Although Yale represents itself as an institution above the fray of politics, there is one respect in which the Yale of today is decidedly Trumpian. Just as President Donald Trump’s administration prides itself on an education secretary who knows nothing about education, a housing secretary who knows nothing about housing, a health and human services secretary who knows nothing about getting all people insured and a president who does not understand the difference between diplomacy and fake news, so the Yale of today is a place where expert advice is scoffed at and the faculty “insiders” put in their place.
But Yale has not forged ahead blindly in picking up this characteristic. Instead, it persists in going slow when it could rush ahead with abandon. This year, a new college advising system erodes the authority of the faculty members, who are encouraged to take a “holistic approach”: In other words, to be in tune with the fact that academics are only a small part of students’ lives. Accordingly, faculty members are told not to pay too much attention to what first years are studying or even to talk to them until their ways have been set under the influence of first-year counselors, peer opinion and that race for minimal course requirements and maximum A grades — course evaluations.
Faculty advisors no longer need to approve students’ programs of study, merely to attest to the fact that they have held a meeting. Though the new regulations (in the spirit of the Trump administration, we should say “deregulation”) strike a blow to the advising system, the change is part of a slow erosion of trust in the faculty to offer good advice. At best, the Monday sessions with advisors were actually two-part sessions — the first part with an assigned first-year advisor, the second part an opportunity for first years to circulate among the representatives of their academic departments in their colleges from whom they could get such specialized advice as their own advisors might not be equipped to give. In Yale’s slow erosion of knowledge-based advising, part two was abandoned.
Then, some college deans made no effort to match students with faculty members who might know something about the field of interest of their first years; the less knowledgeable the faculty advisor, the less likely that the advisor’s perspective could carry any force in a student’s decisions about shopping, the ratio of curricular to extra-curricular involvement and most important, course selection. Now the new system, which does away with scheduled meetings between advisors and advisees two days before the start of classes, is a further step toward total freedom from faculty advice.
We are headed toward the replacement of the faculty signature on a program by the attestation by a coffeehouse barista: All students will have to do is get a swipe at a coffeehouse attesting to the fact that they have, in the process of ordering a mocha latte, mentioned one course they are thinking of taking.
But why go so slow? If Trump is anything of a moral example, we should be able to close our eyes and ears to those who might know something and plunge ahead more boldly toward ill-considered decisions. Instead of nibbling away at faculty mentorship, a bolder approach would be to require that no faculty member post a syllabus but meet first with students to see what they wished to read and what course requirements they would like to see established.
Yale is terribly retrograde in these matters, moving so slowly toward the dissolution of knowledge-based decision-making. To speed things up, consider instead the proposal to remove all the books from Bass Library and replace most of the stacks with easy chairs, complete with individual Wi-Fi and espresso machines. Students could then vote on what books, if any, should be shelved in the new-age, largely paperless library.
Years ago, some sections of English 126 made their way slowly through the four books of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad. To speed things up, students can now skip right to the end:
Lo! thy dread empire, CHAOS! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal darkness buries all.
Leslie Brisman is a professor of English. Contact him at email@example.com .