According to a Jan. 17 email sent to current students in Directed Studies, there was a large number of students switching seminar sections with “ghosts” — students who decided to drop out of the program after the fall semester but have not officially notified the program officials. Constance Pascarella, Directed Studies senior administrative assistant, has never seen “such a frenzy of ‘switching’” in over 20 years of her career with the program, the email read. The email led many students to believe that Directed Studies saw an unusually high rate of dropout this year, but Directed Studies Director of Undergraduate Studies Kathryn Slanski dispelled the notion.
Slanski said that though the number of people dropping out of the intensive humanities program has indeed been higher than usual, the number of remaining students has remained steady due to initial higher enrollment — 124 people compared with last year’s 111, the highest the program has seen in years. She explained that the motivation behind the email was to figure out whether students were switching with “ghosts” and to keep enrollment even across sections, something the program aims to do every year.
The program’s spring enrollment has been steadily between 90 and 100 students each year, Slanski said. With an enrollment of 96 students, this year is not exceptional, she said.
“D.S. is not for everybody,” Slanski said. “There are lots of reasons why that doesn’t work for everybody. … Because we had a larger pool at the beginning of the year, I was not surprised that we had a larger number of drops … just because statistically there would have to be.”
Some students opted out of the program due to scheduling constraints, particularly those taking language classes and prospective STEM majors who have to take their classes in sequence.
Other students who dropped might have done so because they wanted to take other classes or they thought the syllabus as too “traditional or parochial,” said Terence Renaud, a history professor who teaches both semesters of Directed Studies this year.
“It is a hard curriculum, possibly rendered more difficult than ever by habits of attention stemming from the internet,” Directed Studies and English professor David Bromwich ’73 GRD ’77 said. “I am impressed by the number that do stay for the whole year: six courses — a considerable pledge of time and intellectual energy.”
Branson Rideaux ’20, who dropped out in the spring, said although he found the program to be a positive experience, he was more interested in the fall curriculum and wanted to take other courses that better align with his interests.
Still, Slanski said the program is seeing an increasing interest from students every year — from both prospective STEM and humanities majors — and thus is discussing the possibility of expansion to accommodate the additional freshmen who will arrive in the fall.
“We currently accept 10 percent of the [freshman] class. If we are going to continue to serve 10 percent of each freshman class, then we are obligated to expand,” Slanski said. “If [D.S.] is one of the reasons why the student is drawn to Yale, then I think we have an obligation to try to meet that interest.”
However, there are limiting factors that the program must overcome if it is to expand. The number of professors would have to increase, and schedules would become more complicated as the additional professors are accommodated. This year, many of the professors were available to teach only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and if the program expanded, more Wednesday and Friday sections would need to be introduced, Slanski said.
Slanski also pointed out that even though enrollment in humanities courses around the country have decreased over the past 20 years, Yale is doing “much stronger” relative to its peer institutions.
“Yale has always traditionally had incredibly strong humanities departments, [and Yale] continues to be very strong compared to places like Harvard and Columbia, and D.S. is also going very strong,” she said.
The Directed Studies program currently caps its enrollment at 126 students.