A M P U S
||A Coarse Critique
The Editors • Classes to take, classes to avoid
Unless you were a child prodigy in high school, much of your first year
at Yale will be spent taking overviews, surveys, or intro classes. Some
of these offerings at Yale are downright awful. Some are spectacular, and
all are available to freshmen.
Word of mouth is the best bet for selecting courses, but the YFP
would like to add a few rules of thumb and information about popular freshman
If Credit/D/Fail is an option for a class, always take it. You can change
back at midterm with no penalty. (Hint: don't mention to profs or TA's
that you are taking the class CR/D/F, they are often unaware, and what
they don't know can't hurt you.)
The official course critique is useless and out of date; don't trust
You can talk your way into almost anything. If you really want to get
into a class with prerequisites, and you think you're qualified, ask to
speak with the professor. Sometimes you can get away with just signing
up for the class, especially in Groups I, II and III, but even in Group
IV, a conversation with the prof will usually get you what you want.
In big lecture classes, check to see whether there is a required section.
Your schedule may appear easy at the beginning of shopping period, but
if you add several sections, your life can become unpleasant quickly. Sections
are also taught by TA's, which makes most of them a waste of time.
And it's never too early to start thinking about Group IV "guts" to
fill your requirement.
Here is a brief review of some courses open to freshmen:
ART 114a and 115b, Basic Drawing.
The class is difficult to get into, and most profs are intense -- do
not think that this will be an easy course. It requires a lot of
work, but if you want to improve, it pays off. Each prof has a different
approach. Includes free live nude models.
E&EB 110b/STEV 110b, Environmental Studies.
This is one class where it is much easier to be green, a place where
the worst insult is, "You are being anthropocentric." Diversity of opinion
spans all the way from those who want to keep all human beings out of the
rainforest to those who want to let in only eco-tourists. A student of
non-mainstream views (read: not a tree-hugger) may find himself under attack.
Not that this is entirely bad--it is certainly an opportunity to practice
a rigorous defense of an unorthodox opinion--just don't expect to make
much headway with your vegan classmates. Benefits of the class as
it was taught in recent years: no final, sections that are not on
Science Hill, notes online, no textbooks to buy, and the all-important
Group IV credit.
MCDB 150b, Global Problems of Population Growth.
This class provides a solid hour and fifteen minute nap, and a good
information about your professors' sex lives. It also offers at least
four lectures on the history, morality, and urgent necessity of globally
legalized abortion. And there are three (3) 350 page course packets. It's
a good class to take if you want to hear the best arguments the left can
come up with for legalized abortion, globally-enforced population control
and sensationalist environmental concerns. There's very little science
involved -- the class should be listed in either the sociology or anthropology
department -- which does make it a good Group IV for non-science people.
CHEM 114, Comprehensive General Chemistry.
Full of premeds, boring as hell (actually, I expect you wouldn't
fall asleep in hell). If you take this class and read the book, you'll
do all right. If you wait until five days before the final to read
it (like I did) you won't do all right. Weekly problem sets.
CHEM 125, Freshman Organic Chemistry.
Although there may be interesting information in this course, there
is substantial rout memorization. Some enjoy the course, but all agree
that the work is over-whelming. If you're headed for medical school, however,
you have to take orgo eventually. One plus: because this class has selective
entrance, it is curved to a B. Conventional wisdom has it that this course
is used to weed out potential med students.
CPSC 112a or 112b, Introduction to Programming
No prior programming experience is needed. Although the lecture
notes on the website are a luxury, that luxury destroys your motivation
to attend class. Weekly
problem sets take forever, because you have to go over and over the
program you have written to figure out where you left out that stupid parenthesis.
The problem sets also compose a large percentage of your grade. You
will get a good grade if do the work, but it's not easy.
CLCV 111a, Homer, Virgil, Dante. Ann Ellis
Fantastic reading list, taught at a very introductory level. You will
learn things, but it's an easy class. The professor is enthusiastic, but
probably a little too generous -- it's hard to get motivated to work when
you know you don't have to.
ECON 115 a or b,Intro to Microeconomics.
You can either read the book or go to class; no need to do both. Weekly
problem sets are generally easy for students with good mathematic and economic
intuitions; others find it significantly harder. Quite possibly a waste
of time; every example in this class seems to take place in the Land of
Make Believe. Read the Wall Street Journal instead.
ECON 116a or b, Introduction to Macroeconomics.
Much like Micro, you can choose to read or go to class. William Nordhaus
is an excellent lecturer. If you're not going to be an econ major, you
should read the Wall Street Journal instead of wasting a credit.
EE 101a, The Digital Information Age. Roman
Though it can no longer be taken CR/D/F, EE 101 is the king of guts.
Roman Kuc can be an entertaining lecturer, but actual attendance is unnecessary.
This class has no final, only a few tests, and the weekly labs are
an easy "A". Anyone who hates science and wants to take one step closer
to completeing the group IV requirement needs to take this course. After
all, when the major class project is making a personal web page, you can't
Yale's English department is superb, particularly once you get past
the introductory level. There are lecture courses in the upper levels that
are open to freshman -- take advantage of them if you're up to the challange.
