About 20 percent of the first years enrolled in Directed Studies this past fall chose not to continue with the program in the spring, representing a drop rate roughly equal to those of past years.
As shopping period winds down, data on student enrollment in D.S. from Online Course Selection shows that 17 of the 101 students who participated in the humanities program during the fall are not currently enrolled for the spring semester. Three students interviewed by the News who decided to drop D.S. this semester cited heavy workload, scheduling conflicts and lack of practical application as reasons for their decision.
Daniel Yadin ’21, one of the 17, said he did not want to study “a very rigid canon that rarely connected to the world outside the seminar room” for an additional semester.
“Not to be dismissive, but nothing about Epictetus helps us better the world,” Yadin explained.
Still, he said he was glad to have taken the program for the first half of his first year, saying he valued the friends he made and the things he learned. The other two students interviewed who dropped D.S. after last semester also said they did not regret the half year they spent enrolled in the program.
Director of Undergraduate Studies for Directed Studies Kathryn Slanski said she felt that students who dropped after the first semester missed out “on more than just half the experience.”
“The cross-fertilization of ideas across the disciplines takes off exponentially in the second semester,” Slanski explained. “Students don’t get to enjoy that when they leave.”
According to data from OCS, 24 percent of students dropped D.S. after one semester last year, leaving 94 students enrolled in the spring compared to 123 in the fall. After the fall of 2015, 17 percent of students left the program, while 95 stayed for the second term.
This year, only 101 students participated in Directed Studies in the fall semester, compared to last year’s 124. With an even smaller enrollment in the spring semester, sections will be capped at 15 instead of the usual 18, Slanski said.
“I’m disappointed for the students who left, but on the other hand, it’s okay,” Slanski said. “It’s a better experience with 15 than 18 in a seminar. You get more attention from your faculty and that is something very special about D.S.”
Steven Smith, a political science professor who taught Directed Studies in the fall, told the News that he does his best to encourage everybody to take both semesters and takes it personally when they drop. While he understands that Directed Studies is not for everyone, it is a rare experience that only Yale can offer, Smith said.
Smith rebutted the notion that D.S. is not applicable to modern issues, saying that those who doubt the applicability of the texts discussed in Directed Studies are asking the “wrong questions.”
“It may not be evident now when you are deep into the book and trying to finish paper, but these texts will give you the mental furniture by which you can process the world,” Smith said. “It’s not going to tell you which restaurant to go to or who to date, but still is fundamental to how you understand our society. It might even tell you who to date, because having a partner who knows something about Plato is very important. What else would you possibly talk about?”
According to Hasan Tukhtamishev ’21, one of the students who dropped D.S. after last semester, many students opt out of the program due to scheduling constraints, particularly those taking language classes or planning to major in STEM subjects. While the heavy course load in Directed Studies is not a bad thing, it is a trade-off, Tukhtamishev explained. He added that he plans to take more STEM classes this semester.
Dayle Chung ’21 told the News that leaving the program was a personal choice, rather than a negative reflection of the program.
Yadin and Tukhtamishev pointed out that while students learn a lot from Directed Studies, the educational experience feels incomplete because it only focuses on the Western canon. Slanski told the News that concerns regarding the diversity of texts taught in Directed Studies are perennial. While many of the authors discussed in the program are “dead white men,” everyone can learn from their texts as long as they perform nuanced and analytical readings, Slanski said.
“We are very up-front that Directed Studies is an introduction to the Western tradition and its influence,” Slanski said. “To me, [complaining about the lack of diversity in the texts] is like signing up for French literature and quitting because there’s not enough German.”
Smith agreed that there is no course that can address everything, and that Directed Studies already covers plenty.
The Directed Studies program currently caps its enrollment at 126 students.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org