Saturday, October 23, 2021

“Destroying Crops Before They Are Ready to Harvest”: Yale-NUS Alumni Release Statement

Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)

On Sept. 26, alumni from Yale-NUS College released a statement responding to NUS’s decision to close down Yale-NUS. In an email addressed to several media outlets, the alumni said that the statement was presented in solidarity with the #NoMoreTopDown petition by NUS and Yale-NUS students, as well as various statements released by students, parents, and faculty members of Yale-NUS.

The full alumni statement can be read here.

Signed by 522 alumni from the Classes of 2017 to 2021 at press time, including 190 of them who signed anonymously, the statement highlighted the unique value proposition of a Liberal Arts College (LAC) education offered at Yale-NUS and questioned the reasons behind the closures of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP).

The value of Yale-NUS: a “different and unique educational option”

In the statement, the alumni noted that the closure of Yale-NUS and USP puts an end to two “great and unique programs.” USP offers a program where students take interdisciplinary USP modules on top of classes in their specific faculty at NUS. The program suits students who want to primarily explore their major in depth, with an interdisciplinary foundation and residential living, the statement says. 

Meanwhile, Yale-NUS offers a core curriculum designed to feed directly into majors and minors taken within Yale-NUS, alongside a full four-year residential program, small class sizes, a dedicated set of faculty, and a singular focus on undergraduate education.

They highlighted that Yale-NUS is the only option for a LAC education in Singapore, and was created not to offer a “better” form of education, but a “different and unique educational option” for Singaporeans. 

The alumni noted that there is a “high and growing demand” for a LAC education in Singapore and Asia. According to the alumni, Yale-NUS graduates are contributing across many spheres in Singapore and across a wide variety of organizations, including in multinational corporations, the public service, banks, big tech, startups, research organizations, the arts, and civil society. 

The statement also pointed out that Yale-NUS graduates also had higher starting salaries compared to the national average, and a faster median salary growth rate compared to other universities, in the last four years.

“Yale-NUS’s development has surpassed reasonable expectations for any developed institution, much less one less than a decade old,” the statement read.

“Without a LAC in Singapore, access to a LAC education will be challenging, in particular for lower-income Singaporean students,” the statement continued. The statement pointed out that comparable institutions that offer a LAC education overseas may cost the Singaporean student four times as much as Yale-NUS.

“Additionally, those who do go overseas may not return, thereby exacerbating the brain drain in Singapore,” the statement said. “These are known considerations that MOE highlighted in its 2008 report.”

A premature decision: “Destroying crops before they are ready to harvest”

The alumni statement then questioned the decision to close down Yale-NUS College, given the unique value proposition of a LAC education that the college provides. 

The statement read: “If Yale-NUS is a ‘great success,’ as NUS President Tan Eng Chye wrote, it remains unclear why NUS senior management did not simply continue Yale-NUS, without the Yale name, and adjust the institution as necessary.”

The statement also questioned the financial explanation behind the closure of the college, arguing that most liberal arts colleges take “decades” to build strong alumni networks, which contribute to the endowment funding. Top liberal arts colleges in the United States took more than 200 years to build an endowment of more than US$1 billion, the statement said.

“For Yale-NUS to be shut down pre-emptively when most of its first batch of graduates have barely hit the age of 30 is equivalent to destroying crops before they are ready to harvest,” the statement said. “As the last few weeks have shown, our growing alumni network is actively dedicated to maintaining ties with Yale-NUS and ensuring the continued growth of the community.” 

“There has also been insufficient information about the projected annual savings from the proposed merger to justify the closure of Yale-NUS.”

The statement then said that the “high-handed” manner in which the decision was made was indicative of an “administrative environment that is hostile to collaboration, growth, and stability across Singapore’s higher education sector.”

The statement continued: “It signals that senior administrators of Singapore’s institutions for higher education are not and may not be willing to provide the stable and collaborative environment that is essential for students, alumni, staff, and faculty to pursue their studies and build their careers.”

Gratitude and Support

The alumni concluded their statement by reaffirming their support for the Yale-NUS community and taking stock of what would be lost with the school’s closure.

The alumni said they were “forever thankful” for the efforts to build up the college by Yale-NUS’s current and former faculty and staff. They also pledged to continue to support current students, and to continue to use their education “productively and passionately, both for [their] own flourishing and in the service of others.”

The statement said: “The loss of Yale-NUS represents the loss of yet another diverse community in Singapore; one where students of varied socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and educational backgrounds lived, studied, and learnt together. More than a decade’s worth of hard work by students, alumni, parents, educators, and staff, not to mention the significant public monies invested, will be lost.” 

“When this decision has been questioned by a multitude of stakeholders—students, parents, alumni, faculty, higher education professionals, independent commentators, employers—does that not reasonably indicate that perhaps more time should be taken to evaluate this decision?”

Xie Yihao, an alumnus from the Class of 2017, said: “It has been almost a month since the announcement and we still don’t have any clear answers, even honest attempts from the top NUS leadership to explain the rationale and decision making process.”

“They instead appear to play divide and conquer, and want to wear out our patience. It is disrespectful and disappointing to say the least.”

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