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Yale-NUS’ New Latin Honors System Sparks Debate Amongst Students

All PostsNewsYale-NUS’ New Latin Honors System Sparks Debate Amongst Students

Story by Elaine Li, News Editor | Photo credit to Flickr User Cindy Schultz

Following the release of Yale-NUS College’s newly formulated Latin Honors system, over 160 students have signed a petition calling for the reconsideration of the honors system and opening up of decision-making to students.

The Clockwork section in last week’s issue of The Octant broke the news of the Latin honors system. The official announcement was sent to students via email by the Registry on Thursday of the same week. It consisted of a two-page document detailing the percentile criteria for each of the three honors awards: summa cum laude to not more than the top 5%, magna cum laude to not more than the next 10%, and cum laude to not more than the next 20%.

The honors will be awarded based on Cumulative Average point (CAP). It specifies designated limits within each major—“not more than 60% or 6 of the students (whichever is larger) in any one major will receive honors at the cum laude level or above, and no more than 40% or 4 (whichever is larger) at the magna cum laude level or above”—and clarifies that students will be ranked within their entering class in the event of late graduation.

In response to the announcement, a group of students drafted a petition letter detailing eight specific policy concerns, arguing the unsuitability of the Latin honors system in the context of Yale-NUS’ Common Curriculum, enrollment size and major distribution, the foreseeable comparative disadvantage Yale-NUS students will face on the job market to the National University of Singapore students, and the danger of impeded academic growth and unhealthy competition within the College. Petitioners are also concerned that the late implementation will have negative impacts on students who planned based on the assumption that Yale-NUS would follow NUS’ model. Concerns regarding the means and scope of information released were also raised.

The petition letter included a link to a form in which students could sign their names, and was circulated privately amongst students until Saturday,  March. 27, when it was posted on the Yale-NUS College Students Facebook page. At the time of writing this article, the petition has totaled 166 signatures.

The Octant spoke to a number of the signatories to find out their concerns. Their responses are presented below:

Adlin Zainal ’17 expressed her concerns that the honors system is detrimental to the College’s mission. “I myself was severely demotivated when I heard about the system because I know I may or may not get honors,” she said. With regard to the open secret that honors having a large effect on your payroll in Singapore, she admitted that her concerns are mostly practical. As a member of the junior class, she also expressed worry at the negative implications on her future. “This very last-minute announcement throws all my plans into jeopardy and I’m just confused as to what my academic plans are going to be now,” she said.

Darrel Chang ’19, saw the honors system as a “major-dependent Latin honors system that does not accurately reflect distinctions in the class as a whole”. He said that the fourth argument presented in the petition, namely “The curved GPA/Latin Honors system is unsuitable in the context of the small enrollment size of Yale-NUS College”, was the strongest case for repealing the honors system. To take the Class of 2019 as an example, only 9-10 students would earn a summa cum laude degree, and “that number is […] too low given that a clear distinction would be made between summa and magna […]. This would plausibly imply a clear difference in the achievements and ability of students in each group—one that may not actually exist.”

Other students who have signed the petition have less clear reasons for doing so. An interviewee who wished to remain anonymous said that she did not “understand the intricacies of the petition” but “mostly agree[d] with it”, and therefore put down her signature.

In response to the petition letter, the Student Government has reached out to Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Tan Tai Yong requesting his presence at a town hall. Ross Rauber ’19, Director of Academics in the Student Government said that “[Mr.] Tan seems [to have] agreed to be present at a dialogue, though we have not yet set a date and time for the event.” He said that he hopes this dialogue will clarify reasons for the policy implementation, without which it is difficult to “assess the prospects of student response effecting change on the policy”.

The Student Government is also collecting feedback and concerns regarding the Latin Honors system through a Google Form, which will be conveyed to Mr. Tan before the dialogue.

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