Student Voices: Choosing the Next President
Story | Yasunari Watanabe, Contributing Reporter
Image | David Zhang
Panel discussions with the Yale-NUS College Governing Board held on Aug. 14 as part of their ongoing search for President Pericles Lewis’s replacement, gave students an opportunity to give their input for the next president, but recorded poor turnout.
Brian McAdoo, Professor of Science and Rector of Elm College, helped to arrange the student meeting, though he did not participate directly.
“I was surprised by the staggeringly low turnout,” he said. “I find it critical that if students want a voice in their community, they have to show up.” Mr. McAdoo said that there were roughly 10 to 20 student participants across the three Residential Colleges.
Scott Currie ’18 said that there was minimal prior advertising, and a short time frame between when the event was announced and when it was held. Sean Saito ’17, who did not attend, said he was unaware of the panel discussion and had other commitments. He said that Sundays may not be the best day to hold student events.
Avery Simmons ’19, who attended the discussion, said that lack of knowledge among the student body of the specific roles of the Governing Board and the president could have been another factor.
Students interviewed spoke favorably of the way the discussion was conducted. Liu Chengpei ’20, another participant, said board members took note of the questions that were asked and let the students talk as much as possible.
Liu said that “one student raised concern over the rapid increase in the student body”. The current system, the student said, cannot handle the exponential growth.
There was talk about priority setting and having a better focus, whether it be on research, teaching, or administration. “Someone also mentioned that the faculty workload was being stretched too thin,” Liu said.
Other topics included ensuring consistency within the school administration, given the recent departures of figures in upper management. Students also brought up the ongoing process of developing an alumni network, which they say will become an important support system for the newly established College.
“We were impressed by the sense of caring about the College expressed by all the students we met,” said Linda Koch Lorimer, Yale-NUS Governing Board member, in an email interview.
The Search Committee organized a separate panel discussion for Yale-NUS faculty and staff on Aug. 15. The Governing Board held additional meetings with leaders of student government and leaders of student groups, according to Ms. Lorimer.
The search for the new president began this August with the appointment of a six-person Presidential Search Committee, co-chaired by Tan Chorh Chuan, President of the National University of Singapore, and Richard Levin, President Emeritus of Yale University. The Governing Board hopes to appoint a new candidate by next summer.
Simmons said students will not hear from the committee until the selection is made. The committee cannot release the names of the candidates, as many of them currently hold positions at other institutions. “It’s not the most transparent process, but it’s understandable,” she said.
According to the advertisement for the position posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the president “must be deeply collaborative to work with the faculty and staff in advancing the young College and must enjoy close interactions with students and an intimate, residential college community.”
Getting everyone on board as Yale-NUS shifts its focus from promoting growth to establishing stability will become the next crucial step, Mr. McAdoo said. “We need someone that’s a bit of a cheerleader,” he said.
Currie, who is the former student government Vice President, attended the meeting with student government leaders. He said it was important for Yale-NUS to retain the drive it currently has, even as the College matures into a stable institution—a state he described as “dynamic stability”.
Saito echoed Currie’s remarks, and said that Mr. Lewis sparked the student body to take initiative and create things on their own. “The next president should inherit his vision, and come up with new plans that resonate with the rest of the community,” he said.
Mr. McAdoo said the ambition extends to fundraising. Outside funding is important for the College to sustain the projects it has worked on for the last few years. “You need someone who’s going to get [potential donors] excited about the vision we have,” he said.
Simmons said she believes there is a lot the College can do to reach out and give back to the Singapore community. Awareness of the College among Singaporean locals remains low. She said the next president should be an advocate for Yale-NUS, and for the liberal arts more broadly. “That requires charisma,” she said.
Responsiveness was an important quality raised frequently throughout the discussions. “Students repeatedly expressed their interest in ensuring that the next President of the College is very approachable and eager to engage with students as President Lewis has been,” Ms. Lorimer said.
Mr. McAdoo said, “Students know they can find him almost every morning at Starbucks, and they know that if they find him, they can just sit down, even just for five minutes.”
Currie said Mr. Lewis does an exceptional job at rallying people around himself, displaying the forethought and ability to understand a variety of opinions but pushing for a focused solution. “He’s a thoroughly decent guy,” he said.
Mr. Lewis came to know many of the senior class personally, including Saito. During his first year, Saito said that Mr. Lewis treated students from the United States to a Thanksgiving dinner at the American Club. “All of the American students were away from home, and he made us feel welcomed,” he said.
The Selection Committee is open to suggestions from students. “We hope that students will continue to share ideas about the next President or about the College more generally with the Search Committee from now until Dec. 31, 2016,” said Ms. Lorimer.
Students can submit their feedback by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.