“The Criminal Mind” course caps enrollment, drops over 200 students
The psychology department’s most popular course for the spring 2023 semester received over 700 instructor permission requests, resulting in over 200 students getting dropped to fit into Yale College’s lecture halls.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
The last time Arielle Baskin-Sommers taught “The Criminal Mind,” enrollment for the course was just under 400 students. This year, the number of students attempting to register shot up to over 700.
“The Criminal Mind” is the most popular course the psychology department is offering in the spring 2023 semester, with 513 students currently registered according to Course Demand Statistics. But, this number fell from initial enrollment after over 200 students were forced to drop the class because of lecture hall size restrictions, leaving many disappointed.
“I know there were many people who worked their schedule around that class, and it’s frankly unfair that such a last minute decision was made to drop these students so close to the end of registration period,” William Miller ’26 said. “Since it’s such a popular class, I can understand why so many people registered, and the priority may have gone to upperclassmen. Yet, overcapacity is an issue that should have been sorted out beforehand.”
When Baskin-Sommers — who is currently serving as interim Head of Silliman College — saw she had 725 students who had added the course on their Canvas worksheets, she contacted the University Registrar’s Office and was informed that all courses must now be capped at 450 students.
The largest classroom on campus is O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall in the Yale Science Building, with a maximum capacity of 483 people.
On the Registrar’s Office’s suggestion, Baskin-Sommers said, those who enrolled first in the class were able to remain. Since registration changes to the spring 2023 semester made the opening of course enrollment staggered by class year, seniors and juniors — who saw registration open earlier than sophomores and first years — were less likely to be affected by the removal.
Removal from the class roster did cause some issues for some students who planned their schedules around the lecture. Sushant Kunwar ’26 was one of these students. He was hoping to use the class as his social science distributional requirement since it fit into his schedule.
“Being kicked out of the class was troublesome,” Kunwar said. “I removed my backup classes from my registration worksheet so I was scrambling to fill out my registration worksheet before the deadline.”
Baskin-Sommers expressed support for teaching the class again in the future, and Kunwar said he hopes to take the course when it is offered again.
Yale’s most popular course ever, “Psychology and the Good Life,” taught by Laurie Santos — who is currently on leave from both her teaching post and her role as Head of Silliman College — saw enrollment surpassing 1,200 students in 2018. The course was originally split between Battell Chapel and live streams in other auditoriums before moving to Woolsey Hall.
“The Criminal Mind” was last taught in 2020, and it had an overall rating of 4.6 on CourseTable. Baskin-Sommers attributed the class’s popularity to the multidisciplinary content covered, the introductory nature of the class and the lack of discussion sections or labs that make the workload “relatively manageable.”
“My main goals in this course are to get students excited about psychology and neuroscience and to help address myths that many people believe about criminal behavior by helping students understand the rich scientific literature on the topic,” Baskin-Sommers wrote to the News.
The course goes over the role of the environment, the role of mental illnesses and underlying patterns of thinking and feeling that contribute to chronic criminal behavior. It also uses scientific understanding to consider potential changes in legal policy and intervention.
Some students, like Miller, attributed some of the course’s popularity to its offering every two years, which he said makes students more eager to take it as it may be their only chance.
“I mainly chose this course because I was told it was one of the most interesting courses at Yale,” Miller said. “Since I’m in Silliman, my head of college is also teaching the class so I have some sort of connection with the professor as well. I’ve also never been particularly interested in psychology, so I want this to be the class that sparks my interest.”
The classes of 2024 and 2025 set record numbers for enrollment, with the current sophomore class’ population of 1,786 about 240 students larger than the previously typical incoming class. In 2021, administrators told the News the increased student population created larger demand for courses. This is the first time “The Criminal Mind” has been offered for this larger student body.
Baskin-Sommers said she was not sure if larger Yale class sizes impact the record enrollment for her course.
O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall is located at 260 Whitney Ave.