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Friday, June 14, 2024

A Planned Catastrophe: Yale-NUS to Close in 2025

All PostsNewsA Planned Catastrophe: Yale-NUS to Close in 2025

Story | Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief; Ryan Yeo (he/him), and Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editors
Photo | Tan Shan Min (she/her), Managing Design Editor

It was announced on Friday morning that Yale-NUS College will be merging with the University Scholars Programme offered by the National University of Singapore, precipitating the closure of Yale-NUS by 2025. Yale-NUS will cease accepting new students in the next academic year to pave the way for the merging of both faculties’ multidisciplinary curricula.

The final cohort from Yale-NUS will be the newly matriculated Class of 2025. The existing contracts of Yale-NUS faculty and staff will be honored as they undergo the transition into the larger NUS academic environment. Meanwhile, beginning Academic Year 2022/23, the New College (a placeholder name) will share residential and academic spaces with existing Yale-NUS students as part of a plan for the New College to be accommodated in both campuses.

The decision was announced in an online town hall meeting hosted by Tan Eng Chye, President of the National University of Singapore; Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS; Pericles Lewis, Founding President of Yale-NUS; Dave Stanfield, Yale-NUS Dean of Students; Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice-President of Academic Affairs; and Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, Chair of Yale-NUS Governing Board.

The dissolution of Yale-NUS was initiated by Prof. Tan Eng Chye, who also happens to be a Yale alumnus. He raised the idea to the Ministry of Education in June. In July, he then approached Peter Salovey, the current President of Yale University, with the merger decision already made. Although Yale would have preferred to continue the development of Yale-NUS, Salovey respected NUS’s direction and approved the merger.

Tan said this was part of a larger strategic realignment that NUS has been pursuing since 2018. The original affiliation agreement on Yale-NUS College had allowed for a review in 2025 when either partner could decide to withdraw from the partnership with one year’s notice.

The merger institution is committed to offering the same degree of excellence as Yale-NUS with the full scope of academic, residential, and co-curricular programs.

The mood was downcast when The Octant met with the school administration yesterday. During the meeting, Prof. Tan Tai Yong said the decision was made by NUS, and the news came to him as a fait accompli. The Yale-NUS Governing Board was then asked to endorse the management and transition plan on Monday.

To alleviate concerns about cornerstones of the Yale-NUS education, Prof. Salovey affirmed in a statement: “The Governing Board [which he is part of] is committed to providing current students with the full Yale-NUS experience and the financial assistance they were promised and to ensuring a smooth and successful transition for the faculty and staff. Also, the College’s policy on academic freedom will remain in place through 2025.”

Salovey said that following the establishment of the New College, Yale-NUS graduates will continue to be alumni of Yale-NUS College, NUS, and the New College, as well as “International Affiliates” of the Yale Alumni Association.

Other more specific plans for the New College are still unclear. A planning committee will be set up to oversee the logistics and structure of the New College, including how students will be arranged in residential colleges and whether or not the New College will have a President. 

There will also be a subcommittee to develop a new curriculum for the New College, consisting of faculty members from both Yale-NUS and USP.

Roberts expects that these planning committees will be open to student input, and suggested that interested students share their thoughts once the planning process starts.

Reactions from Administrators and the Faculty

Yale-NUS students and faculty members were shocked and distressed by the information. Shouting was even heard in the minutes immediately after the town hall, as students screamed to mourn the loss of the college. In the afternoon, the college and many student organizations offered a variety of initiatives to provide emotional support to students to help them process the information. 

Anger and distress culminated into screams. Credit: Michael Sagna

The community felt blindsided by the sudden announcement and lamented the lack of transparency from the administration. An email from President Tan, sent the previous evening, announced a town hall for the next day without information regarding its agenda. All Yale-NUS classes were also canceled, fueling speculations about the gravity of the situation. 

Assistant Professor Robin Zheng, whose birthday was on the very same day, was heartbroken on account of all her colleagues and students, present and former:  “[Yale-NUS College is] a project into which I and many others have poured blood, tears, heart, and soul for many years—since 2016 for me, since 2013 for students, and longer than that for my inaugural faculty, staff, and colleagues who have been there since the beginning.” 

Speaking of the lack of consultation in the decision-making process, she said: “I feel sickened when I think of this: that we live in a world in which a small group of people in a small amount of time can make decisions that will affect so many people and cost so much of their time, energy, labor, mental health, and more.”

“Make no mistake, Yale-NUS is dead. Still, to paraphrase a colleague—just one of many —from whom I’ve learned so much, the people of YNC may not be.” 

Associate Professor Andrew Bailey, a member of Yale-NUS’s inaugural faculty who built the college from the ground up, shared the sense of loss. In an email exchange with The Octant, he said: “Today, I mourn. Tomorrow, I get angry.” 

The news also came as a shock to the Yale-NUS administration. “We were all surprised at different times,” President Tan Tai Yong reflected. “I was gobsmacked and flabbergasted.”

