Steven Orientale, Contributing Photographer

Yale departments often take pride in the quality of their students and faculty, and several recently received national recognition.

Four Yale departments received top three national rankings from the 2021 U.S. News graduate school list. The English Department and the Economics Department each snagged the number one spot, while the History Department came in second and the Psychology Department came in third. All four departments tied in these rankings with at least one other school.

“Everyone knows that departmental rankings can be capricious and prone to bias,” wrote Jonathan Kramnick, jobs placement officer for the English Department and Maynard Mack professor of English, in an email to the News. “Everyone pays attention to them anyway. This is therefore a good day for Yale University as well as Yale English.”

Catherine Nicholson, associate professor of English and the English program’s director of graduate studies, recalled that she heard the news through a text from a colleague. Her first reaction, she said, was simply, “Huh!”

Nicholson noted that she herself had considered such rankings when applying to graduate school. However, she noted that while rankings are significant simply because they are consulted by many people, they are not nearly as important as the “lived experiences” of students and the “energy and commitment” of professors. Nicholson added that rankings do not factor into any departmental decisions.

“I’m thrilled by any recognition of the brilliance, generosity, and tenacity of our grad students and alums, who are truly remarkable scholars, teachers, writers, and human beings, and I’m grateful for colleagues who care passionately and think deeply about graduate education,” Nicholson wrote in an email to the News.

However, she added that it is important to avoid any sense of complacency, citing the current pressures on graduate students in the humanities. Nicholson noted that students are struggling with isolation in the midst of the pandemic while simultaneously facing the stress of what she called a job market “crisis.” She said that many programs across the country, including Yale’s, have also cut down on admissions in order to provide for current graduate students.

“I hope the ranking affirms to the university that graduate education in English — and in the humanities more broadly, which has long been an area of great strength for Yale — is worth championing, even and especially in the face of an unprecedentedly difficult academic job market,” Nicholson wrote.

Nicholson added that although rankings are often met with skepticism by students and faculty within the program — particularly due to the inequitable histories of such honors — she still hopes that members in the department will be able to feel some happiness for this recognition in the midst of a difficult year.

Yuichi Kitamura, director of graduate studies for the Economics Department — which was also ranked number one — wrote in an email that, beyond the ranking recognizing the department’s efforts, it also helps significantly with attracting applicants to the program.

He also noted that the department focuses on “cutting edge research in diverse fields,” which has led to “excellent job placement records” for their graduates.

The chair of the department, Tony Smith, wrote in an email to the News that this is not the department’s first year in the number one slot, which reflects its “world-class excellence in all fields of economics” and is also a result of support received from the larger university.

Noel Lenski, director of graduate studies for the History Department, told the News that its number two ranking was well-earned and the result of “thoughtful and careful moves” such as new faculty hires, graduate student recruitment, a redesigned major and renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts.

“I’m only surprised that we’re not ranked #1,” he added. U.S. News’ first place ranking for history programs went to University of California, Berkeley.

Alan Mikhail, chair of the History Department, echoed those sentiments.

“I say this as a skeptic of the entire project of these rankings, a proud graduate of the department ranked number one, and as someone with obvious bias — Yale’s is the world’s top history department,” he wrote in an email to the News.

Gregory McCarthy, director of graduate studies for the Psychology Department, did not respond to a request for comment.

Outside the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, a number of Yale’s other graduate schools also obtained high rankings, including number one for the Yale Law School, number two for the Yale School of Art and number two for Yale School of Nursing.

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu

Isabelle Qian | isabelle.qian@yale.edu