Role Reversal

October 26, 2015

I recently returned to New Haven from a trip overseas that took me first to Singapore (to participate in an inspiring opening ceremony for Yale-NUS College’s permanent campus) and then to India. Throughout my travels, liberal education was in the spotlight, as I visited with people and institutions working to translate this educational ideal into new settings. And at each opportunity, I shared my conviction in the reciprocity of these endeavors—my belief that Yale has as much to learn about liberal education as it has to impart, and that bringing this model to new contexts can generate insights for us about how we educate our students in New Haven.

This concept—that a change in vantage point can yield fascinating new perspectives—is on full display here on campus this week in the form of Faculty Bulldog Days. Organized by the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, Faculty Bulldog Days is an embodiment of our collective goal to be the research university most committed to teaching and learning. In more than one hundred different courses today through Friday, from seminars to lectures to labs and beyond, faculty members from across campus will find themselves in an unfamiliar position: that of student instead of teacher. The participants will, no doubt, pick up strategies to strengthen their teaching and to innovate in the classroom. They will very likely—as we learned from the first Faculty Bulldog Days last April—begin dialogues with “their” professors that continue long after the class sessions they attend. But they will also derive a benefit that is less tangible but, I would submit, equally important: they will see the process of offering a Yale education in an entirely new light. 

There are many wonderful aspects to the university presidency, but one thing I do miss is being at the front of a room full of eager learners. I won’t be returning to teaching this week, but I am looking forward to the chance to sit in as a “student.” So, undergraduates, when you encounter a few new faces—or perhaps I should say older faces—in the classroom, please cut us some slack if we seem to be behind on our coursework!