As we rush back and forth between 20 classes during the first two weeks of this semester, we will be aided by the classic, hardcopy, sometimes moldy Blue Book for the very last time. Last year, only freshmen were automatically sent Blue Books. Older students had to request them through SIS. Next year, Yale will cease publishing the book entirely.
Most of us rely far more on OCI and OCS or yalebluebook.com — online sites that let us link directly to syllabi and evaluations, list updated room locations and cancellations, and can be accessed by laptop or phone from anywhere with an Internet connection. The Blue Book, on the other hand, is clunky and heavy and contains only limited information that may be out of date. It has become increasingly irrelevant.
Nonetheless, the Blue Book still plays a key role, and Yale will be worse off once it’s gone. I believe this out of more than sentimentality (though I do have fond enough feelings for the physical course catalogue to keep all my old ones).
Online course browsing provides a host of advantages but it also tends to limit us or, more accurately, to enable us to limit ourselves in ways that stifle intellectual curiosity and diversity. Once on the OCI website, you can type in the class or teacher about which you want information, or you can go directly to the department whose offerings you would like to see. You don’t skim through pages full of information on different departments and classes before getting to the one you’re looking for. You have a particular goal of finding particular information — you don’t browse mindlessly in the way you might with the Blue Book, turning to random pages and reading the course descriptions.
When I’m on OCI, I usually think of four or five departments to look at, but when I have a Blue Book in hand, I’ll often look at the course offerings of the departments right before and after the one I’m flipping to. This doesn’t mean I find courses I like — Engineering and Applied Science, which directly precedes English, isn’t exactly my cup of tea — but at the very least, it leaves me with a better though still very limited sense of the very different academic paths my peers may be pursuing.
My freshman year, I took a course on the first millennium of Catholicism that was one of the most interesting courses I’ve taken at Yale. I found it by accidentally flipping to the Religious Studies section in the Blue Book — a section I probably wouldn’t have chosen to look at on OCI. I may have come across it elsewhere, as it was cross-listed in the History Department, but I’m not sure that I would have.
There are a number of tiny but fascinating departments and offerings at Yale (Near Eastern Civilizations and Languages — hieroglyphics, anyone?) which you would never think to type in or scroll to on a website but which might just catch your eye when you skim past a page in the Blue Book.
If I were the only student who felt this way, I could understand Yale’s decision to discontinue the Blue Book’s publication. But last year, when Yale required that students opt in to receive a Blue Book, 1631 non-freshmen requested one, and more have said they would have liked a hard copy of the Blue Book but forgot to request one. That’s over a third of the nonfreshman undergraduate population, a pretty significant chunk.
Moreover, the people for whom the physical Blue Book is most important are, in fact, freshmen, none of whom will receive a Blue Book next year. These are the people we should most encourage to browse and skim through dozens of different departments with hundreds of different courses.
As older students settle down into majors, it becomes less likely that they will take classes on a whim. But freshman year is the opportunity students get to take random classes that don’t fit together in neat, coherent ways but that offer them a smattering of what Yale has to offer. If Yale actually means what it says each year when deans tell freshmen not to take too many courses in any one department and to try their hands at different and new things, it should not be forcing all its students, freshmen included, into a course selection system that encourages students to segregate themselves academically.
I would never advocate for eliminating our online course information and selection systems. I, like all Yale students, make heavy use of them — more than I make of the Blue Book. But why eliminate something relatively inexpensive — Dean Mary Miller claimed the decision was not made for cost reasons — which a large portion of the student body wants and which may push even a few students in directions they never otherwise would have considered? Shopping period, for the most part, won’t be very different next year. But the first step of choosing classes will be.
Harry Larson is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.