Yet Another Debacle at Yale

A popular professor at Yale moved his course to a smaller auditorium. He made this decision because the smaller facility has no Wi-Fi and the students will not be distracting by Internet browsing and texting. As a result, only 250 (as opposed to the regular 500) students managed to enroll.

Immediately, outrage ensued. Here is an example of what the opponents of Professor’s Nemerov are saying:

As an alum with a child currently at Yale, this is very disappointing news. One of the hallmarks of the Yale College academic experience used to be free access to almost any class. Courses offered in lecture format were never capped; only college seminars had limited enrollments, and these were advertised in the Blue Book in advance. In short, one was guaranteed a spot in any lecture class that struck one’s interest. . . A grounding in Art History is essential to the formation of a well educated person. By all accounts Prof. Nemerov is an inspiring lecturer; I fear that, in seeking the comforts and superior technology of the YUAG auditorium, he is forsaking the opportunity to shape hundreds of minds over the years. I hope that he will reconsider.

The discussion of this story has its participants split into the “Wi-Fi good /  prof bad” versus “”Wi-Fi bad /  prof good” camps. Now, notice that the easiest solution to the entire issue is not even occurring to anybody. Two thirds of all undergrad courses at Yale are not taught by professors. They are taught by contingent faculty and graduate students. As a result, students jump at every opportunity to see an actual specialist with an actual PhD diploma and a record of publications in the field. This is how classes end up with such huge enrollments.

Why not just start hiring more people into tenure-track positions, you’ll ask. I’m asking myself the same question. Sadly, Yale’s administration is not.

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33 comments on “Yet Another Debacle at Yale

  1. You know, Wi-Fi in the classroom doesn’t necessarily have to be a distraction. Wi-Fi is available throughout UVic, and I don’t use it for texting or facebook in class, I use it so that I can search things which pique my interest in lectures, like today, when I managed to find out a lot more about Zheng He’s Voyages and Tupaia’s Map by googling right after my professor mentioned them. Before I used my laptop to take notes in class, I’d jot a note in my notebook about it, but now I can use it to enhance my appreciation of the lecture. I can also use it to look up books by scholars my professor mentions.
    But I digress. I’m sad to hear that about Yale, it makes me wince to think about how they could improve the school by hiring more tenure-track folk, but don’t for some reason.

  2. “contingent faculty ” aren’t specialists and don’t have PhDs??

    “He made this decision because the smaller facility has no Wi-Fi and the students will not be distracting by Internet browsing and texting.”

    Actually it was originally because it was darker and better for showing the slides, but the lack of wi-fi sold him on the idea. And I’m not sure he was doing it just for the students who were on-line. I would love to be able to take large lecture courses in rooms without wi-fi. His students are very lucky. And they seem pretty happy with the change.

    “You know, Wi-Fi in the classroom doesn’t necessarily have to be a distraction. ”

    This is true only from the point of view of the wi-fi user/addict.

    “when I managed to find out a lot more about Zheng He’s Voyages and Tupaia’s Map by googling right after my professor mentioned them.”

    No one is stopping you from doing this after class.

    “I can also use it to look up books by scholars my professor mentions.”

    If you are reading book reviews you are not paying attention to the lecture, and you are distracting many of the people around you.

    • Making a lot of assumptions eh? I said nothing about reading book reviews or ignoring the lecture, I find the book my professor mentions on Amazon and save it to a wish list for later reference. It takes less than two seconds to do so, and I manage to do it without missing a beat in my listening or note-taking. I also fail to see how that’s distracting to anyone, considering that our desks are arranged in such a way so that none of us see each other’s screens when note-taking.
      My perfect GPA and my reputation for being an attentive and actively participating student during seminars and question periods speak for themselves to my professors, I assure you they don’t mind my style of learning and listening terribly.

      • Yeah last semester there was me and a friend of mine who took notes on our laptops. Sometimes the professor was trying to make a connection or a reference that he couldn’t quite get off the top of his head, and we’d be up in a flash with Google to help him out. :)

        And I got my master’s with a perfect GPA and I was easily one of that prof’s favorites that year. So nyeh nyeh, wifi haters. :P

        On the other hand one semester there was this ooky sort of guy who did not groom or dress or bathe himself very well [I know because he sometimes sat next to me] and he was always dicking around on the internet. Not helpful stuff like GIS-ing Remedios Varo paintings [fucking do it oh my god she is amazing] or saving juicy-sounding critical texts to my Amazon list, but messing around on FB, OKCupid, and manga sites. Sometimes he would even play one of those fighting games that has all the big-titted women.

        On a positive note, the next semester I was in a class with the same guy, but he ditched the laptop, stopped stinking, started getting haircuts and trimming his beard, wore clean business casual clothes, and was always contributing to the class. He and I got into some good natured arguments and we almost got to be good friends. But then the semester let out and welp I’m bad at talking to human beings in real life.

