Saturday, October 23, 2021

Yale-NUS Faculty Members Release Open Letter Regarding College Closure

Michael Sagna
Michael Sagna, ‘23, is a GA major in Cendana. Bursting with unsolicited opinions, he passes his time playing volleyball (badly), eating rambutan alone in his room, and perfecting his shakshuka recipe.

Story | Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)

Last Saturday (Sept. 18), The Octant received an unofficial statement from some members of the Yale-NUS faculty condemning the college’s closure. The 20-page document expresses concern about the college’s closure and the proposed new college, incorporating a two-and-a-half-page list of “[o]utstanding questions” about the merger. The faculty responsible for its writing hope that the paper will serve as an open letter to the Ministry of Education, the NUS Board of Trustees, and Yale-NUS’s own governing board.  

The statement was authored through what faculty described as “an informal sharing process,” and is, as a result, only representative of a group of concerned faculty, rather than the college’s faculty in its entirety. Nevertheless, the document represents the first public statement by members of faculty since the announcement of the merger on August 27.  

The Value of Yale-NUS College

The piece places an emphasis on the value of Yale-NUS College, situating it as the only liberal arts college in the Singaporean educational landscape.

“Continuing Yale-NUS College,” the faculty write, “would preserve this successful, well-established model for interdisciplinary undergraduate education, enhance the Singaporean tertiary education system, and maintain the range of options for local students with diverse interests and academic trajectories.”

NUS President Tan Eng Chye has written the proposed “New College” will seek to “amplify, not diminish, the Yale-NUS story.” 

By outlining the four key characteristics of a liberal arts college (see table 1) the faculty compares the educational offerings of Yale-NUS, NUS’s College of Humanities and Sciences, the University Scholars Programme, and the New College’s proposed model.

In doing so, they argue that Yale-NUS’ offering is unique, meaning that “merging Yale-NUS into a two year Honours College program will eliminate a thriving and home-grown small liberal arts college from the Singaporean higher educational landscape.”

The faculty further cite higher median starting salaries for Yale-NUS graduates relative to their NUS peers as an indicator of the college’s success, while also commenting on the diverse range of fields alumni work in, like social impact, nonprofits, and NGOs, in addition to sectors like the public sector and consulting. 

Yale-NUS Bachelor of Arts graduates have a median starting salary of $3,890, as compared to $3,500 for NUS Bachelor of Social Sciences and Bachelor of Arts graduates. This difference is more pronounced in the case of Yale-NUS’s Bachelor of Science graduates, who average $5,350, as compared to NUS Bachelor of Computing graduates at $5,243 and Bachelor of Science graduates at $3,528.

The faculty write: “Yale-NUS graduates earn a high starting salary upon graduation and have a high rate of employment within six months, some at top international firms such as Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Oliver Wyman, and in local companies, and many have joined the Singapore public service…”

Likewise, they list a series of prestigious postgraduate education programs that Yale-NUS students have been admitted to in the college’s short history as a means of demonstrating the college’s educational prowess. 

Institutional Failures

The statement criticizes the lack of consultation in the decision-making process, before expressing confusion that “the leadership of Yale and NUS also offered conflicting explanations.” They reference NUS President Tan’s Straits Times opinion piece which centers on finances, contradicting Yale’s account that financing was not the primary reason for the closure. 

Furthermore, the statement directly addresses two objectives for higher education, outlined by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament, namely: 1) That students are “global in their perspective, much more able to apply interdisciplinary approach [sic] to problem solving,” and 2) That the “whole experience in our universities is much more inclusive, much more affordable…”

“Yale-NUS already provides an innovative, outstanding interdisciplinary undergraduate education custom-designed for Singapore with a global perspective by a diverse faculty,” the statement reads. 

“Its commitment to financial aid and thoughtful holistic admissions have created an exceptionally diverse student body where a global mindset is fostered through daily interactions in residential life, in its wide range of study abroad opportunities, high profile international visitors, and its ambitious, community-minded alumni all over the world.”

Impact on Students, Community, and Faculty

The statement concludes by outlining the impacts of the closure on three key stakeholders, namely students, community, and faculty. 

For the community at large, the statement argues that the decision has “imposed unprecedented emotional and mental burdens on all members of our community.”

Faculty address the impact on the integrity of the Yale-NUS experience on students, writing that “there will be an unprecedented amount of uncertainty about basic aspects of their education.” They also discuss possible professional implications, before arguing that “the years of hard work that our students put into building the College have been rendered meaningless” by the closure. 

According to the statement, faculty at the college will also be impacted. Despite NUS promising to honor all contracts, the statement emphasizes the different academic cultures, arguing that “faculty are being moved to an entirely different kind of institution after a decision that came without any stakeholder consultation.” 

In addition, faculty write about the uncertainty they face regarding tenure, which, for the 60% of professors at Yale-NUS who are not currently tenured, is a major concern. Tenure will be difficult to achieve for some considering that their departments do not even exist at NUS. For those who do wish to pursue tenure, despite assurances from NUS that the tenure process will remain the same to 2025, faculty worry that they might be evaluated with an eye on future redistribution to NUS departments.

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