Personability matters in educators

Antonia Woodford’s article (“Grad School divided over interviews“; Jan. 11) reveals a disturbing aspect of graduate work in the humanities. Faculty opposition to the policy of interviewing applicants illuminates how we have neglected the role of teaching in scholarship.

Faculty insistence that “personabilty” is irrelevant to work in the humanities (as opposed to the sciences, where students work in communal labs) neglects that serving as teaching fellows, working with colleagues and applying for faculty jobs are all integral elements of graduate work. While charisma and extroversion should not be primary criteria for acceptance, we must acknowledge that a severe inability to communicate will prevent a scholar from making as significant a contribution to her or his field, limit job placement and hinder teaching.

If Yale is already investing approximately $143,000 in each humanities student, it is worth the time and funding to assure that we acquire the most qualified applicants. Professor Eckart Frahm’s notion that, “Occasionally genius hides behind awkwardness, while inversely silver-tongued applicants can turn out to be shallow scholars,” implies that well-spoken applicants are necessarily inferior academics. It is time that we overcome intellectual prejudice against personability and admit that social skills do not preclude genius, but often aid its effectiveness.

Ann Phelps

January 13

The writer is a 2009 graduate of the Institute of Sacred Music and a Saybrook graduate affiliate and research fellow.

Interviews show commitment to teaching

Dean Thomas Pollard’s directive that candidates for places in the graduate programs be interviewed should be welcome news to undergraduates. Since Yale considers teaching to be a part of graduate school education and guarantees teaching positions to graduate students in their third and fourth years, we have an obligation to admit students who have no obvious and insurmountable obstacles to becoming effective teachers in the classroom. What is at stake is not simply the protection of the graduate students from anything that could be interpreted as violating the rights of the disabled; what is at stake is the right of undergraduates to instructors who are not just “the best minds” on paper, but exemplary presenters of material and leaders of discussion. Though interviews are not perfect tools, they can reveal important information that will help faculty members make more informed choices about the students one can imagine placing in front of the classroom in a couple of years.

Leslie Brisman

January 11

The writer is the Karl Young Professor of English