“Nothing compares to live [courses.]”
For Alex Randall V ’73, an alumnus who audited classes at the University for years, being back in the physical lecture hall provides a unique opportunity to continue his connection to Princeton that has been denied to auditors during the pandemic. of COVID-19.
Following the reduction in public health precautions this semester, the University has invited community listeners back to campus this semester for the first time in two years. Princeton’s Community Audit Program (CAP) allows community members ages 18 and older to attend select Princeton classes as a “silent student,” according to the Princeton Community and Regional Affairs website. .
For the past two years, CAP has been forced to move online as listeners have been allowed to attend lectures online on Zoom.
Sitting silently at the back of the class, listeners mostly go unnoticed by undergraduate students. As Dylan Epstein-Gross ’26 said, “I don’t think I noticed any [community auditors in class]but I don’t know how I would put it either.
Even if students notice older faces in the classroom, they don’t always know why they are there.
“I guess maybe [there are auditors] in my EGR 152 [Foundations of Engineering: The Mathematics of Shape and Motion] class, because there’s a bunch of people sitting behind it,” said Hazel Gupta ’26.
While undergraduates may rarely notice listeners in the room, the program provides a longstanding connection between Princeton and the community beyond FitzRandolph Gate.
In an email to The Prince, Gina Mastro, Education Community Outreach Program Coordinator, shared, “CAP helps the University pursue its mission of service through educational outreach that enriches the lives of those looking to expand their own knowledge.”
“This is a community effort to extend some of Princeton University’s services to everyone who lives in this area,” said Terry Poon, a retired engineer and current community auditor.
The CAP is open to all high school graduates who live in New Jersey or within a 50-mile radius of the University. It invites listeners to take non-credit courses for $200 per course.
According to Poon, “The condition is that we don’t interfere with the teacher, we don’t talk, we sit in the back. We don’t ask questions. And we don’t follow precepts.
Poon and his friend Ray O’Donnell have been participating in CAP for over 10 years. Both praised the CAP.
Poon focused on the academic aspect of the program: “I think most of us, or all of us, really enjoyed all the classes we took. Because the teachers are well known, famous and established, and also because there is no pressure on us. We don’t have to do homework to sit and listen.
For O’Donnell, one of the main benefits of the program is the social connections it fosters. “As Terry will tell you, we both made friends here,” he said.
O’Donnell recalled that before the pandemic, he and Poon were part of a group of about eight listeners who all ate lunch together before or after their classes on campus or elsewhere in the city of Princeton.
“Plus, it’s a nice drive from where we live in the Clinton area,” O’Donnell added. “It’s a 20-mile cross-country drive. It is therefore a pleasant day, a great opportunity.
Not all classes are open to auditors. The program’s website notes that 125 to 150 classes are typically available to audit each semester.
“I think it’s up to the teachers whether they want to participate and how many seats will be open to listeners,” Poon said.
Mastro confirmed this by saying, “[Auditor enrollment] is obtained by calculating 10% of the students enrolled per class and adding this number of listeners to the classroom as long as the instructor has the physical space to accommodate them.
“Postgraduate courses, seminars and courses with fewer than 15 students enrolled are not eligible for community auditing,” she said.
The limited slots open to listeners result in a competitive registration process.
“There are very popular programs with only two or three seats, so people really have to sit at the computer and hit the back button,” Poon said.
“A lot of us are retirees,” he explained, “so we don’t take courses for any degree. We take them for fun. So some of the popular courses are taken very quickly, the arts and all that.While many heavy technical courses are usually available, such as quantum mechanics and advanced calculus.
Poon also explained that there are two days of registration for the course. City of Princeton residents and university alumni can enroll on day one, while those who live further afield and have not graduated from Princeton must wait until the following day.
“I understand why they’re focusing on people who live in Princeton,” Poon said, “[but] one problem we face is that a lot of popular courses are taken on day one, so we’re not even lucky on day two.
