Wikimedia Commons

This semester, students who shopped large science classes seeking to fulfill their distributional requirements got an unpleasant surprise: restrictive caps limiting course enrollment even in lectures.

Classes like EVST 191, “Trees: Environmental Biology and Global Significance,” which had 193 shoppers at its peak, and ANTH 242, “Human Evolutionary Biology and Life History,” which reached 276 shoppers, had to limit their enrollment this semester because of the high demand. Yale College Council president Saloni Rao ’20 said that such caps on science credits often impose stress on students who need to fulfill distributional or pre-professional requirements. She noted that the problem has been exacerbated since Yale increased its number of matriculating students in the past two years.

“The YCC has been in conversations … with the dean of undergraduate education about how to improve Yale’s academic offerings, and this problem is certainly one that we have jointly identified,” she said.

The reasons for capping enrollment varied within different science courses. Anthropology professor Claudia Valeggia, who teaches ANTH 242, said her decision to limit the number of students in her course stemmed from a lack of teaching fellows and spatial barriers — Luce Hall’s auditorium can only accommodate 150 students. She added that this high demand for science classes for non-science majors may derive from a shortage of STEM classes for such students.

Paula Kavathas, professor of laboratory medicine at the School of Medicine who teaches MCDB 109, “Immunity and Contagion,” limited enrollment to approximately 50 students in part due to a lack of teaching fellows with expertise in the field, she said. The class had a high of 75 shoppers this semester.

Still, some STEM courses limit enrollment based on students’ major or academic background. Jessi Cisewski, assistant professor of statistics and data science who teaches a section of the new popular YData series, said the class’ limited enrollment allows for greater interaction between students and faculty and creates a course that will serve as a “solid introduction to data science” for students with little background in the area.

Unlike classes in the STEM fields that are sometimes geared specifically towards non-STEM students, Yale’s courses in humanities and social sciences typically do not limit enrollment by prior academic experience. Dean of Humanities Amy Hungerford said that this openness comes in part from the departments’ belief that students can thrive in humanities classrooms where students come from a variety of academic backgrounds.

“At Yale especially, one’s major rarely embodies the reach of one’s intellectual achievement. Yale students cultivate significant knowledge in areas far from their chosen major,” she said. “Honoring the spirit of the liberal arts, it is best not to segregate classes by major as a general practice.”

Hungerford added that more advanced students should build upon their knowledge in the humanities just as much as less advanced students do. Even within seminars, she added that skilled faculty could navigate courses that “benefit from the diversity of interests and preparation, rather than suffering from it.”

She noted that many lectures are “designed for a broad audience” and encourage cross-disciplinary thought. Still, she said that some humanities courses do limit enrollment based on specific skill sets.

“Students who are not already on the inside of a field can raise questions that those familiar with the field’s conventions should be pushed to consider anew,” Hungerford said. “Intellectual diversity is a great good of the humanities classroom.”

Finalized schedules are due on Wednesday for the class of 2022, on Thursday for the classes of 2021 and 2020 and on Friday for the class of 2019.

Carly Wanna |