Photo by Christopher Khew
A Liberal Arts education is often characterised as a safe haven for those with a hazy idea of their major. With two years before making the nail-biting, sweat- inducing, life-defining decision, many students do not begin seriously making a choice till their sophomore year. But some students at Yale-NUS never had this luxury of time — meet the Double Degree with law Program students. By virtue of knowing exactly what they are majoring in the moment they set foot on campus, DDP students have a very different experience from most at Yale-NUS.
Currently, 22 students are enrolled in the program — nine sophomores and 13 freshmen class. It is not until the second year of the program that students take multiple law courses at NUS. As such, this semester was the first chance for the sophomore DDP students to understand what their legal education entails.
So far the experience has helped students step out of the Yale-NUS bubble . Ong Chee Yeow ’18 said, “Taking NUS law courses and going out of campus gives us a good chance to meet new people and professors and take courses outside the ones offered here”.
However, as with any startup, there are bound to be teething issues. One resounding sentiment is the lack of opportunities to take Yale-NUS electives. Natasha Sim ’18 said, “The point of coming to Yale-NUS isn’t so much to do Foundations of Science but do stuff I’m really interested in outside of law. For Law we really need all the modules, but do we really need so many common curriculum courses?”
The emphasis on taking the common curriculum courses also reduces the ability of DDP students to pursue minors. Because DDP students only have five Yale-NUS electives but full-time Yale-NUS students have 20, DDP students must dedicate all their electives to a single discipline in order to have a minor. Zhiwen Yap ’18 said “It kind of defeats the purpose of a liberal arts education. I wish there was a way to eliminate common curriculum courses so we could have more electives.”
Another structural issue relates to the timetabling of modules. Even though the syllabus has been tweaked for second class to have no law modules in their first year, there are further talks of restructuring. Law modules that should be studied simultaneously in a semester (such as Tort and Contract and Legal Analysis), are taken separately by DDP students, resulting in comprehension problems. Furthermore, study abroad opportunities are limited to the fourth year for DDP students. Yap added, “It’s kind of funny because most of my peers will be doing their semesters abroad in year 3. And when they’re back I’ll be going.”
The crisis of identity is only amplified as a DDP student. While highly integrated into the Yale-NUS community through the residential program and first year Yale-NUS only classes, there is a slight disconnect that exists with the law students. Ong said, “The law students have a very different culture from Yale-NUS as they gather in seminar rooms to discuss readings, assignments and cases.” He added, “There’s a drawback being in a program where you’re half here and half there. Splitting the attention between the different courses means we don’t really get the full experience of either of them.”
However, Yap pointed out that having the foundation year to build relationships at YNC was important. She added, “I don’t really lose contact with people here. Most people don’t see everyone in classes anymore, so most interaction is mostly during residential living at nights when I’m back on campus.”
Despite questions of identity, DDP students have one another to fall back on. Because they share classes, bus journeys, and a unique set of problems, the DDP students are a very close- knit community. Yap said, “The joke is that we’ll get an apartment and live together in our fifth year when we are not guaranteed housing.”
At Yale-NUS there is a lot of uncertainty, but even more so with the DDP. The program is an exciting venture that has the potential to create a super breed of liberal arts lawyers. However, it runs the risk of being underwhelming if it does not treat seriously the feedback it receives from the pioneering batches.