Ten minutes before class, Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall room 114 filled up with students — many sporting gray hair — eager to hear what Professor Ian Shapiro GRD ’83 LAW ’87 would share for the day.
Shapiro’s class, “Power and Politics in Today’s World,” is the latest class to be selected by University President Peter Salovey to be a part of Yale’s DeVane Lecture series. The series is a 26-part lecture-style course that Yalies can take for credit and members of the general public can take for free, according to an Aug. 22 Yale News press release. The lectures were founded in 1969 in the name of William Clyde DeVane, dean of Yale College from 1939 to 1963.
“I thought it would be an interesting challenge,” said Shapiro, who is a Sterling Professor of political science. “A lot of this is material that I have been teaching in seminars over the last three years. It’s very different to teach this material in a seminar of 18 people [than] to a big audience that’s comprised of Yale students and the general public.”
When Salovey asked him to teach the 2019 series, Shapiro originally demurred because he did not feel as though he was ready to adapt the material into a lecture format.
The class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:35 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. According to Shapiro, there are between 60 and 70 members of the New Haven community taking the class alongside 182 Yale students. Of the students, about a third come from four of Yale’s professional schools. In addition, the lectures can be viewed on the Open Yale Courses YouTube page.
Shapiro taught a mixed graduate and undergraduate class at the School of Management a few years ago and discovered that the diverse group of students brought complementary perspectives to the material, according to an Aug. 22 article from Yale News.
“The mixed class experience has provided me with a broader perspective and a better understanding of these historical events that we are studying because of the diverse backgrounds shared during lecture,” said Andrew Weitzman ’22, a student in the class. “There are different expectations for the undergrads, grad students and New Haven residents, but overall between workload and expectations, it is no different from my other classes.”
Shapiro decided to keep the class as rigorous as any other Yale course and noted that he wanted to put on a good course for Yale students. After consulting with a previous DeVane lecturer who felt like they “dumbed down” the course, Shapiro committed to teaching in his regular style because the other lecturer, whom he declined to name, was “heavily criticized by Yale students” for that approach. But that did not stop him from designating a teaching fellow specifically to interact with students from the general public and making sure that the fellow hosts regular office hours in addition to Shapiro’s own. Shapiro and the fellow will also host virtual office hours about five times during this semester in which they will answer questions posed by the students during the course, according to Yale News.
“One thing Professor Shapiro has done really well with is using primary sources, primarily video and audio recordings, from the periods being discussed to help bridge the gap between those who remember the events and those who learned about them in a history book,” Nicholas Sulich ’22 told the News.
At the class meeting the News attended, Shapiro showed two videos, one excerpt of former President Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address and a humorous clip from Steven Colbert explain campaign financing and dark money. According to Shapiro, he usually shows about 15 to 20 minutes of video and other primary sources per lecture.
Shapiro stepped down as the director of Yale’s Macmillan Center for International and Area Studies last academic year.
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