Sunday, September 26, 2021

Yale Did Not Offer $100 Million to Save Yale-NUS, Says Former Yale President

Story | Suman Padhi (she/her/hers), Contributing Reporter and Xie Yihui (she/her/hers), Editor-in-Chief
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him/his)

Richard Levin, President Emeritus of Yale University and member of the Yale-NUS College Governing Board, denied the rumor that Yale offered $100 million to Yale-NUS during the discussions with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in July regarding Yale-NUS’s future.

After news of Yale-NUS’s closure was announced, a rumor began in early September among students, faculty, and parents that Yale had offered $100 million dollars from its own fundraising efforts to save Yale-NUS from closing. It is unclear whether the currency is in SGD or USD. According to the rumor, the money was rejected by NUS. 

Just yesterday, Prof. Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, wrote in an op-ed to The Straits Times that financial unsustainability was the main reason behind the merger, and that Yale-NUS is $220 million short of its fundraising target. 

This contradicts a report by Yale Daily News, the university’s student newspaper, where Pericles Lewis, Yale-NUS’s founding President, stated that the motivation is not financial.

In the same report, Dr. Levin acknowledged the financial deficit, but said that it could be “easily closed with more fundraising efforts.” 

Since the College’s establishment, Yale has not tapped into its existing donor pool to support Yale-NUS’s fundraising efforts, which are led primarily by the Yale-NUS leadership. The College began with a block grant from the Ministry of Education (MOE), and it planned to replace the block grant with capitation funding, or per capita funding, which means MOE would fund the College according to the number of students.

Prof. Joanne Roberts, Yale-NUS Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), shared with The Octant last August that the College only had a few hundred students in the beginning, and that was why per capita funding would not work because it still needed to hire enough staff and faculty in anticipation of more students joining in later years. 

However, she said the College planned to move to capitation funding this year once it had reached the steady state of 1000 students in total.

By 2030, it had hoped to be funded one-third by endowment, one-third by tuition, and one-third by the MOE block grant, The Octant previously reported. However, the College’s endowment was not growing as fast as it should, Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong said in a previous Town Hall on financial aid. 

In an email exchange with The Octant last Thursday, Levin expressed disappointment at the closure of Yale-NUS, and said he regarded his role in co-founding Yale-NUS while he was the Yale President as “among the most exhilarating and most meaningful experiences” of his professional career.

Levin was involved in the establishment of Yale-NUS from the very beginning. After being approached by then NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan in 2009 in an economic forum about a potential collaboration, he spearheaded the initial developments of the College. 

From October 2009 onwards, Yale’s role expanded from being a consultant to a partner, and Levin then had said Yale-NUS could “provide a way to influence all of Asia.”

Looking back at the College’s journey now, merely 11 years after Yale and NUS inked a memorandum of understanding, Levin reflected: “Yale-NUS has been an overwhelming success. On every visit, I have found the students and faculty extraordinarily engaging—full of energy and intellectual curiosity.” 

“The distinctive contribution of Yale-NUS, which has influenced numerous liberal arts initiatives in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, will be missed.”

Nonetheless, he was “confident” that the Yale-NUS Governing Board would try their best to “ensure the best possible experience for Yale-NUS students, faculty, and staff over these next four years.”

CORRECTION: The previous version of this article stated that Prof. Tan Eng Chye had said Yale-NUS had fallen short of its $300 million fundraising target set for 2030. His op-ed on The Straits Times did not state the timeline for the target explicitly. The Octant team is undergoing further fact-checking.

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