Saturday, December 4, 2021

New College Dean Will Be Announced in … :Tan Tai Yong

Xie Yihui
Yihui (Class of 23) is the editor-in-chief at The Octant. She enjoys losing herself in nature, a movie, a book or a conversation.

Story | Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief 

Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong revealed to The Octant that the Dean of the New College—a merger of Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP)—will be announced early next year. 

In an interview that took place earlier this month, the President also expressed hopes for the leaders of the yet-unborn college, while also acknowledging their mandate to set the paths for its development.

Who is the New Dean?

Over in NUS, Professor Aaron Thean, current Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, had been named as the Dean-Designate of the newly formed College of Design and Engineering, a merger of the Faculty of Engineering and the School of Design and Environment. 

Meanwhile, the College of Humanities and Sciences, a “virtual college” combining the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science, has the heads of its constituent departments as co-deans.

As the official narrative is that USP and Yale-NUS are going to be “merged,” this has since generated suspicions that the dean of the resultant entity will come from either college. 

In response, Prof. Tan Tai Yong said NUS is “looking broadly” for potential candidates for the New College Dean. 

Tan is stepping down after he finishes his full term in June next year. Meanwhile, Director of USP, Prof. Kang Hway Chuan reached his sixth year in office this June, equalling the longest time served by his predecessors. However, no new appointment has since been announced. 

This year has seen many leadership turnovers at NUS, with new deans of various departments being appointed, including the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the Faculty of Law, and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

What should the New Dean do? 

Tan outlined several Yale-NUS legacies that he hoped the New College would carry on: interdisciplinary learning, learning outside of the classroom, and a vibrant student life. 

Having been a commuter undergraduate, Tan has come to understand and appreciate residential programs after spending years at Yale-NUS. 

“I hope that there’ll be [a vibrant student life] in the New College and not just with students staying in hostels and then going into other things, but a kind of a programmatic way of enjoying and benefiting from student life.” 

Having the right type of students, for him, is the key factor for a vibrant student life. He said: “You want students who can come in and say: I’m not here just to get a degree. I’m here to have a full educational experience. And I’m prepared to take ownership and take leadership of various things, various activities and various causes.” 

Tan said the leadership of the New College should appreciate the proactiveness of students and provide space and support for experimentation. “Don’t plan everything, let some things come from the ground, through the organic expression of what students want to do.”

“These are what Yale-NUS has done very well and I hope that the New College will embrace it.”

The New College, however, will be part of NUS instead of functioning as an autonomous college like Yale-NUS does, with its own policies including those on student activities. 

For example, in the Yale-NUS Events Policy, student organization events are considered “Business As Usual” unless the event is large-scale, involves external partners, receives external sponsorship, and/or collects registration fees. 

This “Business As Usual” approach contrasts with NUS’s current approval requirements, where the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) requires students to submit an event proposal at least six weeks prior to the start of any event for approval. 

When asked about the differences in NUS and Yale-NUS policies, Tan said: “It is difficult for me to speak about NUS now because I’ve been out of it for eight years, so I am not sure what happens there. ”

Tan was the Vice Provost (Student Life) of NUS from January 2010 to December 2014.

“Yale-NUS is a small community. We can do a lot of things very quickly,” he said. “NUS has 35,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate students, while Yale-NUS has 1,000 in total.” 

“We have a Dean of Students Office who works very closely with students, but NUS has faculties, departments, residence, and so on. So it’s a very different landscape.”

“Will the New College function like this? I think we’ll have to wait for the new leadership to decide.”

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