With 1,021 students enrolled, Social Analysis 10: "Principles of Economics" again topped this semester's list of the 10 most popular courses--which for the first time in recent years consisted entirely of Cores.
The reduced number of Core classes, down this year to only 86 from the decade-high 105 offered last year, contributed to crowding in the remaining Cores.
Even Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology William M. Gelbart's Biological Sciences 1: "Introductory Genetics, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology," tenth on the list with 292 students, can fulfill a Core requirement.
However, instructors said they believe students make course decisions based on more than mere requirements.
"I'd like to think that there are compelling intellectual reasons other than that there are so few Core alternatives," said Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Young professor of Sino-Vietnamese history, who leads the ninth-ranked course, Historical Studies B-68: "America and Vietnam: 1945-75."
One reason for her course's popularity is its timeliness, Tai suggested, pointing to former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's recent memoir In Retrospect, which rekindled national interest in the Vietnam War era.
Neil Levine, Gleason professor of fine arts, pointed to growing interest in the famous Chicago architect as the lure for his course, Literature and Arts B-33: "Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Architecture."
In fact, said Levine, he is serving on the advisory board for filmmaker Ken Burns' upcoming documentary on Wright.
Professor of Music Thomas F. Kelly also suggested that the course material was the main draw for his Literature and Arts B-51: "First Nights: Five Performance Premieres."
"I'm delighted, but I can't take credit for Handel's Messiah," he said.
Professor of Astronomy Robert P. Kirshner said he was excited to learn that his Science A-35: "Matter and the Universe," ranked sixth.
"I'm shocked, shocked to learn that A-35 is so popular--what's wrong with the other courses?" he joked.
However, he continued, there are drawbacks to so much unexpected student enthusiasm. The increased enrollment has forced Kirshner to schedule more sections and he may have to change the lecture location.
"I had a dark moment last night when I thought I should've limited the course," Kirshner said. "I won't, but it's a bureaucratic mess."
"All I can say is that nobody had better come in and ask to add the course on Monday, because I'm not going to do it," he added, laughing.
Kelly cautioned that the current enrollments can be misleading. Paine Hall, for example, can only accommodate 430 students, and because a greater number of students expressed interest in "First Nights," the instructors had to lottery the course.
But when study cards came in, the class was under-enrolled and now more students will be readmitted.
Large classes have created inconveniences for students as well, especially for those whose classes meet in Sanders Theatre.
"I don't like being in Sanders. I feel that it's too big," said Roxanne D. Lanzot '99, whose Frank Lloyd Wright class moved there when it wouldn't fit in the Sackler Museum lecture hall.
"It's a shame that Sanders is so uncomfortable," said David J. Kressel '99.
High enrollment has meant more students are slipping through the cracks.
Vanessa L. Melendez '99 said she sectioned for Literature and Arts C-37: "The Bible and Its Interpreters," but "ended up unsectioned. I don't know what happened."
However, she continued, the teaching fellows assured her they would rectify the sectioning mix-up.
The Right Reasons?
Kirshner said that high enrollment can also worry professors.
"It's great that crowds of people sign up," he said, "but is it for the right reasons or for the wrong reasons?"
"What you like to think is that students sign up because they like the material, but you worry that you have the reputation of being the easiest of the Science A Cores."
Still, students said that interest in the subject is often the deciding factor.
"They're big for a reason--they're very good classes," said Mattias S. Geise '99, who is taking "The Bible" and "Principles of Economics," this semester's largest classes.
Students said they are especially drawn to the Bible because of the importance of the subject matter.
"I'm not very religious," said Benjamin J. Mao '99, "so I wanted to get exposure to the Bible."
Melendez, a Roman Catholic, said she felt that taking the class would be a good way to learn more about her religion.
Large classes mean less personal attention, but students disagree on the importance of instructor contact.
"You definitely don't gain anything with such big classes, and I think you lose something everywhere 200 and up," said Kressel, who is taking "The Bible."
But other students said they like the social atmosphere of larger classes.
"You get to see so many people. I think it's an amazing social experience to put so many people in a room," said Daniel P. Kim '97.
--Stephen L. Shackelford contributed to the reporting of this story.