Victor Bochicchio, also a retired engineer, is currently auditioning ART 212: Revolutions and Avant-Gardes, which was his first choice: “I was lucky, I think, to have him.
O’Donnell was not so lucky and did not earn one of three places in his first choice course, EAS 280: Nomadic Empires: From the Scythian Confederation to the Mongol Conquest. Instead, he is auditing MOL 214: Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology for the second time.
Poon explained that “the teachers who go into this program tend to be the same. So after a while people like Ray and I are limited in what else we are interested in although there are hundreds of other courses [not open to auditors] we would love to sign up.
According to Mastro, the program has “a loyal group of approximately 100 professors who host community listeners each semester.” She added that “some teachers cannot include auditors because their classes are too small, the subject is too technical, or there are multiple prerequisites or technical resources needed to complete the course.”
While some aspects of MOL 214 have remained the same since the last time O’Donnell audited – including the professor who teaches it – O’Donnell said “the field has changed a great deal over the past five to 10 years. Just in terms of the science involved. So the content of the course has evolved since the last time he audited it.
O’Donnell also appreciates the course content as he had not studied molecular biology before taking the course.
“I am a chemist by training, but I had never done molecular biology as part of my own studies,” he explained. “So there were a lot of [molecular biology] in the public domain, in the various magazines I read. But I wouldn’t be able to understand a lot of molecular biology problems. And I found that after the first two or three lectures, I could understand this whole new area.
Randall also took an auditor course, but in his case he audited PSY 101: Introduction to Psychology, a course he first took 50 years ago as a freshman at college. He even took it with the same teacher, Joe Cooper. Just as O’Donnell noted that changes to the course have occurred due to scientific developments, Randall shared that some of the changes to PSY 101 were due to new developments in the understanding of neurotransmission.
While O’Donnell said he was eager to connect the class he audits to his professional life, Poon, a retired structural engineer, said he was taking the opposite approach. He has never audited an engineering class at Princeton and instead takes [classes] – “just for fun.”
Community auditors are not allowed to participate in precepts or labs, and many do not dispute the restriction. Poon acknowledges that he may be able to learn more by going to Precept, but said: “I’m not sure we would like to meet the requirements of attending a Precept. You have to come prepared and read all the texts”
“I don’t think anyone is dying to be included in the precept,” Bochioccio said with a laugh.
Both listeners pointed to the fact that they were attending CAP for fun rather than for a degree, and so while they enjoyed the lectures, they did not complete the assignments and readings that undergraduates do.
While Randall agrees that it’s nice to be able to enjoy classes without worrying about tests, a GPA, or writing papers, he took it upon himself to create an “Auditor Precept” for CLA 250, which focuses on the excavations of Pompeii. As a professor of communication at the University of the Virgin Islands, organizing a precept is a familiar experience for him.
“I just went to the board and wrote ‘the auditor’s precept will meet here after class’ and after class the 12 auditors were waiting there. The auditor precept is now made up of a group of 5 to 6 auditors who meet every Monday. Each of them went to Pompeii. So we all have not just what we heard in class, but what we saw. It’s an incredibly rich discussion,” he said.
Poon remembers hearing about CAP for the first time 10 years ago from a friend who had attended. In the years that followed, he and O’Donnell spread the word.
“[Bochicchio] knows through [O’Donnell]. And then a few of my neighbors found out about it from me,” Poon said, then joked – “To the point that we’re starting to regret it. Because we have to compete with so many more people for popular courses.
CAP has grown tremendously over the years and according to Mastro, the program now has “over 2,000 listeners, with between 400 and 600 registering for classes each semester.”
“It’s fantastic to walk into a room and listen to brilliant people talk about interesting things that they know so much about,” Randall said of the show.
He currently audits two courses at Princeton but, for him, it is not enough: “I would do five this semester if they let us do it.
Leela DuBois is a contributing contributor to the Daily Princetonian. Please address any corrections to [email protected]