These courses are designed to teach you how to write, but they don't
do much serious literary work. They're worth taking if you want to work
on your writing, but if you can pass into a higher-level English class,
it's probably a better idea. (Even if your SAT or AP scores are not stellar,
you can get into the 120-level classes by submitting a good writing sample.)
ENGL 125, Major English Poets.
This class is a requirement for the English major, so it's taught by
actual-size professors (no TA's). The pace is much more leisurely than
in 129, so you get many more class discussions and have time to read more
carefully. Traugott Lawler is a particularly fine professor.
ENGL 129a, The European Literary Tradition.
"Greatest Hits of Western Civ." The material is terrific--Homer, Joyce,
Shakespeare, Dante and similar stars. The class focuses on drama.
The downside is the massive reading list, which makes in-depth analysis
difficult. (Hamlet is taught in just three classes.) This is
not a lecture course--you have to pre-register for sections as in 125,
but here your section may be taught by a TA. The class will only be enjoyable
if the instructor is talented, enthusiastic, and somewhat well-balanced.
(All three in one package is rare for an English TA.) Unfortunately, you
are completely blind in pre-registration, so a good TA (or, rarely,
professor) requires some luck. George Fayen's section is by far the
best. This is not a lecture course—you have to pre-register or talk
your way in. Read the Iliad before you start if possible.
*ENGL 207a, Shakespeare and Originality: Histories,
Comedies, and Poems. Harold Bloom.
A passionate and erudite teacher, with a romantic, giggling laugh,
Harold Bloom has forgotten more about Shakespeare (and thus life) than
most of us ever learn. Take a course with the caustic Gnostic or live to
regret it. (Don't even try it as a freshman, though.) If you can't
get in, sit in.
FILM 150a - Introduction to Film Studies.
The only way this course will not seem like a dreadful season in purgatory
is if you truely, madly, deeply love film. Frankly, Musser's lectures are
like Faulkner meets Freud—stream-of-consciousness psychobabble. The approach
to film criticism in this course is tedious and unproductive. There are
some fantastic films on the syllabus, but Blockbuster Video is a less painful
way to experience the movies.
Fortunately, there are no prerequisites for history, so any of the
dozens of classes is fair game. Yale has the best history department in
the country, so it's worth taking some before you graduate.
HIST 121b, The Military, War, and Society in
the United States, 1775-1991. Mary Habeck.
Don't be fooled by the title in the blue book -- this course is straight
U.S. Military History. Professor Habeck is a very engaging lecturer; the
last time this course was taught, one lecture was devoted to an arms demonstration.
The exams draw mostly from the lecture material, so don't slave over your
books, but make sure you're at lecture. Prof. Habeck is also very flexible
about the exams; she usually offers a take-home exam as well as an in-class
final. Take the in-class exam -- she has been known to buy everyone doughnuts.
HIST 205a, Introduction to Ancient Greek History.
Donald Kagan makes this class. From his sweeping introductory
lecture on why we should care about the Greeks to his demonstrations of
hoplite fighting patterns, he's a fascinating lecturer with years of practice.
The reading list is excellent, but the course is very demanding as far
as workload goes. Watch out -- TA's make a huge difference here. Sections
are optional, but you really should take one. Be sure you don't get one
of those guys who fails half the class just to be ornery.
*HIST 412aG/*HUMS 232a/*RLST 416a, Medieval
Jews, Christians, and Muslims Imagining Each Other. Ivan Marcus.
Ivan Marcus is great -- funny, energetic, and willing to take a stand
on controversial points of history without giving the other sides the shaft.
His area of expertise, medieval Jewish life and interactions with Christians
and Muslims, provides lots of fascinating material as well as the opportunity
for hard theological and philosophical thinking. There are two problems,
one minor and one major: the lit-theory course title (don't worry, he's
solid and jargon-free), and the enormous reading list he'll expect you
to fight your way through. Judicious skimming isn't just advised, it's
History of Art
Some classes in this department are excellent; others are dens of feminist
theory and art-speak. You should be able to tell what's what from the course
titles and the first lecture. Make sure that the slides which are required
for memorization for the class are up on the Yale server; otherwise, you'll
have to trek over to Street Hall to do your memorization.
HSAR 112a, Introduction to the History of Art:
Prehistory to the Renaissance. Vincent Scully.
This class is ideal for those who plan to major in art history, or
for those who simply want to be able to impress their friends in cocktail
lounge conversations later in life. Vincent Scully is a legend. A great
deal of memorization is involved in this class, but the slides are all
up on Yale's server. Take the class soon, before Scully runs off to Miami.
*HSAR 460a, Utopia: Visionary Architecture,
Art, and Theory. Karen Koehler.
Koehler is an interesting, jargon-free professor, who assigns a lot
of reading focusing on the philosophy and theory of art. Koehler teaches
mostly at UMass-Amherst, so her time at Yale is limited. If you're a history
of art major, try to take at least one class with her.
HUMS 100a, Origins of Old World Civilization.
Each class of Harvey Weiss's tour-de-force feels like a mini-series:
romantic and suspenseful. You itch to find out the whos, whats, and hows.
