Current Head of Silliman College: Laurie Santos, Harvard ’97 A.B psychology & biology, ’03 Ph.D. psychology.
The new all-time record enrollment Yale course is a 1200-student T-group taught by Yale’s own equivalent of Oprah, the new “Head” of Silliman College, appointed right after all the Snowflakes-of-Color chased Nicholas Christakis and his wife Erika off-campus and right out of town for the hideous thought-crime of defending free Halloween costume expression (!).
On Jan. 12, a few days after registration opened at Yale for Psyc 157, â€œPsychology and the Good Life,â€ roughly 300 people had signed up. Within three days, the figure had more than doubled. After three more days, about 1,200 students, or nearly one-fourth of Yale undergraduates, were enrolled.
The course, taught by Prof. Laurie Santos, 42, a psychology professor and the head of one of Yaleâ€™s residential colleges, tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life in twice-weekly lectures.
â€œStudents want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,â€ Dr. Santos said in an interview.
â€œWith one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, weâ€™re actually seeding change in the schoolâ€™s culture.â€
Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called â€œthe mental health crises weâ€™re seeing at places like Yale.â€ A 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time at the school. …
Students have long requested that Yale offer a course on positive psychology, according to Prof. Woo-Kyoung Ahn, director of undergraduate studies in psychology, who said she was â€œblown awayâ€ by Dr. Santosâ€™s proposal for the class.
Administrators like Dr. Ahn expected significant enrollment for the class, but none anticipated it to be quite so large. â€œPsychology and the Good Life,â€ with 1,182 undergraduates currently enrolled, stands as the most popular course in Yaleâ€™s 316-year history. The previous record-holder â€” â€œPsychology and the Lawâ€â€” was offered in 1992 and had about 1,050 students, according to Prof. Marvin Chun, the Yale College dean. Most large lectures at Yale donâ€™t exceed 600.
Offering such a large class has come with challenges, from assembling lecture halls to hiring the 24 teaching fellows required. Because the psychology department lacked the resources to staff it fully, the fellows had to be drawn from places like Yaleâ€™s School of Public Health and law school. And with so many undergraduates enrolled in a single lecture, Yaleâ€™s hundreds of other classes â€” particularly those that conflict with Dr. Santosâ€™s â€” may have seen decreased enrollment.
At the start of the semester the class was divided between a live lecture in 844-seat Battell Chapel, a historic place of worship on campus, converted to a lecture hall, and one or two smaller auditoriums where several hundred more students watched a live stream of Dr. Santos. After several weeks, the decision was made to move the lectures to Woolsey Hall, usually the site of events like symphony performances, which can accommodate the entire class.
RTWT and weep.
In the old days, the huge draw classes were things like Vince Scully’s History of Architecture and the draw factor was simply the sheer brilliance and encyclopedic knowledge of the lecturer. Rather than lining up in droves for tea and sympathy and advice on finding happiness, the Yalies of my day would have laughed Laurie Santos right off the stage.