Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
Many NUS student representatives and faculty members have said that Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, did not conduct “extensive consultations” with them prior to the formation of the College of Design and Engineering (CDE) and the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS).
The formation of CDE was announced on Aug. 2021 and involves a merger between the School of Design and Engineering (SDE) and the Faculty of Engineering (FOE). Meanwhile, the formation of CHS was announced on Sept. 2020, involving the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Science (FOS).
In a town hall with Yale-NUS College students on Sept. 28, students stepped up to the microphone to voice their concerns to Tan about the lack of consultation during the decision-making process in the formation of the New College as well as CDE and CHS.
NUS had previously received criticism for the lack of consultation with stakeholders in the decision to form these colleges.
Tan, however, questioned the truth of students’ statements and challenged students to “rely on facts.” He then claimed that “extensive consultations” were carried out with student representatives and faculty members from the faculties affected by the formations of CDE and CHS.
Tan said, while slowing down to emphasize his point: “I was in every department. I spoke to every faculty in each of the departments in FOS, FASS, SDE, and FOE. I went down to every department and I spoke to them.”
“It’s true that for the students, we did it in closed groups for SDE and FOE. But for FOS, there were actually a number of town halls, likewise for FASS.”
“So that’s the facts. Check with any department. I was there.”
The Octant’s fact checking, however, shows that many student representatives and faculty members in the affected faculties were unaware of such consultations.
An “open secret”
The Octant received conflicting accounts on the extent of consultation with FOS faculty.
A faculty member from FOS told The Octant that the CHS announcement had been an “open secret” among some faculty members before it was announced in Sept. 2020.
“The department heads had already actively been discussing this both formally and informally with faculty for about three months,” the faculty member said. “And there were rumors and gossip about this merger for even longer before that.”
The formation of CHS, according to Tan, is not a merger.
The FOS faculty member continued: “There was certainly consultation with faculty prior to the [CHS] announcement—and, if my recollection serves me well, the design of CHS, especially the curriculum, was modified in response to faculty feedback.”
However, another faculty member from FOS told The Octant that she received only two email invitations to faculty discussions about CHS.
According to the FOS faculty member, the first session was held on Sept. 22, only one day before the CHS announcement. The other was held on Oct. 19, one month after the announcement.
The CHS curriculum is still incomplete at the time of writing, with several modules yet to be announced. Meanwhile, CDE still does not have its own website.
Decision was “already cast in stone”
Meanwhile, many other faculty members and students in the affected faculties said that they were unaware of any consultations prior to the announcements of CHS and CDE.
A faculty member from FOE said in an email to The Octant: “We were not ‘consulted’ on the decision; at least I wasn’t. Perhaps faculty higher up the food chain were consulted in some way. But I don’t know.”
“Indeed, the President did visit each department to talk to the faculty members. But by then, CHS and CDE were already set up, already cast in stone.”
“The visits to the departments were not consultative in nature. The President was there to explain his rationale for setting up these colleges, but some colleagues were not convinced.”
“The colleagues I’ve interacted with are not too pleased about the decisions but are resigned to work within the parameters.”
Two town halls with the FOE and SDE faculty members were held on June 2 and 3, after the decision to form CDE was made but before it was publicly announced. The town hall was hosted by Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost of NUS; Aaron Thean, Dean of FOE; and Lam Khee Poh, Dean of SDE.
The faculty member continued: “There were several faculty members who voiced their displeasure at the merger. But the Provost was defensive at the town hall.”
FASS faculty members have also previously been cited as criticizing the lack of consultation in the decision to form CHS. FASS faculty members reported having only been consulted after the announcement was made, and one faculty member said that his department was left “scrambling” due to the lack of clarity behind the decision.
FASS and FOS students, meanwhile, told The Octant that they were only aware of one engagement session on CHS for each of the two faculties on Oct. 22 and 23, 2020 respectively.
These engagement sessions only took place one month after the formation of CHS was announced, and not before. Tan himself was also absent from both of these engagement sessions.
A student representative from SDE, meanwhile, told The Octant that there was an engagement session with student representatives last week, but they were not aware of any consultations prior to that session.
Meanwhile, a student from the Architecture department of SDE said that they were also not aware of any engagement sessions with the wider student body regarding CDE to date.
The formation of CDE was announced alongside the closure of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme to form the New College. This decision was also made without consulting with the Yale-NUS President, Governing Board, and several senior figures at NUS.