Less than a year after their creation last February, the modern Middle East studies and computing and the arts majors are already generating interest among students. But it is still unclear whether the majors will continue to attract students, administrators said.
Students have already enrolled in the computing and the arts major, and enrollments in Arabic classes are at an all-time high, administrators said. Both majors, the latest interdisciplinary majors added to the Blue Book, were approved by the Yale College faculty in February.
Even though no students have yet enrolled in the modern middle east studies major, according to University Registrar Jill Carlton, two have enrolled in the computing and the arts major.
The continued, sustained growth in the number of students taking Arabic indicates that more students than ever are interested in the Middle East politically, socially and culturally, acting Arabic language coordinator Beatrice Gruendler said. About 150 students are enrolled in the 12 Arabic classes offered this semester — more than anyone expected, Gruendler said.
"The high enrollments are as much a result of an increased critical mass of interest as is the modern [Middle East studies] major," she said.
Ellen Lust-Okar, a member of the Council on Middle East Studies at the MacMillan Center and one of the directors of undergraduate studies for the new major, said about 10 students have e-mailed or met with her about declaring as a modern Middle East studies major.
Official numbers for this year's course enrollments are not yet available, but courses taught by visiting Middle East studies professors were oversubscribed during shopping period, Lust-Okar said. Students seem to be interested in looking at contemporary issues in the Middle East, rather than historical perspectives, she said.
The Computer Science Department has seen increased interest in introductory computer science courses this semester, said computer science professor Holly Rushmeier, who helped shape the new major; but that increase could simply be due to a greater interest in computer science generally and not just the new major. Eight members of the class of 2011 asked faculty to serve as their advisors in the new major last spring, Rushmeier said.
Paul Hudak, another professor who helped develop the new major, said 21 students showed up to an introductory meeting for computing and the arts in the first week of classes, most of whom were freshmen.
New majors face their biggest challenges after the first few years, when initial enthusiasm and momentum die down, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. Most new majors, he said, launch without significant setbacks because the committees that consider new majors do major legwork and preparation before a major is approved — modern Middle East studies, after all, had been in the works for five years.
"Is the depth of faculty in the area sufficient to sustain the major in a strong way, even if a key person were to leave Yale, even if a key person is on sabbatical or even if a key person must fill in teaching back in their home department?" he said. "We try to anticipate all of that and fill that from the beginning."