In a 2008 statement backing the creation of two new residential colleges, then-University President Richard Levin argued that “it is time to use our augmented resources to prepare a larger number of the most talented and promising students of all backgrounds for leadership and service.”
This is a laudable goal. More important, though, is ensuring that the students who do come here receive the education Yale College promises, one marked by intimacy and accessibility.
A Yale education should challenge us, but it shouldn’t be challenging to get into classes or win the attention of professors. Indeed, Yale touts its commitment to undergraduate education as an attribute that sets us apart from peer institutions.
The hard truth is that the College’s existing academic resources cannot accommodate 800 additional students.
Unfortunately, the University views the matter differently. When asked about the size of the faculty in light of the new colleges, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway was unambiguous.
“The [tenured] faculty is not going to grow,” Holloway said. “It has already grown in anticipation of the new colleges, because they were supposed to be open already. The faculty is larger than it’s ever been.”
This doesn’t square with what we see on the ground, which is ferocious competition for seminar seats, overworked professors and a troubling reliance on non-ladder faculty. And yet we have no choice but to take administrators at their word — they have not provided the numbers that make them so certain they don’t need to hire more professors.
The dearth of information is not our concern alone. English professor Jill Campbell told the News this spring that she was denied access to data on specific areas of faculty growth over the past 10 years. She was told this information was “confidential,” she said.
It’s one thing for the University to centralize decision-making. It’s a whole other matter to keep the facts so close to the vest that faculty and students cannot even debate or question the decisions being made.
We’re left guessing about the effects of outreach and expansion, which the University gladly advertises. As Yale seeks to recruit more students engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we are seeing these majors face considerable strain.
The computer science department is a case in point. Professor Bryan Ford told the News on Oct. 21: “The degree to which we are understaffed has all sorts of confounding problems.” Other professors and undergraduates have voiced concern that Yale’s small faculty and graduate program in computer science harms the classroom experience.
The problem is not limited to STEM. Some of Yale’s most popular classes are over-subscribed, including sought-after seminars considered capstones of certain majors.
Far too many lectures at Yale are supported by teaching assistants whose area of focus does not correspond to the curriculum. It’s understandable that a specialist in Canadian history might teach a section on U.S. history. But it’s unacceptable for students in history or English classes to be taught by graduate students in the sciences, as is happening this semester.
The new colleges will compound this problem. While enrollment in introductory lectures will rise, there won’t be any proportional increase in the graduate student population.
In a report published by an ad-hoc committee on the new residential colleges, the committee — which was headed by Provost Ben Polak and Holloway’s predecessor, Dean Mary Miller — advised Yale to develop and institutionalize “non-traditional approaches to section instruction.” These approaches include undergraduates serving as TAs, employing more freshly minted PhDs, making more sections optional and increasing section sizes.
While these proposals might seem appealing from an accounting perspective, we urge Holloway to oppose them. More structural adjustments are required.
We are not asking for a massive increase in the faculty. We are not asking for the duplication of popular seminars. We are not asking for a better allocation of TAs. We cannot make any of these requests because we do not have the information necessary to do so.
These aren’t complicated numbers: seats in a classroom, the size of departments, hiring trends. But taken together, this information bears crucially on the teaching mission of the College.
We call for the release of these numbers before ground is broken on the new colleges in February 2015.