The Math Department’s introductory courses, some of which have been around for over 40 years, are undergoing a “long-awaited revision,” according to a March 11 email from the department.
The changes include the formation of new courses as well as the phasing out of multiple classes at the 200- and 300-level. Designed to make the math major more accessible to varying high school math backgrounds as well as more flexible for incoming students and those who want to “mix and match” course difficulties, the revisions were largely met with excitement by the seven students and faculty interviewed by the News.
While some students noted concerns regarding a possible lack of community in the new courses, confusion for current students in the major and the need for similar course restructuring throughout all years in the major, they all still indicated hopefulness that the changes will ultimately be beneficial for the department.
“It was really heartening to see them kind of take the concerns that we voiced seriously and put a lot of work into restructuring things in order to make the introductory sequences more equitable and accessible,” said Mirilla Zhu ’23. Zhu told the News about the “series of conversations” the department underwent in its quest to make the department more inclusive.
The changes, which will leave the 100-level courses as-is, will phase out Math 230/231, 250, 300 and 301, while creating a new proof-based linear algebra and real analysis introductory sequence with an intensive option. There will also be a new course, Math 302, that focuses on multivariate analysis.
There are currently two introductory sequences that undergraduate prospective math majors can take: Math 230/231, which is a two-semester, condensed and more proof-oriented sequence, or Math 120/125/250, a three-semester sequence of the same material that focuses less on proofs. According to Matt King ’22, the differing entry-level knowledge expectations and length of the two sequences caused “a strong disconnect” between students in the separate paths, despite being in the same major. He characterized the new system, however, as “much more closely integrated, and there will be more flexibility between the two.”
Although there will be only one introductory sequence of three courses moving forward, linear algebra and one-variable analysis each have an intensive option, geared toward those with more familiarity with proofs. Everyone will be taking the same core sequence of linear algebra, real analysis and multivariable analysis and calculus — 225/226, 255/256 and 302 or 120, respectively — and, while it is encouraged for students to take linear algebra before real analysis, the classes can technically be taken in either order.
While King did note that he believes the new system “will be better for more people,” he did express concern that the new sequence might not foster the same level of community he experienced when taking Math 230/231.
Alex Deters ’24 agreed, telling News that “the intensive, self-contained nature of the course encouraged a vast amount of collaboration, and created a wonderful community that I absolutely loved.” Deters added that “it would be a terrible loss if future students couldn’t have the same experience.”
But Deters does remain hopeful that the new sequence “might inspire similar collaboration.”
Assistant professor of mathematics Patrick Devlin, who has taught the Math 230 sequence for the past eight semesters, did acknowledge that ”the absolute best part of that sequence is the community it fosters,” noting a time when his undergraduate learning assistants baked brownies for the entire class during their midterm.
He added his certainty that communities will continue to develop in the new sequence and that the department will now have the “ability to expand those communities by being more conscious about accessibility.”
For David Metrick ’24, the new changes are “fantastic” overall — but he expressed confusion regarding how the changes might affect current students, specifically in whether Math 302 and the current introductory sequence might adequately prepare him for upper-level courses.
In regards to Math 302, Devlin said that “there are actually relatively few changes that [students who completed the introductory sequence] should expect” and that students who took the current introductory sequence could enroll immediately in Math 305, an upper-level measure theory course.
The Math Department also has a detailed question and answer page on their website that explains what students in the middle of the introductory sequence, or those who recently completed it, should take next in the midst of the transition from one system to another.
About whether or not students who already completed an introductory sequence should take Math 302, the site recommends that “it may be good to take Math 302 or learn the extra topics on your own.”
For other students, such as Timmy O’Brien ’24, who took a leave of absence this year, the curricular changes are giving him “an opportunity that [he] would not have had otherwise” to review some content and “get back in the swing of things” in a more controlled manner.
While those interviewed by the News all expressed some level of excitement regarding the changes, Zhu was especially hopeful regarding what they might mean for the trajectory of the department as a whole.
For her, the current changes only affect those entering the math major curriculum, which is not enough “to truly reach … an inclusive department.”
She hopes to see a broader reexamining of the priorities of the department as a whole, particularly in hiring and retention.
“It’s really important to make sure that the same level of support exists throughout all four years,” Zhu added.
Devlin told the News that issues of representation within the department are the subject of “ongoing efforts of reflection,” which includes the formation of a diversity, equity and inclusion group and committee, a colloquium on these topics and departmental discussion. Miki Havlickova, associate director of undergraduate studies for mathematics, added that a climate survey, initiated by the original DEI committee during the summer, is currently being prepared by a new climate committee and will ultimately go out to all members of the department.
And while Devlin acknowledged that the inclusionary efforts on the part of the department “cannot be done in a day,” he expressed his optimism about the future that mathematics at Yale is moving towards.
“I am extremely excited for the opportunities that these new courses will bring,” he said, “and I am especially excited for all the students who will benefit from this restructuring.”
The Math Department is located at 10 Hillhouse Ave.
Madison Hahamy | firstname.lastname@example.org