The number of students taking “Justice” fell from 1,115 last fall to 858 this year, while second-place social Analysis 10: “Principles of Economics” and third-place Life Sciences 1a: “An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences” each lost more than 50 students. (Ec 10 and Life Sciences 1a’s numbers still remain strong, having attracted 768 and 546 students respectively.)
Though professors said it is still too early to explain the drop in students studying introductory economics, they suggested that it may be due to the current fragile state of the economy.
“It’s really difficult to just take these classes and try to speculate on what’s going on there,“ said Jay M. Harris, the dean of undergraduate education. “With economics you might think that there are people who are thinking about other careers, but who knows.”
The class with the fourth highest enrollment, Economics 1010a: “Microeconomic Theory,” also saw a fall of 30 students.
Though large classes can be criticized for their impersonal feel, Michael J. Sandel, the government professor who has taught “Justice” for years, pointed to the merits of engaging with hundreds of undergraduates together in one room.
“One advantage [of a big class size] is that, with so many students reading and thinking about the same questions, the ‘Justice’ discussions spill out of Sanders Theater and into the Yard, the houses, and the dining halls,“ he said.
John D. Sedlacek ’12, who is taking “Justice,” agreed with Sandel’s assessment and praised the large enrollment.
“The class is like a huge forum,“ he said. “It’s great to learn from the 900 people around you.”
But not everyone is enthusiastic about big classes. Government 20; “Introduction to Comparative Politics,” which had already doubled in size last year, surged again this fall from 270 to 336.
Its teacher, government professor Steven R. Levitsky had to change the class location to accommodate the unexpected students and said he fears that the large size will make him less accessible.
“My office hours are always full. I meet with students, usually four or five hours a week. I go to lunch with them. I try my hardest,” Levitsky said. “But inevitably with a class this big it’s much harder so I’m worried about it.“
Alongside Gov 20, recently-approved general education offerings were also well-received this fall. Culture and Belief 17: “Institutional Violence and Public Spectacle: The Case of the Roman Games” attracted 171 students, and 116 undergraduates have enrolled in Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 15: “Elements of Rhetoric.”
“It’s a little above what we estimated, but it’s certainly within the range,“ said Harris, who is also the chair of the new General Education committee. “I was very happy about it.”