No sleep lost yet over GER, yet

Jan. 22, 2010, 5:19 p.m.

For 38 years, psychiatry and behavioral sciences Prof. William Dement’s class, Psychiatry 135: Sleep and Dreams, has been a fixture of the campus curriculum. This year, the course has proceeded—but with some changes that could possibly impact course enrollment.

Winter quarter marks the first time Sleep and Dreams will be offered without its once standard natural sciences General Education Requirement (GER). Last year, the elimination of the course’s GER caused a great deal of confusion and led to Dement accusing the Senate Subcommittee on General Education Requirements of failing to inform him why his course had been stripped of its GER.

Despite all the commotion, Dement was not worried by the change and believes that the course remains true to its main principles.

“Natural science isn’t the purpose of the course,” Dement said. “The course is to teach students how to manage their sleep and not to fall asleep at the wheel, which is really important.”

Based on class enrollment since the 2000-01 academic year, Sleep and Dreams has remained one of the most popular classes on campus. According to the Office of the Registrar, the class size in winter quarter of 2001-02 reached 281 students while the next year, numbers rose slightly to 288.

However, in 2002-03, when Dement announced his retirement, class numbers spiked to 826 as students scrambled to take Sleep and Dreams before it was too late. The professor returned for the 2005-06 academic year, with 670 students enrolling after the class’ two-year hiatus.

Since then, class enrollment has been steadily decreasing—472 students enrolled last winter. This year, the drop-off for winter quarter enrollment has been considerable with 194 students; however, it is unclear whether the numbers were influenced by the absence of the GER or because the course will also be offered in the spring.

“Well to be perfectly honest, I don’t know,” Dement said. “This is the first year I’ve offered the course two quarters.”

Still, Dement has not given up the fight to regain the natural science GER.

“One of the things we’re thinking of doing is asking the committee what actually qualifies,” Dement said.

“I’m willing to go a certain distance and add something on for people who’d like to fulfill their natural science requirement,” he added.

Dement says he’s assigned the task to one of his TAs to find out what they would need to add.

“It might be too much, but since it qualified for several years, it would be weird if it was in fact totally zero,” he said. “You know, science is more than molecules by a long shot. There is a science of sleep research. We look at neurons and sleep in other animals.”

Dement maintains that he has not changed anything about the core curriculum.

Will Perl ’12 took the class last year. Although he says he would not have taken the class without the GER, he still enjoyed it.

“The stuff you learn is just interesting and applicable,” he said. “It should definitely fill the GER because it’s important content that everyone should know and [the GER] motivates people to take the class. I mean it’s not biology or chemistry, but it’s all based on science.”

For others, the natural science GER removal hasn’t affected their enrollment.

“I mean, had it had a GER I would have taken it without a hesitation, but the fact that it doesn’t meet the GER requirement anymore made me hesitate before deciding to take it,” said Danny Organ ’13, who is currently enrolled in the class. “I ultimately decided to take it and I’m really glad I did because Dement is awesome.”

Elise Thygesen ’13 agreed.

“I’ll probably take it next year as long as Dement is teaching it, even if it doesn’t satisfy the GER, because Dement is one of the most famous professors at Stanford,” she said. “Everyone says you should take his class.”

While rumors of Dement’s retirement circulate every year, the professor believes that he’ll be teaching for as long as his health permits.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I enjoy giving talks in the dormitories so no—only if health forces me and I’m not a young chicken anymore that’s for sure but as far as I know, I’m healthy and all that. I have all my mental faculties.”

Login or create an account