Unlike most mini-series, however, the star is not a caricature. Weiss is
a character who really belongs on an archeological dig somewhere. Many
of the readings are technical and dull. So don't do them. The tests are
derived entirely from the lectures. Take comprehensive notes or find a
friend who does.
If you're looking to fufill your language requirement, you should have
placed out on the AP test in high school, and now you're screwed. For most
courses, the placement exam is nearly impossible for non-native speakers.
Watch out for taking intro classes. Often, people take the classes if they
already speak well, in order to raise their GPA's. If you can't beat 'em,
CHNS 115, Elementary Modern Chinese.
Expect hours of study, daily quizes, and a lingering fear that you
are tone-deaf. However, William Zhou is energetic, driven, and very demanding,
and there is a good chance you'll leave this class being able to say more
than just "ni hao." If Congress persists in its appeasement policy,
you'll be glad you took this class.
LATN 110a, Beginning Latin: The Elements of
If you're looking to fufill that language requirement with the least
amount of pain, Latin is the language for you. It only meets three times
a week, requires no time at the language lab, and is conducted entirely
in English. If you stick around for two years (thus fulfilling the language
requirement), you'll get to read Vergil. And also, if you travel back in
time and end up in Europe 500 years ago, you'll be able to converse with
any priest of any nationality.
SPAN 115, Elementary Spanish.
A chore. It requires daily attendance, which, as any real college student
can tell you, is sinful. The work is reminiscent of the second grade, with
corny videos, boring labs, and an "activity book". If you are at all familiar
with Spanish, it is an easy class, but do not expect any kind of a fiesta.
MATH 112a or b/115 a or b
These classes are roughly equivalent to a secondary school track in
calculus. One thing that these classes prove: just because you're at Yale
doesn't mean the instructors are any better than in high school. Most TA's
speak broken English, if any.
MATH 120 a or b, Calculus of Functions of Several
This class does not deal with proofs; instead, students work on difficult
computations. A lot of time is spent working on calculators and using formulas
that you don't understand. Take Linear Algebra if you can; not only is
it easier, it's much more fun and interesting.
Music 145b, Jazz: America's Music.
Lectures are interesting, and listening to the music through the Yale
network is easy and enjoyable. The reading, although entirely optional
and unhelpful during the midterm and final, adds to a greater understanding
of jazz. Breaking a long Yale tradition, the sections for this class
are amazingly useful.
PHIL 116a, Introduction: Ancient Philosophy.
A good introduction to ancient philosophical thought. It is also useful
for beginning to develop your own philosophical reasoning. This is the
downside as well. Sections are required, and some of the budding philosophers
in the class can be quite annoying.
PHIL 117a - Modern Philosophy from Descartes
The merit of this course depends largely on who teaches it, but on
the whole it is a poor introduction to modern philosophy. Such survey courses
are unable to present philosophy in its proper context and therefore provide
reading without understanding and lectures without relevance. The workload,
however, is light —a reflection of the course content. If you are a philosophy
major and are required to take this course, we pity you.
PLSC 118a, Moral Foundations of Politics.
Shapiro is an engaging lecture, and covers a lot of ground. The course
readings and theories studied are varied, but conservatism is blatantly
ignored. It is possible to get a lot out of this class, but the class is
not designed to help stimulate further thinking—you’ve got to be motivated.
PLSC 150b,Theories of International Relations.
At 9:00 am. (Need I say more?) You have to get used to
the professor's calculations on the board, even though this isn't a math
class. And you'll get a lecture on the theory of theory. Once
you get past this, it's interesting: it explores theories of war
and peace, causes of war domestic and international, and why alliances
hold or break. Your grade rests on midterm and final. If you
want something more basic, take Intro International Relations.
PLSC 205b, The American Presidency.
One word sums up this course: boring. A deep analysis of how the presidency
works could be interesting, if the lectures were not so dry and scientific
and the reading not so dense.
PLSC 452a/STAT102a/EP&E 203a Introduction
to Statistics: Political Science
This class has some of the worst characteristics of a gut: easy but
boring. Doing even the small amount of necessary learning is a drag.
Mathematical equations or problems are presented apologetically, as if
math is an evil to be endured. For those who believe that Group
IV is the domain of Satan, the approach of this class is ideal.
RLST 281b, History of Christian Thought, 450
- 1650. Marilyn Adams.
This is an attempt to teach almost the whole of mainstream Christian
theology in one course. Like similar survey courses in history and
philosophy, it offers a syllabus full of excellent works and far too little
time to read them. Professor Adams places a heavier burden than usual
on the student: he must not only read carefully but selectively -- for
the syllabus is too large to completely read -- but also judge among sharply
discordant theologies at the end of the course.
The second part of the course, from Luther onwards, lacks the coherence
of the first half. Professor Adams does not disclose her own beliefs
on the questions rising from the Reformation, and so the student must suddenly
take the role of a judge. Any one of the works on this syllabus would justify
a course in itself, and the opportunity to hear an excellent medieval scholar
explain Anselm and Aquinas is quite rare. It is a difficult
course,however, especially in the quantity of reading and in the effort
necessary to forge some kind of coherence out of the second half.
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