Tag Archive: Yale College Dean’s Office

  1. In the shadow of Bouchet: an interview with Ferentz Lafargue

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    On the tall walls of Saybrook College’s dining hall hangs the portrait of Edward A. Bouchet, class of 1874. The portrait, first displayed to the Saybrook community on Oct. 9, 2020, is the first of a person of color to hang in the dining hall in the college’s 89-year history and comes after the Saybrook renovation in 2001 that created a new entry named for the Yale alum. 

    Bouchet was the College’s first Black student and the first African American to earn a doctorate in the United States. Bouchet was also among the first 20 Americans to receive a doctorate in physics, the sixth to earn a doctorate in physics at Yale and for his academic achievements, was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1874.

    The legacy of Bouchet lives beyond just a portrait and entryway through the dean of Saybrook College, Ferentz Lafargue. Lafargue is Yale College’s only currently serving Black residential college dean and director of the Mellon Mays and Edward A. Bouchet Undergraduate Fellowship Program. Last week, I sat down with him to discuss the aims of the program, his role in its operation and his reflections on the last three years. 

    Q. How does the legacy of Edward A. Bouchet live on at Yale?

    A.The Bouchet legacy lives on in a couple of different ways. The entryway in which the dean’s office at Saybrook College is located is the Bouchet entryway. There is the Edward A. Bouchet Society, a graduate society run out of the Office of Graduate Student Diversity. And then there is the program that I administer, the Edward A. Bouchet Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which provides support for students from underrepresented backgrounds who are considering PhDs primarily, but features in higher ed. The goal is to diversify the professoriate, so underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, as well as first-gen, low-income students and students from a variety of different backgrounds end up applying for the program. So there, there are a few different ways that the legacy of Bouchet lives on. 

    Q. Why does Saybrook College memorialize Bouchet?

    A. The Bouchet Portrait is a project that was steered and completely driven by Head of College [Thomas] Near. One of the things that he noticed both as a fellow of Saybrook and eventually as a head of college was that pictures in the dining hall did not align with the diversity that is now represented at Yale. Head of College Near knew about the legacy of Bouchet, saw the Bouchet entryway and thought that Dr. Bouchet would be a great addition to the portraits in the Saybrook dining hall as a way of modernizing what the artwork can look like in the Saybrook dining hall.

    Q. When was the Undergraduate Fellowship Program founded, and how has it remained after all these years? 

    A. The Bouchet Program is in its 20th year and is connected to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship here at Yale, which is in its 38th year. The Mellon Mays Program is a national program. It serves about 40 different college campuses. Ours is one of the few that has a partner program with the Bouchet Program. It’s supported by generous donors, primarily the Robinson family, and it’s their gift that allows the fellowship to continue to live on.

    Q. When did you take the program over?

    A. I became co-director first in my second year here in the 2019 academic year. And my co-director, professor Renee Barnes, who was the dean of Pierson, left to take a role as a chair of women and gender Studies at Smith College. And so, I’ve been director since spring 2020.

    Q. As Yale’s only currently serving Black residential college dean, what does it mean to you to head the program?

    A. It means quite a few different things. One, I was drawn to the program because of my own experience with the Mellon Mays Minority Undergraduate Fellowship at Queens College. I’ve actually been involved with the program for over 20 years. I was a graduate assistant for the Queens College Program, helped serve as a graduate assistant at the Wesleyan program and worked with the Williams program when I was at Williams, so I’ve been involved with Mellon since 1996. So, when I arrived at Yale, I knew the program really well and when the service opportunity to work with Bouchet Program opened up, it was something that I knew that I was completely interested in. It aligned with my values and it aligned with my long-term academic and professional interests. It’s a unique opportunity to work with students who are incredibly driven, who are coming from a variety of research backgrounds, so I’ve learned much more from the students than I could have ever imagined instructing them.

    Q. You mentioned that the program aligns with your values, could you speak on what those values are?

    A. One of the things that we strive to do in the program is give the students as clear a sense of what it means to give back and be part of a community in higher education. The program is a cohort model. They get a chance to interact with fellows who have a couple of similar programs throughout the Northeast. It’s an opportunity to promote research and scholarship, and it’s an opportunity to work with students on things that they are passionate about. So it’s also an opportunity for me to both learn in terms of being a lifelong learner and also helping someone else to achieve a goal that they have defined and devised for themselves.

