to their concerns. Ma said this support is especially beneficial since there is no older class of majors to turn to for advice.

The final information session for students considering the global affairs major will be held Wednesday. Applications for the current sophomore class are due Nov. 18.