The Gallatin School of Individualized Study provides a distinctive liberal arts education for a diverse student body. The cornerstone of the Gallatin School is its individualized approach to education. Gallatin students enjoy an unusual degree of freedom to design their own individualized and interdisciplinary programs of study. Students work closely with faculty advisers to fuse their intellectual interests into a rigorous liberal arts education. They develop their programs of study by taking courses in the various schools of New York University, as well as in Gallatin which offers a core curriculum of small, stimulating seminars and workshops. Additionally, students are given the opportunity to pursue independent studies (one-on-one projects with faculty), tutorials (small group projects), private lessons and internships. Students experience a flexible but rigorous education, culminating in a final oral exam, called the colloquium, in which they demonstrate and synthesize their knowledge about a select number of significant texts.
With just more than 1,500 undergraduate students Gallatin enjoys the benefits of being a relatively small school housed within a major research university. Gallatin’s faculty is renowned for their excellence in teaching, research and advising, and students also have access to outstanding faculty throughout NYU to help them think about their concentrations.
Each Gallatin student creates a program of study that consists of various kinds of courses taken in several different schools within the University. Within Gallatin, there is a unique curriculum:
- First-Year Program: All students who enter Gallatin with fewer than 32 units are required to take three courses: a first-year interdisciplinary seminar, which introduces students to the goals, methods, and philosophy of university education and to the interdisciplinary, individualized approach of the Gallatin School, and a two-semester writing sequence (first-year writing seminar and first-year research seminar), which helps students develop their writing skills and prepares them for the kinds of writing they will be doing in their other courses.
- Interdisciplinary Seminars: The core component of the undergraduate curriculum, interdisciplinary seminars focus on major issues or themes in—and across—the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Through these seminars, students encounter a range of important historical periods and fields, and develop a global component to their studies. These courses are relatively small (22 students) and they emphasize class discussion and thoughtful writing assignments. Gallatin students are required to complete 16 units in interdisciplinary seminars.
- Practicums: These hands-on courses emphasize a practical approach to a particular industry or field of expertise.
- Advanced Writing Courses. In a workshop format with no more than 15 students, the advanced writing courses engage students in a wide variety of writing exercises and offer an opportunity to share work with fellow students and a practicing professional writer/teacher. Some of the courses focus on particular forms of writing—fiction, poetry, comedy, the personal narrative, the critical essay—while others encompass several forms and focus instead on a particular theme, such as writing about politics, writing about the arts, and writing about one’s ancestry.
- Arts Workshops: Gallatin offers a large variety of arts workshops in music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts. These workshops are taught by successful New York City artists, performers, and writers; they are designed for both beginning and advanced students. All arts workshops employ an “artist/scholar” model that involves giving students experiential training in the practice of particular art forms as well as providing opportunities for critical reflection about the artistic process, aesthetic theory, and the sociology of art.
- Individualized Projects: Gallatin offers students an opportunity to pursue their interests through a variety of alternatives outside the traditional classroom: independent study, tutorials, internships, and private lessons.
- Graduate Courses: Gallatin also offers an individualized MA degree. Graduate students are required to take a proseminar, which introduces them to theories and methodologies in the humanities, social sciences or arts, and a thesis seminar, which helps them prepare their thesis proposal. Additionally, they may take graduate electives, which are available in a variety of fields, including arts, creative writing, and social theory and methods. These courses are open to advanced undergraduates with permission of the instructor.
Except for the courses that are designed for entering students (the first-year seminars and writing seminars for undergraduate students, and the proseminars for graduate students), there is little verticality in the Gallatin curriculum. Very few courses presume that the students have taken specific prior courses. You will need to account for that fact in your course planning.
Teaching and Learning
The first and most important thing to say about teaching in Gallatin is that there is no single way to do it: Our instructors work from a number of philosophical foundations, display a range of styles and use a variety of methods. The emphasis is on effectiveness rather than on reproducing a standard pedagogy. We trust that you can devise the most appropriate approach to teaching your class. However, we do value several broad principles.
First and foremost, we believe that students learn best through active participation in the class. In practical terms, this belief leads to two basic practices: first, we try to create an atmosphere in class in which students feel safe enough to take part fully; second, we tend to engage students in various kinds of discussion of the concepts and texts, rather than lecturing. Lectures are clearly useful at times, but active participation is crucial and should be the focus of the class.