    Q. I really like the idea that you, the director of the program, are learning from the students who are part of it. What sort of things have you learned from students over the years?

    A. Everything. I’m always inspired by the drive students have. They’re conceptualizing and thinking through things that I was not when I was their age. Now more than ever, students are doing transnational or international work, so projects that initially seemed to be very domestically based, students are applying for the [International Study Award] taking part of their summer stipend through the program, when travel was permitted, to do language study to sort of advance their language skills and do research abroad, for example.

    There’s also the maturity our students have. They’re able to just live on their own in far-flung parts of the world for two or three months at a time, at the end of the summer. I often think to myself when I was in college, I was just focused on making it through the term so I could maybe earn some money over the summer at some local summer job or get an internship, and these are students who are taking on or pursuing these fairly ambitious research projects. 

    I’m also learning a lot from the students about how to have faith. They don’t always know where they will ultimately end up on a project, but they still have enough faith to pursue it. A lot of them are anxious about their projects because they think that what they produce will be their only gateway to graduate school or work outside of higher ed before returning to grad school. So, there’s a certain level of pressure the students apply to their projects, but they maintain faith that they’re going to complete it. And I’m always inspired by that because there are plenty of things that I’ve started in my own life and don’t always follow through on. It’s just amazing being surrounded by plenty of people who have the time and who are on their own time working to make these things happen. 

    Q. What are some of the challenges that you face in running the program?

    A. The only challenges that are faced are the challenges that we’re all facing. It’s the restrictions and the upheaval caused by COVID. 

    So the biggest challenge really has been for two years now, watching the students having to reel back. They’ve done a masterful job in a number of ways to kind of meet the moment and kind of reconfigure their projects based on whatever constraints that they have. But when we select the students, and they join the program, I’m as excited about what they’re planning to do as they are sometimes, and it’s painful sometimes to know that the student who had a really great project idea that involves relocating to a particular community to interview members of that community is not going to be able to do it. 

    Q. How do you feel about the current state of the program, and where do you see it in the next 20 years?

    A. I think the program is in really good shape. We’ve been able to do a lot. We have a really good team. We’re now able to offer a half-credit seminar and that additional structure allows us to create deeper partnerships with other campus offices. We get a chance to do a lot of research and development with the Poorvu Center, and we’re able to bring in program alums for work in progress talks or keynote talks. 

    Ideally, over time, one of the things that I would like to eventually work on is a Summer Institute for the new students in the program so that we’re able to form the cohort bond sooner. That way, they’re able to kind of pick up some of the key concepts of developing a research project and working with a mentor, so we’re able to do even more during the course of the year.

    This interview was edited for clarity and flow.

  2. Committee tackles course evaluations

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    A Yale College Dean’s Office committee is working to enhance the current system of online course evaluations by putting together a set of recommendations that could be implemented as soon as this semester.

    The Teaching and Learning Committee has been investigating the topic of online course evaluations since fall 2015 and presented its initial recommendations at a Yale College Faculty meeting in April. Faculty members offered feedback at a discussion in October, and the committee hopes to revise its suggestions by next month. Proposed changes include eliminating redundant questions, adding new questions and incorporating a numeric component for faculty ratings, in addition to the existing open-ended questions. Though the majority of feedback has been positive, this final suggestion has raised ire.

    “Our goal is to make sure that the partnership between students and faculty, on how students experience the courses they take at Yale, be preserved and maintained,” committee chair and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Scott Strobel said. “The feedback that students provide on the courses are valuable both to the faculty member teaching the class and to students using that material for course selection in the future. We don’t want to do anything that would disrupt that partnership, and the committee is looking for ways to enhance that partnership.”

    The committee, which met once every two weeks during the 2015–16 academic year, read literature on the topic of course evaluations and looked at studies conducted at other universities before assembling recommendations of its own, Strobel said. He emphasized the importance of preserving and improving the “social contract” between faculty and students who rely on evaluations data.

    The committee identified several aspects of the course evaluation system that could be improved, such as redundant questions and questions that may reflect personal biases about students’ experience in the class, Strobel said. In response, Strobel said the committee suggested replacing redundant or unhelpful questions, such as those asking students to declare whether they enrolled in the class to satisfy major or distributional requirements, with more introspective questions.

