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Humanities sequence sees large drop in second-semester enrollment

Only 24 students enrolled in the second-semester component of the Humanities Sequence — listed as HUM 216-219 — compared with 47 students who were enrolled in the class for the fall semester. The Humanities Sequence is a two-semester, double-credit course, advertised as an intense engagement with the Western canon.

Although this is the biggest drop in second-semester enrollment in at least the past five years, drops in second-semester enrollment are typical for the HUM sequence. A fall enrollment of 44 students narrowed to a spring enrollment of 33 students two years ago, and a fall enrollment of 43 students narrowed to a spring enrollment of 26 students four years ago.

Professor Jonathan Thakkar, the HUM sequence coordinator for the 2013-14 academic year, said the large drop in enrollment was no cause for concern.

“We always lose a good number,” Thakkar said. “Anyone with a passing knowledge of statistics knows that there are fluctuations like this from year to year. It’s like taking one game from a seven game series. You just never do that.”

Still, some students enrolled in the HUM sequence this fall have noted that the sequence was slightly different this year from previous years. This year there were three new writing seminars created specifically to complement the HUM sequence.

Nabil Shaikh ’17, a student who was in the HUM sequence in the fall but did not enroll in the class this spring, said that students in the writing seminars “were disappointed about the false advertising that went into the HUM-affiliated writing sems.”

Kathleen Crown, executive director of the Council of the Humanities, which organizes the course, said she noted student dissatisfaction with the writing seminars.

“[The seminars were] an experiment, trying to respond to student concerns,” Crown said. “But that seems to not have worked the way students expected, so next year we probably won’t offer that.”

Furthermore, the professors teaching the course were different this year. Shaikh mentioned that many professors who had previously taught the course did not return this year.

“A lot of the professors who had taught in the past didn’t return this year, except for professors [Daniel] Heller-Roazen and [Matthew] McCarty, who are great.” Shaikh said.

“And it’s not like the professors were bad this year, but whenever I tell an upperclassman that I left HUM, some people say, ‘Oh, maybe that’s because the professors weren’t as good, because last year we had a great batch of professors, and this year we have all these new people,’ ” Shaikh said.

Crown said the Council of the Humanities remained dedicated to teaching the course with top-tier professors.

“The course changes every year,” Crown said. “This year there were more Society of Fellows postdocs in the fall but not in the spring … that was a fluke. Our plan going forward is to continue to have Princeton’s most accomplished, senior faculty teaching in this course.”

Last fall, over a third of the students in the HUM sequence rated the sequence as “excellent.”

Most students who left the course this semester said they did so not because of the writing seminar or the professors, but simply due to the time commitment and scheduling stress that went along with HUM.

Claire Ashmead ’17, a HUM sequence student who is continuing with the course this spring, explained that many of the students who left the course had scheduling concerns. “A lot of them would have liked to keep taking the course but the way that they ended up wanting to balance their college experience didn’t let them continue with HUM,” Ashmead added.

Thakkar said he thought that HUM was extremely difficult, but that the difficulty made the course more rewarding.

“It’s certainly true that students struggle when they come in,” Thakkar said. “It’s true for all university courses, but it’s more true for HUM. But that’s why it’s such a beneficial course.”

Twenty-four students are still taking HUM this semester, among them Ayesha Ahmed ’17, who said she feels like the students who have returned this spring are bringing a lot of focus to the table and continuing to make the class a great experience. Ahmed added that she never considered dropping the class.

One thing the Council of Humanities could do better to promote the second semester, Crown said, is publicize the fact that the spring session is open to new students, and even sophomores. However, she added that she thought on the whole, the course has been a success.

“Many students are very happy with the experience they have,” Crown said. “It’s not always the experience for everyone, but it’s a life-changing, transformative course on which students build.”

All students interviewed said they were glad they had taken the course this fall.

“I’m really glad that I took HUM,” Ashmead said. “It has required a lot of work on my part, more work than any other class, which nobody is going to help you out with, but it’s been very valuable to me.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the name of the one of the Humanities Sequence professors. His name is Matthew McCarty. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error. 

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