Saturday, December 4, 2021

Mapping the Road to 2025: The Editors’ Perspective

Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him) and Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editors; Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief
Illustration | Kimberly Wee (she/her)

If the shock announcement made you feel that the story has ended, don’t forget we still have four more years to go. 

Starting from the next academic year, students will be admitted and come to the campus under the New College. The rushed timeline has left faculty members and students scrambling to flesh out a vision for the college prior to the first admissions cycle. 

From 2021 to 2025, NC and Yale-NUS students will be close neighbors. What will the transition period look like? We have been promised a “full Yale-NUS experience” by the incoming president, Joanne Roberts, before 2025. The set of measures already made public by Prof. Roberts include a full suite of courses to be offered until 2025, expanded exchange opportunities, and guaranteed housing. 

But there is so much more to the college than that. 

The Yale-NUS community has been an enriching and transformative place for its members, which is made possible partly by a set of policies which are distinct from those of NUS. The “merger” will inevitably create challenges when the two institutions’ policies conflict. 

In this article, we outline three key principles that we feel are needed to govern the merger of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP), namely integration, the precedence of Yale-NUS rules over NUS rules where they are in conflict, and proactive consultation. These principles were conceived to preserve the Yale-NUS experience and pass some of its best parts on to the students of the New College, or at least those who live on our campus. 

We also urge that the formation of the New College be delayed by at least one year. Doing so would relieve the immense pressure on students and faculty members involved in the planning process. It would also allow for greater consideration in planning a quality New College and in ensuring the principles we outline below can be upheld.

Integration

Firstly, we propose that there should be as few divisions as possible between the New College students and the existing Yale-NUS community. 

One of the core values that Yale-NUS was built upon is inclusivity—that means being open-minded toward a diversity of experiences within and without campus. As the college undergoes a drastic change, there is no better way to action this core value than by being truly receptive of the New College students, instead of gatekeeping ourselves in an insular ivory tower.  

Some practical initiatives we should adopt include spreading New College students across the three colleges and allowing the New College students residing on Yale-NUS campus to use Yale-NUS facilities to foster integration and community cohesion. 

We need to share our education and the philosophy behind it with as many people as possible. In doing so, we will be able to share the best parts of our community with them. 

We are not proposing to indoctrinate the New College students with radical left- wing philosophy, as some Facebook commentators say is what Yale-NUS does. Rather, we believe that there are benefits in sharing the community/culture that we have built up over the years, so that New College students can pick and choose the traditions and values that appeal to them. 

Integration goes two ways—we, too, can learn from the incoming batch of New College students. In a small community where a tiny voice can make a big stir, we need to welcome input or challenges from the freshies, as we always should when we have new members on campus. 

The precedence of Yale-NUS rules over NUS rules, where they conflict

We acknowledge that, in the process of merging two distinct systems of college governance, conflict and confusion as to which rule applies will be inevitable. These conflicting policies will become very apparent should the colleges pursue a policy of integration similar to that which we have outlined. 

For this reason, we propose a simple principle: In accordance with Joanne Roberts’ promises of “a full Yale-NUS experience to 2025,” where Yale-NUS’s rules conflict with those of NUS or the New College, Yale-NUS rules must apply.

For example, Yale-NUS follows a policy of allowing people to decide who they want to suite with, regardless of gender. This rule is part of what makes Yale-NUS so special within the Singaporean educational landscape. NUS accommodations, on the other hand, typically assign different genders to different floors, and often ban intermingling between genders past specific times. Though some colleges have mixed-gender floor options, this is often not the case university-wide.

A second case is in the two institutions’ different policies about alcohol. In Yale-NUS, alcohol is permitted and even sold at college-funded events, whereas NUS is a dry campus, and students found either intoxicated or to have alcohol accumulate demerit points which can lead to the termination of their housing. 

Both of these examples demonstrate how difficult the process of integration will be. Nevertheless, Yale-NUS precedence must hold all the way to 2025, after which the New College should be free to chart its own path. 

Assuming that our college’s intake of NC students will be roughly equivalent to the number of first-year students we take annually, New College students must be included in the room draw as incoming first-years typically would be. Different genders must continue to be permitted to suite on the same floors, and Yale-NUS RCAs should look after New College first-years residing on our campus to extend our community and support systems to NC students. 