Another important part of class discussions is creating a discussion among class members, and not just between you and each student. This is harder than it seems because students are used to addressing their comments to the instructor. But changing the class dynamic and getting students to talk to one another is a rewarding experience for them—and for you—because you create a real learning environment. One way to initiate this kind of discussion is to make sure it is “threaded” by asking students to comment on one another’s remarks. Don’t feel that you are abandoning your responsibility as the expert because you can always jump into the discussion to clarify a point, raise a pressing question, or steer the discussion back on track.
Though most Gallatin students are highly motivated and complete assignments on-time, occasionally you will find some students who may be a little less conscientious, and of course, there are times during the semester—such as mid-terms—when even the best students may be unprepared. To help make sure students regularly come to class prepared, you may want to consider assigning weekly responses to the readings. This may seem like a lot of work because it adds to your reading load, but there are ways to implement this without overburdening yourself. For example, ask for only one paragraph (and not a whole page or more), a series of bulleted points, or a list of questions, and explain that you will not be letter-grading the assignments, but just using a check system. This is a fairly effective way not only to make sure that students keep up with your assignments, but also to improve class discussions—once students have taken the time to write out their thoughts about the assignment, it is much easier for them to articulate them. If these types of assignments are not appropriate for your course, then consider assigning some other work that you can evaluate on a weekly basis. One word of advice, though: assign work that is meaningful and not just busy-work.
While students need to be actively engaged, they also need you to be in charge, to lay out rules and structure for them, including your policies on attendance, late papers, coming to class prepared, etc. Students need background and contextual material to frame the issues they are to discuss, often before they have read an assignment. You provide structure, impetus, expertise and feedback—but they should contribute energy, attention and ideas. You need to make clear to them what your expectations and standards are, but they need to take ownership of the class, too. You need to devise ways to enable them to do that.
Giving and Getting Feedback
It’s important to give students feedback early on and as often as possible. By midway through the semester, they should have a very clear idea of how they are doing in the course. Students will not be surprised about a final grade if they have been receiving consistent feedback along the way. Students also have a fairly generous period of time (up until the end of the ninth week of classes) to decide to withdraw from a course in which they are failing or doing poorly; your early feedback helps them determine whether or not they should continue.
Though at the end of each semester, you will be asked to distribute course evaluations to your students (and will receive a copy of these soon after your grades are posted), many faculty like to receive feedback earlier by self-administering a mid-semester evaluation. This is a great opportunity to see how your course is going in terms of the pace of assignments, student engagement with the subject, etc. Here is a link to some suggestions for gathering mid-semester feedback.
An Emphasis on Writing
Writing is a crucial means of critical thinking and creative expression, and we like to give students as many opportunities as possible to engage in the process of writing. Students develop their academic writing skills in our first-year writing and research seminars, and later explore a variety of genres in advanced writing courses. Writing is an integral part of Gallatin’s interdisciplinary seminars, which assign a minimum of twenty pages of writing over the course of the semester. Students also experience writing beyond the classroom through the Gallatin Writing Program’s diverse events, publications, and civic engagement projects. Gallatin’s Writing Program sponsors a peer Writing Center for students who may need additional support in their writing assignments.
While specialization is a common characteristic of the contemporary world and the modern university, the division of knowledge into academic departments often fragments the learning experience. Little attention is given to how what one is studying in an English course relates to one’s studies in a science or a history course. Gallatin’s interdisciplinary approach encourages students to attend to the connections between the various areas of academic study and to experience the pursuit of knowledge as a complex dialogue among scholars, artists, and professionals in all fields.
A central component of the Gallatin curriculum is a commitment to the study of intellectual history through significant world texts. Many Gallatin courses focus on important and influential texts and ideas from across disciplines, cultures, and historical periods. Gallatin’s expansive notion of the great books distinguishes it from other nontraditional programs as well as from most traditional programs. It also points to one of the underlying assumptions of the Gallatin philosophy of education: A college education should prepare a student not only for a career but also for life in a broader sense. The Gallatin experience cultivates a sense of history, develops an artistic sensibility, an ease with scientific thought, and an ability to think and learn independently and critically.
Some time ago, we asked our full-time and part-time faculty what was the one thing they wished they knew before they started teaching at Gallatin. Surprisingly, we received many similar responses regarding the quality of our students. New instructors did not expect to find such bright and motivated students. As one instructor noted, there are lots of gaps in what they know, but generally they are sophisticated and eager to be challenged. So much so, some instructors found it necessary to change their assignments and syllabus. So our advice is to set high standards, but also be prepared to help the few students who may need assistance meeting these challenges.