Friday, September 30, 2022

Module List for the Next Semester: What’s There, What’s Missing, and What’s Coming

Story | Avery (she/her), Staff Editor, and Ryan Yeo (he/him), Staff Writer

Graphics | Avery (she/her)

On Wednesday (March 30), Registry released the list of available courses for the Fall 2022 semester. 

The first module list for Yale-NUS’s first post-closure academic year offers a reduced number of courses compared to the indicative three-year course lists distributed in February. On average, there was a reduction in course availability by 14% compared to the three-year course list, compounding student fears of a compromised Yale-NUS experience. 

In an April 4 email to The Octant, and subsequently an April 7 email to the student body, Associate Dean (Curriculum) Steven Green explained that the three-year course list did not include courses to be taught by new faculty, since the College is still finalizing its hiring decisions. He also mentioned the tentative nature of the three-year course lists, which would be continuously updated as changes are made.

Comparison with three-year course list

In February, the Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty released a three-year course list, provisionally listing all the courses to be offered in the college over the next few years.

Prof. Green said the purpose of the provisional three-year course list was to help students “visualize what different Majors will look like over the next three years” in an email to all Yale-NUS students on Feb. 17.

However, the most recent module list released by Registry saw significant reductions in course numbers for ten majors, with some of the worst affected being Philosophy and Environmental Studies. 

The number of Philosophy modules has more than halved, decreasing from eleven to five. Meanwhile, there are six fewer Environmental Studies courses, representing a 38% decline.

The Economics and Life Sciences majors were the only two to see an increase in course availability in the most recent list, with three (30%) and one (8%) more courses compared to the three-year list, respectively.

Comparison with this semester’s course list

Figure 2: A comparison of course availability by primary major as indicated by Registry between the tentative course lists of AY21/22 Semester 2 and AY22/23 Semester 1. Modules are counted under “HI” if they are not cross-listed with any other primary major. Other HI and Science Common Curriculum modules are included in their respective primary majors. The graph does not include compulsory Common Curriculum modules.

There is also a significant decrease in the number of courses offered next semester compared to the number of courses offered this semester. 

The tentative course list for this semester (AY21/22 Semester 2), which was released on Oct. 18, 2021, listed 202 modules. 196 courses were eventually offered.

However, the tentative course list for next semester (AY22/23 Semester 1) contains only 155 courses, or a 23% reduction in the number of modules offered, comparing both tentative course lists. 

This translates to a decrease of 2.6 courses on average, across the 18 possible primary major affiliations registry uses (the 14 majors, Law, Languages, Social Sciences, and Historical Immersion). 11 majors experienced a decline in course availability, by anywhere between one course (for Psychology) and thirteen courses (for Arts and Humanities) (Fig. 2). 

As rising sophomores will be given two more elective module slots each, the decline in courses will be more than proportionate than the fall in demand for electives. The fall in course availability also came despite a reduction in CC teaching needs from 41 sections in the current semester to 15 in the next.

The general reduction in courses corresponds to a decrease in the number of instructors. 53 instructors who are teaching this semester will not be doing so come August 2022. 

Meanwhile, there are only 27 new instructors next semester, including new hires and those returning from semester breaks.

Green attributed this discrepancy to “a more-than-usual number” of faculty undertaking planned study leaves or sabbatical leaves, as well as a few junior tenure-track faculty taking up appointments at NUS. Yale-NUS would retain half of the latter’s teaching contribution despite the reassignment. 

Green also confirmed an ongoing search for 15 new faculty members, who will finalize their courses over summer. Newly hired faculty—all on the non-tenure Educator Track, considering the remaining lifespan of the College—will be expected to teach five courses per academic year, and may partly alleviate the course reduction. 

A search on Times Higher Education, a recruitment platform for academia, reveals 14 open job listings as of April 5 for Yale-NUS across eight different majors. It is possible that more listings, whose deadlines have passed, have previously been posted by the College.

The distribution of open job listings by major, however, is not proportionate to the fall in course availability for each major. For instance, the Anthropology and Philosophy departments only have one open job listing, despite only offering half the number of courses in AY22/23 Semester 1 compared to AY21/22 Semester 2. 

Figure 3: Distribution of open job listings by major. Information accurate as of April 5, though it is possible that more had been posted by the College whose deadlines have passed.

Students express frustration: “What’s the point of planning?”

The course list has caused frustration among students who were hoping to plan their academic careers. “As a prospective PPE major that still hasn’t been won over by Philosophy, I was planning to take Philosophy modules,” said Karel Nareswara ‘25. “Yet, the selection is astoundingly little.”

Some have also criticized the variety of courses offered. While the Economics major may have seen more module offerings than expected, Sheriah Peries ‘25 said: “It doesn’t solve the problem if half of the Econs modules are finance modules.”

According to Green, the three-year course lists should only be used as an indication of the general curriculum, and to “guide hiring decisions,” not as a guarantee for the availability for any course.

“These three-year course lists were designed to help alleviate some of that anxiety [about course offerings] by allowing students and faculty to envision the broad nature of the curriculum between now and 2025,” Green wrote in the emails. 

He added that the lists were intended to be “living documents” to be updated periodically, with the next revision scheduled for late April.

Nonetheless, the confidence created by the three-year lists turned into frustration for many. Nareswara said: “I truly believed that there was enough for us to plan our academic journey ahead. It was quite disappointing as the module offerings did not really match the provisional one that was sent out.”

“If there are already ‘promised’ modules missing when three batches of students are still in the school, it doesn’t really inspire confidence in what is going to happen when the population dwindles even more.”

The reduced course availability comes after several commitments by Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), that a “full suite of electives” would continue to be offered until 2025.

Others argued this is a direct consequence of the College’s planned closure, given faculty transition plans and decreasing demand for electives. 

“What’s the point of module planning if they close down the College and change everything?” said Ulad Treihis ‘24, who recently declared his major in Mathematical, Computational, and Statistical Sciences, only to have the modules he took prerequisites for disappear.

In the months immediately following the closure, NUS President Tan Eng Chye also said that closing the College was the only way to maintain the full Yale-NUS program. 

“I am actually preventing the Yale-NUS program from being diluted,” Prof. Tan said at a September 2021 town hall with Yale-NUS students.

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