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A Coarse Critique
The Editors • Classes to take, classes to avoid
September 2001

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 fodder. 

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The official course critique is useless and out of date; don't trust it. 

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. Robert Dorit. 
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 dose of 
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. 

CHEM 130 (now called Chem 332): Physical Chemistry with Applications in the Physical Sciences
If you really enjoy Chem, then this is the course is for you. The material is often difficult to grasp. However, most of the math is pretty basic calculus. Unfortunately, this course gives one the impression that no one in the chemistry department knows any math. You may come to realize that the rule against dividing by zero is just a social construct.

Computer Science
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 Hanson. 
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. 

Electrical Engineering
EE 101a, The Digital Information Age. Roman Kuc. 
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 go wrong. 

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. 

ENGL 114a/115a. 
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 Studies 
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 202b, European Civilization 1648-1945. John Merriman.
A classic in the history department, this class always attracts a fair number of students. The class provides you with a decent overview of a large period of history. Professor Merriman is mostly entertaining, but lectures are of varying relevance. He often drifts off into insignificant details, which can make him hard to follow. Members of the vast right-wing conspiracy will have to put up with some lefty remarks and socialist books such as Zola‘s Germinal, as well as Prof. Merriman‘s long-time love relationship with France and its culture. Do the textbook reading to the midterm and then stop: you‘ll be given the possible questions for the final, so it will be early enough to look at the necessary parts in the textbook during reading period. It’s almost impossible to read all the additional books, but you most likely won’t be asked much about them on exams. Also, you get to write the final paper about anything you want that happened between 1648 and 1945.

HIST 205a, Introduction to Ancient Greek History. Donald Kagan.
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 required. 

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. Harvey Weiss. 
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, join '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 Latin Grammar. 
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. 

SPAN 138: Advanced Conversational Spanish.
This course is easy and very flexible. There are almost no assignments. The few that there are go by like a breeze. There is one short book by Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Attendance is mandatory, as is class participation, which usually involves being involved in and leading discussions on some current events. 

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 Variables. 
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. Tad Brennan. 
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 to Kant. 
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. 

Political Science 
PLSC 118a, Moral Foundations of Politics. Ian Shapiro. 
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. 

Religious Studies 
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. 

STAT 104a, Introduction to Statistics: Pscyhology
The big bonus involved in taking this class instead of the easier Psychology 200b is that it fulfills the group four requirement. Tuesday lectures are with Joseph Chang, who does his best to make statistics entertaining, unfortunately not very successfully. Tom Brown, the psychology section leader, makes you wish you were back in Chang’s classroom. The class is mathematically not very difficult. The weekly problem sets tend to be tedious. Section leaders realize psychology majors aren‘t all good at math, so you get to pick among the problems you want to do on the midterm and the final. Hint: go to the review sessions, especially before the midterm.

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