        So I guess it’s that wifi is fine for people using it as a helpful learning and discussion tool, and bad if you’re just jerking off on everyone else’s time.

        PS fucking Google Remedios Varo right now. Probably the only female Surrealist anybody has ever heard of [except maybe Clarissa?] and holy fuck is she amazing.

      • “Probably the only female Surrealist anybody has ever heard of ”

        I mean besides Frida Kahlo of course.

        “No, no, I adore her work!!! It is mesmerizing.

        Now I’m really confused about my dread of the fantasy genre.”

        I see the fantasy-ish angle but I feel like that’s just one possibility. To me her work represents mysticized visions of how one’s private perceptions and experiences can estrange, or transcend, one from mundane, factical reality. Or, conversely, as in “Bordando el Manto Terrestre”, how one may yearn for the mystical while feeling trapped by the factical.*

        *This piece is referenced toward the beginning of Crying of Lot 49 which is how I came to know about Varo in the first place.

      • God, how I suffered when I gad to read Crying of Lot 49 in college. And then in grad school. And then again in grad school.

        There are people who say they enjoy it but I can’t bring myself to believe them. American postmodernism defeats me completely. (This is my limitation, of course. I’m not blaming the American postmodernism for it.)

      • In Lacanian terms, I guess I see in Varo a powerful tension between the Imaginary and the Real. But it’s true that in Lacanian terms you could say we’re already always doing that anyway.

      • bloggerclarissa :God, how I suffered when I gad to read Crying of Lot 49 in college. And then in grad school. And then again in grad school.
        There are people who say they enjoy it but I can’t bring myself to believe them. American postmodernism defeats me completely. (This is my limitation, of course. I’m not blaming the American postmodernism for it.)

        Well I do like it but it’s of course fine if you don’t. Pynchon is way not for everybody, including me most of the time. I have tried Gravity’s Rainbow five times and I can’t get past the first fifty pages. People keep telling me it’s a wonderful mind-fuck, and it’s certainly an imaginative mind-fuck but I think I need Arachne to give me a thread so I don’t get eaten by a minotaur with a nuclear penis. Thankfully Lot 49 is so short and not half as nuts as Rainbow. I like it just because I’m a fan of creeping paranoia. I love at the end how Oedipa has no clue if she’s on to something, totally batshit, the butt of a huge joke, or lying to herself. Feeling paralyzed by too many possibilities with only a prayer that it’ll all work out is kind of a thing.

      • “considering that our desks are arranged in such a way so that none of us see each other’s screens when note-taking”

        then your comment is not relevant to the 99% of people sitting in a large lecture class (those not sitting in the very last row) as described in the post. And the name of a book can be jotted down in e second or two.

        Finally your wonderful GPA is completely irrelevant also. But thanks for sharing!

      • “Finally your wonderful GPA is completely irrelevant also. But thanks for sharing!”

        - Is there any need to be mean to a young person who works hard to succeed at school? Really?

      • “And I got my master’s with a perfect GPA ”

        Again, who cares??

        “Those who don’t want to pay attention to the class will find a way not to pay attention with or without wi-fi. ”

        And some ways (web surfing, facebooking) are distracting to other students, who WANT to pay attention, and others are not (doodling, dozing). Why is this so hard to understand?

    • ““contingent faculty ” aren’t specialists and don’t have PhDs??”

      - At Yale, almost never.

      “This is true only from the point of view of the wi-fi user/addict.”

      - I don’t use wi-fi in the classroom because I’m the one teaching. But I don’t mind it if students do. Those who don’t want to pay attention to the class will find a way not to pay attention with or without wi-fi.

      Of course, Dr. Nemerov is absolutely entitled to run his class the way he sees fit. I’m the last person to dispute that. We all have our own teaching philosophies and they are all equally valid.

      • How does having a perfect GPA excuse making others miserable with distracting laptop use? And if “others can’t see the screen” it is irrelevant to the discussion, no?

  3. Do I spot a helicoptering parent? Who “has a child at Yale”? If your daughter/son has got a place at Yale aren’t they an adult now?

  4. Wow! Remedios Varo truly is amazing. But, the paintings are what I would call fantasy, so I imagine that someone who does not like fantasy literature might not like the work.

    • No, no, I adore her work!!! It is mesmerizing.

      Now I’m really confused about my dread of the fantasy genre.

      I have actually even published a scholarly article on a novel from the Spanish fantasy genre. But the novel was a great disappointment, which my article reflected.

  5. Isabel :And some ways (web surfing, facebooking) are distracting to other students, who WANT to pay attention, and others are not (doodling, dozing). Why is this so hard to understand?