“But with the passage of time, you feel a bit different. You rationalize, and say: ‘Okay, you know, the decision has been taken—that ship has sailed.’ We understand NUS’s ambitions; they are trying to achieve a greater good to expand this model of education for a bigger group of students.”

Roberts echoed these sentiments. “I think about what’s been built and accomplished in such a short period of time, and how special it is. It’s difficult to think about letting some of that go, but I am honored to have been given the role to steward some of the vision of this place.”

“I think part of that vision and an important core value of this community is to take care of each other. That’s what the next four years will be about: to care for our students and ensure they have the best and fullest experience here, and also to care for our faculty and staff during this transition.”

“The College is going to leave our mark on Singapore, that this was a transformative institution with inspiring change-making students and alumni. They will have a legacy that long outlives the name chipped in granite by the side of the road.”

Dr. Stanfield’s perspective on Yale-NUS was also bittersweet. He shared: “Yale-NUS is amazing. I feel that students are constantly inspiring me and pushing me to be better. I’m learning so much from them all the time. I feel a real attachment to this place, and I’m sad that it can’t continue.”

Despite this, the Dean of Students went on to reaffirm: “I am committed to ensuring that Yale-NUS students have an amazing educational experience for these last four years.”

Reactions from Students

Suman Padhi ‘25 was angry at the decision. “I’m absolutely outraged. Whilst both NUS and Yale have a right to come to this agreement, it’s truly wrecking that they didn’t inform us about this decision earlier.” 

GZ ‘23 shared this sentiment. “I’m so angry and confused. I don’t think that they’re telling us the full story. I don’t believe it’s all about paving the way for future graduates in the global economy, the four pillars, and all that rubbish. If they can’t even be honest with us, who are they to spout these high ideals?”

“I’m also angry that they didn’t even give us a chance to prove what our students and our graduates can do,” she continued. “I’m left feeling like it’s our fault as a student body, even though I know it’s not. I feel like a failure; a failed experiment.”

Concerns were also raised among students about the connection they will feel to the college after graduating. Oshea Reddy ‘24 explained: “Going to college is one thing, but also being able to come back to the place and be like, ‘Hey, I went here!’ is another part of it. I feel like they’re robbing us of that experience.”

Other students also raised concerns about how Yale-NUS as a safe space for discourse would change, particularly for marginalized communities. A Class of 2024 student who requested anonymity remarked: “I’m concerned that whatever already-limited democracy, free speech, and political possibilities Yale-NUS currently offers may fall under greater state purview. We cannot ignore that Yale-NUS, as a space, has contributed to civil society.”

“I’m also worried about what this means for marginalized communities in Yale-NUS, such as queer folks, who at least have some level of support with the Diversity and Inclusion policies here,” they continued. “Whatever little sense of progressiveness we have is being materially put at risk.”

“Correspondingly, this subsumption into NUS will have an impact that goes beyond our campus that spills over into Singapore at large.”

Many delayed matriculants who are holding offers from Yale-NUS are also disappointed and outraged by this news. Philippe Myanus, an offer holder who is currently serving his National Service, said: “I don’t know what to do moving forward. I feel like I lost the perfect opportunity to be part of a global school, in terms of the student body, faculty, curricula, experiences, and so on. Thankfully, I have the resources to apply elsewhere; I’m going to apply to the U.S. and the U.K. now.”

J, who is also currently a full-time National Serviceman, remarked, “It’s absurd for a university to renege on offers given. This is NUS, an ostensibly world-class institution. Reneging on admission offers like this is anything but the hallmark of a world-class institution. At very least, they should honor offers that were made.”

“Many of us accepted Yale-NUS’s offer and rejected other selective programs in Singapore and overseas. There’s no guarantee that we can reapply for these and be admitted again. We took a chance to be part of a young, exciting community and now it feels we’re being screwed over for taking that chance.”

New Beginnings?

Among the sense of betrayal and disillusionment, the college’s administration shared some optimism as Yale-NUS enters its final years. “I also think we should go out on a high note,” said Roberts. “Let’s celebrate; let’s have this be the best four years of Yale-NUS College.”

This was as much an emotional moment for Yale-NUS’s President Tan. Joining as the College’s Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) in 2014, he later became the President in 2017. “I have invested almost 10 years of my career in Yale-NUS. You don’t spend that time and effort in building such an important enterprise without building an attachment to it.” 

“The feeling is one of immense pride and satisfaction that we have achieved what we set out to achieve: a college that is really world-class. There were many naysayers in the beginning … but we proved them all wrong.”

“Nothing stays still forever. You need to change and they need to grow. Rather than get in the way, I want to see what we’ve achieved grow into something else.”

“I wish the New College every success, and if the New College can take 50% or 60% of Yale-NUS, then its chances of success are very high.”

UPDATE: An earlier version of the article reported that both Yale University and the Yale-NUS Governing Board supported the decision to merge with NUS. Prof. Tan Tai Yong has since reached out with new information that the decision was not supported by Yale, and had already been made by NUS by the time it reached both parties. For more information, read our update here.

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