    Zac Krislov ’16, one of three undergraduate members of the committee, said research shows that asking questions in the beginning of the evaluation form about how much a student learned and how much effort they put into a class generally yields higher quality evaluations.

    “Course evaluations data is a big question of who is allowed to see what data, and what they are used for,” Krislov said. “The current framework for this was decided a number of years ago, and I think the student use of data has grown in ways that nobody could have really expected at the time with things like Yale Blue Book. Yale is remarkably open with its course evaluations data in terms of showing that to students.”

    The proposed recommendations would offer students the chance to weigh in on issues such as the frequency with which they get feedback from professors and the degree to which they feel intellectually challenged, Strobel said, adding that the number of questions or the total time and energy required of students to fill out evaluations would not significantly increase.

    These changes were piloted as a midterm evaluation for PSYC 200 last spring, according to committee member and professor of psychology Gregory Samanez-Larkin. Students reported they “did not feel it was excessively more burdensome,” Strobel said. Committee member Kelsi Caywood ’18 said the changes to the form are intended to help students and administrators get a more comprehensive sense of teaching quality across departments.

    “While no set of evaluation questions can perfectly capture the quality of a given course, I do think the Teaching and Learning Committee’s recommendations are an improvement over our current questions and hope they can be adopted soon,” said committee member Marla Geha, a professor in the astronomy and physics departments.

    Strobel said feedback from faculty has generally been positive and demonstrated growing support for the recommendations, though other faculty members expressed dissatisfaction with the suggestion to implement a numeric scale for rating professors and potentially make that data available to other faculty members.

    Strobel said the reasoning behind this recommendation lies in the fact that being able to see how other faculty members are doing provides perspective for the quality of one’s own teaching. Krislov added that while open-ended questions provide more in-depth feedback, a quantifiable scale offers standardization and the easy comparability of numbers.

    “[The existing system of] evaluations for professors are great,” history professor Glenda Glimore said. “They’re learning tools. Publishing them widely turns them from learning tools into marketing tools for the course, and I’m not sure if Yale College should be in that business.”

    Gilmore also cited recent studies indicating that numeric evaluations may raise concerns about racial and gender inequality because the studies suggest that female professors and professors of color are consistently rated lower than their colleagues.

    Existing literature shows that in general, women professors tend to be evaluated more positively in smaller courses, and male professors are often rated higher in larger courses, which might play into gender stereotypes about nurturing versus commanding an audience, Krislov said.

    The committee is considering removing or amending the suggested numeric question based on faculty response, Strobel said.

    Committee member and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Michael Koelle said the proposal states that there are “inappropriate” uses of student evaluations, and it remains undecided if and how the publicizing of such data would affect issues of tenure or promotion. He added that students evaluations should not be the sole factor when considering promotion.

    “Even in just considering the contribution to teaching by a faculty member, student evaluations should just be one component of the process,” Koelle said. “Everyone agrees that it would be inappropriate to reduce a faculty member’s contribution to teaching to a single number and that is not what the committee proposes.”

    Numeric rating would help separate the evaluation of a course from the evaluation of a professor, particularly in classes that are co-taught by several faculty members, Strobel said. It would also provide clearer evaluations of professors teaching fixed curriculums such as the Directed Studies program, in which professors don’t have control over the curriculum, Strobel added.

    The committee hopes to preserve the “fantastic richness” of open-ended, narrative questions, Strobel said. He added that the committee is meeting with Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate members again on Tuesday before revising its recommendations, which could be implemented at the end of this semester if agreement is reached.

    “I am impressed by the Teaching and Learning Committee’s report, which represents a year of careful thought by a faculty committee on an issue of central importance to both faculty and students,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said.

  3. Teaching prizes for 2013 announced

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    The Yale College Dean’s Office announced the winners of the six Yale College Teaching Prizes for 2013 on Thursday.

    Each year, candidates for the prizes are nominated by students, and the final decision is made by the Committee on Teaching, Learning & Advising.

    Read the list of this year’s recipients below:

    Yale College-Sidonie Miskimin Prize for Excellence in the Humanities: Tamar Gendler

    The Sari Ribicoff ’79 Prize: Kathryn Lofton

    The Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences: Deborah Davis

    The Dylan Hixon ’88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences: Eric Dufresne

    The Richard H. Brodhead ’68 Prize for Excellence by Non-Ladder Faculty: John Bryan Starr

    The Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize: William Nordhaus