    It’s not hard to understand. That guy who stank and played fighting games while we were talking about Shakespeare really got on my nerves. But if there wasn’t wifi I’m sure this guy would have been drawing some creepy-ass manga or some other dumb thing to waste his time and money.

    Until [I like to imagine] a kind prof took him aside and told him to shape the fuck up or gtfo.

    • “some ways (web surfing, facebooking) are distracting to other students, who WANT to pay attention, and others are not (doodling, dozing)”

      “I’m sure this guy would have been drawing some creepy-ass manga or some other dumb thing to waste his time and money”

      From where I was sitting, I would have been able to see anything he was doing, and I bet it would have been at least as distracting as the creepy-ass manga he was reading online.

      Although I could see how, for example, if you were in one of those tiered lecture halls, and some goofball in the row right below you was looking at youtube, even with the sound off, it’d be hard for some people not to be distracted by the bright shiny flying lawnmower.

    • “But if there wasn’t wifi I’m sure this guy would have been drawing some creepy-ass manga or some other dumb thing to waste his time and money.”

      Good for him. My concern is with the other students. He can draw all he wants as far as I am concerned.

  6. Isabel :
    How does having a perfect GPA excuse making others miserable with distracting laptop use? And if “others can’t see the screen” it is irrelevant to the discussion, no?

    If the sight of someone typing notes on a laptop, then pausing momentarily to look up something on Amazon or the University Library website is so dreadfully distracting, might I suggest seeking a session with someone at your college’s disability services? There are special accommodations available for those who have difficulty with small distractions or ADD symptoms, and the professor may even give you a spot in the front so you can offer your undivided attention.
    In the meantime, it may please you to know that you’ve inspired me to invest in a laptop screen privacy filter, so if I ever do take a class in a lecture hall again, I can be sure there are no Isabels in my classes tempted to peek at the titillating and distracting sight of a reservation for Europe and the People Without History.

    • “distracting, might I suggest seeking a session with someone at your college’s disability services?”

      It never takes long for selfish jerks to reveal themselves.

      “have difficulty with small distractions or ADD symptoms”

      Shove it.

      This is unbelievable. Impossible to see life from someone else’s point of view. Why do you think students are so happy now in Prof Nemerov’s class? It is so great I am sure to finally be able to look at the art on the screen without flashing lights all around their peripheral vision. The students who find these flashing lights distracting are not the ones who need therapy for their ADD symptoms.

      “can be sure there are no Isabels in my classes tempted to peek ”

      Nobody cares what you are doing on your laptop- we just want you to put it away.

  7. I’ve gone back to a graduate program, in middle age. Classes are small. Everyone has laptops. In a small class, it is obvious to everyone who is taking notes and who is on Facebook, who is playing scrabble, who is watching hockey game highlights. I don’t find it particularly distracting, but I do find it disrespectful to the professor. Somehow, doodling or daydreaming just seems less flagrant. If you are daydreaming, it may be because you are tired or upset and can’t focus, but if you turn on your laptop and go to the Scrabble site, then you can focus, you are just choosing to focus on something else. I don’t know if the professors care, but if it was me, I would. What I do find disturbing is that if there is a guest who comes to speak, which happens fairly often, students are still on Facebook or playing Scrabble, so I wonder if they know they are being rude, or perhaps manners have changed, and no one expects any different.

  8. I wouldn’t particularly care if students were on their laptops in my class provided they were paying attention. I wouldn’t also care if a few students in my class were not paying attention.

    If a lot of students in my class were not paying attention, I would make the homeworks and exams harder. And then watch what happens. But this hasn’t happened yet fortunately.

    • I had a student who slept through my entire course last semester. The moment I’d come in, he’d drop on the table and fall asleep. people had to wake him up to tell him the class was over. If they don’t want to pay attention, they won’t no matter what you do.

      At least, he didn’t complain when he got an F.

    • So you wouldn’t care if the flashing laptops and cellphones were distracting other students (essentially ruining the experience) in a large art history lecture course? Is that what you are saying?

      Sleeping, like doodling, is totally different. Why is this so hard to understand?

      • “Sleeping, like doodling, is totally different. Why is this so hard to understand?”

        - From whose point of view? Here, we are exchanging opinions as to whether we, as teachers, mind it when students are distracted in class.

        Why you feel the need to bark at people who are sharing their opinions is a mystery that remains to be solved.

      • Where is the evidence that the concern in the case under discussion was for the offending students rather than for everyone else (the instructor and the students who are trying to focus on the art)?

        And in spite of repeated mention of the latter problem the focus on this thread keeps coming back to the students who are not paying attention. This is how these conversations usually go.

        I really don’t think Prof Nemerov cares about the bored or sleeping students.If he did I don’t think he would look for a darker, quieter room. ;)

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