Regarding alcohol, Yale-NUS only has control over its own students and events. For this reason, Yale-NUS should continue to serve alcohol at its own events, even permitting NC students to engage with them, though possibly on a differentiated basis. 

In order to preserve the experience of Yale-NUS students, we propose that the Infrastructure and Security Office (Infra) remains accountable to the Yale-NUS administration to 2025. 

Rather than being accountable to New College or both administrations, Infra’s continued accountability to Yale-NUS would ensure that the college does not become more intrusive in policing its students, because of New College’s rules which will presumably be tighter in a variety of areas, such as mixing of different genders after set times, event policies, and alcohol possession and consumption.

Consultation: proactive, transparent, considered

The “full Yale-NUS experience” can only be evaluated by the students who live through the experience every day. Any proposed transition must thus take students’ perspectives into account, and cannot only be decided in a top-down manner. 

In fact, consultation has always been an integral part of the Yale-NUS experience. From the beginning, our student body has had a real stake in policies that directly impact our lives here. These attitudes are also akin to how our Student Government (StuGov) regularly gathers feedback from the student body.

For this reason, we propose that consultations with students must be proactive, transparent, and considered throughout the transition process. 

First, any group that initiates consultations with students should be proactive in seeking out and listening to student feedback. Consultation needs to be ingrained in the process of implementing any policy that affects student experience, rather than conducted as an afterthought or embellishment in response to backlash.

Next, information on any working group proposals and discussions must also be kept open and transparent to the student body, so that working group members can be held accountable to any failure to communicate student concerns. 

Last but not least, any plans and discussions during the transition period must be carefully considered. Any careful consideration requires substantial time and discussions, otherwise we risk compromising on principles that make the full Yale-NUS experience possible. 

Yet, we see members of the NUS administration and Chairs of the Working Groups working against these principles by restricting access to information and following a rushed timeline. We also see the NUS leadership weaponizing the voices of the few to dismiss the opinion of the majority.

This opacity can only widen the breach of trust between the student body members of the NUS administration, who now head the New College Planning Committee. It did not help that students earnestly raised concerns about the breach of trust in September, only to be challenged and dismissed

How can students be expected to engage when there is no reason to believe their concerns would be taken seriously? 

Though the damage has already been done, we believe it is not too late to rebuild students’ trust in the New College Planning Committee as we move towards 2025. 

The first tangible step is for the New College Planning Committee to show that they are treating students’ concerns with respect and care. 

When students request for more open information on the Working Groups, give their feedback during engagement sessions, or call for a delayed formation of the New College, the Planning Committee should proactively show how these requests are being seriously considered. 

Proactive and transparent consultation also means that the Planning Committee should provide clear explanations as to why certain proposals or requests from students are rejected.

Furthermore, as the New College becomes more and more integrated into the Yale-NUS community, unforeseen conflicts and problems will inevitably arise. It is important that the Yale-NUS community of the future has a say in how to resolve problems that directly affect their “full Yale-NUS experience.”

We thus propose the formation of a group of Yale-NUS student representatives, which would remain in place until 2025. This group of representatives would be responsible for communicating Yale-NUS students’ grievances to the New College and Yale-NUS administrations, and discussing ways to resolve them. 

This function is currently undertaken by Yale-NUS Student Government. However, Student Government members are already feeling burned out and overwhelmed from juggling their StuGov roles alongside their involvement in the New College transition. For this reason, we propose that this group of student representatives should be formed separately from, or as a distinct group under, Student Government. 


Integration, the precedence of Yale-NUS rules, and student consultation—these are the principles that we believe are the most crucial if we want to preserve our community in the transition years and beyond. The NUS and Yale-NUS administrations and the Planning Committee must not make the same mistakes that they are making now with the Working Groups. 

The task of ensuring a proper transition should not fall on one or a small group of individuals, nor should it be wholly undertaken by the administrators. We, too, should take part. 

Student involvement has always been and should be part of the Yale-NUS ethos. This is what we need to preserve in the Yale-NUS spirit. Coming together may be hard when we look forward and see only darkness, but don’t forget that we are holding torches in our hands. 

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