Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Martin Choo (he/him)
Student representatives from Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP) on the New College Working Groups (WGs) could not disclose details on their meetings and engage with students without prior approval from their respective WG Chairs, the Yale-NUS Student Government said in a statement to the student body on Wednesday (Oct. 27).
The statement said that student representatives were initially briefed to “observe confidentiality” during their first meetings, and were not allowed to disclose any information from the WG meetings.
Instead, the Communications WG would centralize the dissemination of information on the WG discussions to ensure “accuracy and competitive knowledge.”
Last week, the Yale-NUS WG student representatives sent a collective response to The Octant’s request for comments that they were unable to disseminate any information shared during the WG meetings. Separately, a USP student representative declined to comment.
Since the WGs convened their first meetings on Sept. 21, no information about the unnamed college has been shared to the student body on a specially-created blog or via other channels.
Red Tape or Confidentiality? Different Approaches For Each Working Group
The level of transparency and student engagement for each New College Working Group (WG) varies.
In a reply to students’ request for clarifications, Ho Teck Hua, Chair of the New College Planning Committee (NCPC) said the committee values the students’ perspectives. He added that the WG student representatives were not required to “collect feedback from students or carry out consultations with students,” unless the Chairs have requested or approved their specific proposal to seek feedback.
Referring to the parameters for consultation with the student body, the Provost said: “The Chairs of [the] WG can decide on this. In general, the matter for feedback or consultation should be broad without going into specific details, as these are work in progress.”
“This applies to all feedback/consultations as well as communications from the WGs. Chairs may also make requests for certain documents to be kept confidential.”
The WG Chairs, meanwhile, each gave different responses regarding their approaches to transparency and student engagement within their respective WGs.
Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS and Chair of the Faculty Appointments WG, told The Octant over email last Friday (Oct. 22) that their WG meetings involved discussions on “how to best support faculty through the transition process” while ensuring “continuity for our academic programs at the college.”
“The discussions in my WG often involve confidential matters like contracts, terms of appointments, as well as personal and professional plans. These are not issues that can be shared openly,” Prof. Tan added.
“I cannot speak for other Chairs, as they will lead the communications portions of their respective WGs and are free to share and update the relevant communities as they wish.”
Speaking only for the WGs she sits in, Joanne Roberts, Chair of the Common Curriculum WG, said in an email earlier this week: “In the WGs I sit in, students are playing a crucial role. They have been sharing their own views and gathering from their peers.”
There have not been “unusual restrictions” on what they can discuss, she added.
Specific to the Common Curriculum WG, Emily Tan ‘23 and Morgane (Dasha) Ropion ‘22, Yale-NUS student representatives on the WG, confirmed that they were allowed to share and gather information so long as they did not disseminate confidential working documents.
Roberts said that confidentiality requirements were “normal” in these kinds of planning committees.
“Normally you’d ask the Chair: ‘I’d like to consult students about this, is it okay?’ In which case, the Chair would normally say yes. I don’t know if that’s particularly limiting.”
“I haven’t done that in my committee. I’ve sort of trusted people on my committee that they’re not going to share things that are counterproductive or gratuitous,” she added.
Meanwhile, Koh Yan Leng, Vice President (Campus Infrastructure) of NUS and Chair of the Facilities Management WG, redirected The Octant’s emails to the Communications WG.
The other Chairs—including Ovidia Lim-Rajaram, Chair of the Communications WG—have not responded to The Octant’s request for information a week ago about the WGs at press time.
Basic Course Structure, “Big Decisions” Ready by December
Roberts said she was not able to share the draft of the New College curriculum “before the Provost confirms it is ready to be shared in all its detail.”
When asked whether she had to receive permission from the Provost before sharing information, Roberts said: “I could probably share if I wanted to. But ideally it should be shared with Yale-NUS and USP students at the same time since both have given valuable inputs. Also, it might not be helpful to have unfinalized information in circulation, which might be confusing.”
She only shared the basic structure of the planned New College curriculum, which would involve “common courses” and “elective courses,” including Quantitative Reasoning and writing courses. She would avoid sharing the rest of the plan while it was still “so preliminary,” she said.
The Common Curriculum WG aims to finish its planning by the end of the semester, before the winter break in December, she added.
There were four meetings planned for the Student and Residential Life WG before the winter break in December, with each meeting lasting one or two hours, according to Dave Stanfield, Yale-NUS Dean of Students and member of the WG.
Cory Owen, Associate Dean of Students and member of the Facilities Management WG, said there were six meetings planned for her WG before the end of December.
She explained that the NCPC had to make the “big decisions” by the end of the year before the admissions cycle for the new batch of New College students begins.
Stanfield commented: “The timeline is quick, because they’re going to start recruiting students. They have to be fast.”
Meanwhile, Roberts assured that despite the quick timeline, she was confident that a “strong” curriculum could be developed soon, because her WG has “worked really efficiently” and because there were already “strong foundations” in the Yale-NUS and USP curricula.
She added: “When we come to August, it’s only the first year of the common curriculum that you have to have ready to be offered. You don’t even have to have everything ready, as long as you know what it all is and have a sense of it.”
The only modes of engagement with the Yale-NUS and USP student bodies thus far have been channels initiated by some WG student representatives, following approval from their respective WG Chairs.
On Oct. 11 and 12, Yale-NUS student representatives from the Student and Residential Life WG and the NCPC, respectively, held open forums with the student body. Only five and six students turned up for the open forums with the Student and Residential Life WG and the NCPC, respectively.
The Yale-NUS student representatives from the Student and Residential Life WG have also initiated three surveys asking for feedback from the student body.
Meanwhile, there have been a number of engagement efforts by USP student representatives across all the WGs with the USP student body, through discussion sessions and informal chat groups.
Angela Hoten ‘23, who attended both Yale-NUS open forums, was unsure of their effectiveness given the lack of transparency in the WGs.
She said: “Student representatives appear to have to comply with these ambiguous confidentiality clauses and that puts them in a position where they can’t inform the student body of what is happening in these WG discussions and what is being decided for New College. How is that any different from the ways that we got here?”
“These WGs need to allow student representatives to share the minutes and decisions made in these WGs, and also give ample time for student representatives to gather the necessary details they need to provide a strong case for the programmes we have at Yale-NUS.”
Promises and Commitments
While setting up the New College, student opinions are important and consultations will take place, NUS Management previously promised. Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, said in a town hall late last month: “I don’t think that students should have the final say, but I think that the community should have an important say.”
Similarly, Ho promised in an email to all NUS faculty, staff, and students in October: “Together, the Planning Committee and WGs will develop a collaborative, consultative, and open approach that will steer the New College into the future.”
Ho also said in a September town hall with parents of Yale-NUS and USP students: “We’ll get input from everybody. I’m optimistic that the New College will do really well because, from day one, we consult everybody.”
Previously in September, Roberts told The Octant that she would commit to continuing to “consult with students, to share openly, and to do our best in Yale-NUS” during the planning process of the New College, and to “push for openness and communication” with the NUS management.