Three years after opening its doors, Yale-NUS is addressing student concerns regarding its Common Curriculum — namely arbitrary grading and exceedingly difficult science courses.
An academic report submitted by the Yale-NUS student government earlier this year coincided with the administration’s commencement of a regular common curriculum review. While the review was not conducted in direct response to student dissatisfaction, Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn ’81 said student concerns would be noted and taken into consideration. President of Yale-NUS Pericles Lewis said the review was scheduled two years prior, adding that routine examinations are set in place for most courses, with the next curriculum review scheduled to take place in five years. The Common Curriculum is required for all students and is comprised of a range of classes — from “Foundations of Science” to “Comparative Social Institutions” — designed to give students a broad introduction to a field of study.
“The purpose of the review is to ensure that we are offering the best possible education to our students,” Lewis said. “All our internal surveys suggest that most students are happy with most aspects of the curriculum, and we have gathered student responses as part of the review to hear firsthand feedback on the courses.”
The review process began more than eight months ago when a faculty committee led by Bailyn composed a report after soliciting student feedback and administering surveys to students and faculty. An external review panel co-chaired by Tan Tai Yong, Yale-NUS executive vice president of academic affairs, and Bryan Garsten, professor of political science and humanities at Yale, will then review the report and submit one of their own with recommendations for improvements.
Bailyn said the entire process will be reviewed twice by the Yale-NUS Governing Board, once in October and again in December. Bailyn said that faculty would most likely vote in January on specific changes to the curriculum, noting that many of the adjustments would apply to the class of 2020, though some revisions will be implemented this academic year.
“For example, there were changes made with regard to the scope and length of the readings already implemented in the second semester of the College, and the reading lists and syllabi have continued to be refined every time a course is offered,” Bailyn said. “Again, these kinds of changes in the format and delivery of individual courses take place yearly, and do not depend on this kind of high-level overall review of the program.”
Four students interviewed said they experienced inconsistent grading practices from multiple professors teaching the same course. Yonatan Gazit YNUS ’18 said some professors are much harsher graders than others, resulting in significant grade disparities among students enrolled in multiple sections of the same course.
“I’m taking ‘Modern Social Thought,’ and all the professors held back on giving grades because they planned to have a meeting among themselves to standardize the grading.” Gazit said. “I’m not going to lie, it is a concern for some students that some professors are known to grade harder.”
Feroz Khan YNUS ’18 expressed similar concerns, adding that for one of his classes, the professors are developing a grading rubric to counter this problem.
Four students interviewed said the curriculum’s science courses posed problems due to their lack of prerequisites. Joceline Yong YNUS ’18 said she found the course “Scientific Inquiry,” which covers topics from cosmology to ecology, especially challenging due to her lack of a scientific background, while others were better-prepared. But, Yong said, after completing a number of Common Curriculum modules her freshman year, she found the program as a whole to be “robust and well-crafted.”
Still, all six Yale-NUS students interviewed said their experience with the Common Curriculum has been largely satisfactory. While Christopher Tee YNUS ’17 said improvements could be made to the sciences, he added that he has enjoyed the majority of his courses. Yong said she also did not believe students had an unreasonable workload.
Professors have already taken active steps to address student concerns. Khan said the instructors of “Modern Social Thought” have reduced the amount of course reading after receiving feedback from students.
“The Common Curriculum is a signature feature of our curriculum, and is an innovative new approach,” Bailyn said. “We want to carefully consider the successes, opportunities and challenges of this part of the College.”
According to a report released in January, the Common Curriculum comprises 38 percent of the total curriculum at Yale-NUS.