Halcyon Days Ahead
story | Pericles Lewis, Guest Contributor
I am writing out of concern about a couple of recent pieces in the Octant in which students expressed frustration with the way the College is run. The College staff, faculty, and I all accept the role of students in expressing their views on matters of concern to the college community. At the same time, this is a community, and I would hope that students will begin from a place of charity and consider that administrative decisions they may not like may have legitimate reasons behind them.
Furthermore, I would hope that even in a culture of “rapid reactions” on social media, our students would take the time to think and inform themselves on the issues before jumping to conclusions or publishing those conclusions. Likewise, I have always sought to inculcate an “ethos of service” at the College—this means that while we provide wonderful facilities and the best efforts we can in terms of educational programs, we also expect students to be active participants in their own learning and community-building and not to adopt the attitude of the dissatisfied customer.
Event Approval Committee
The College has a strong commitment to free expression, which has been a keystone of my approach as president, evident in countless events on campus and an active culture of debate and discussion. The events approval process will not affect this culture and will abide by all our existing policies on freedom of expression.
The College has developed a policy primarily concerned with external events that we host on campus for which we need to recoup the cost of hosting the event. Almost all student events are exempt from this policy. In the case of large venues, student organizations need to book the venue in advance. In cases where student organizations are charging registration fees or working with corporate or other external partners, these activities that generate funds are expected also to cover the cost of all the work that goes into these events: work by our infrastructure and educational resources and technology teams and by our cleaners, for example. We are a non-profit educational institution and we need to look carefully at external partnerships to make sure we are not providing implicit subsidies to private companies. My office has received some suggestions on how to improve the policy and its communication, and we are making some revisions. We do expect student organizations to abide by appropriate rules regarding use of funds and not using either College spaces or College resources for personal enrichment. I will be available at the Town Hall meeting tomorrow evening to discuss these policies.
The College has sought the input and active involvement of students in planning graduation, class day, and the senior week running up to graduation. These will be great events and a wonderful celebration of the four years the class of 2017 has spent at Yale-NUS College.
As I explained when approached by The Octant for an immediate response yesterday evening, we had no intention of ignoring student input, but had transferred most of the student activity to focus on senior week, which is being planned with the Rectors. The Dean of Students office is primarily responsible for Class Day, which has been fully planned. It is unfortunate that some students would take the issue of “dissolution” of one committee as a way to undermine the efforts of many offices to put together an exciting celebration of graduation. Students have been consulted on the internal speakers, the order of events, the meals, the design of the gowns, and many other factors. We also consulted students on possible external speakers but were not able to get some of the speakers requested. As Mick Jagger says, “you can’t always get what you want.” I made the decision that we could not spend the large sums necessary to bring some celebrity speakers to campus. I believe our existing range of speakers will be excellent, and I feel that criticism on this point is ungracious in the extreme.
Unfortunately, the graduation planning was somewhat interrupted when a senior staff member responsible for it had to leave the College late last year after facing health issues. There was a gap in communication, for which I apologize, and for which I have previously apologized in person to members of the graduation committee. Dean Bridges is now working with the committee to reestablish communication. I hope that the committee members will extend the generosity to the Dean of accepting that he has the best intentions in planning these events.
Mental Health resources
We have all felt the stress on our community and on many individuals of the deaths of two beloved members of the community in 2016, one faculty member and one student. We have revamped and expanded our mental health services over the past several months, and I believe that we have much greater access in this area than we once had. College can be a stressful time, and for those who are feeling stress or worse, I hope that you will reach out to our excellent professional counselors as well as the residential life staff.
The College leadership has been working closely with student government on a wide range of issues. We will sometimes tell students when their method of expressing their concerns is unproductive. College presidents have some incentive to avoid confrontation, but when I find something worth confronting, I do my best to confront it. Productive engagements will assume the goodwill of all involved, including those who have put their entire careers (and families) on the line for this College.
A recent article commented that “We are heartened that administrators have changed their minds about attending the Town Hall tomorrow.” My first and only invitation to this Town Hall reached my in-box last night after 10 pm. As soon as I woke up this morning and read my email, I accepted the invitation (before 7 am). There was no changing my mind about it. The implication otherwise is one of several examples of ungenerous assumptions that I have seen spread about in the past few days.
I would ask The Octant and its opinion writers to give me, and the Dean of Students, and other College leaders, the benefit of the doubt and not assume that every misunderstanding is the result of a nefarious plot or a sign of massive decline. Instead of making such assumptions and posting quick reactions online, students could consider discussing these issues face-to-face with the appropriate college leader to get the real facts and context of the matter. For example, the authors of the most recent article themselves note that I will be at the Town Hall tomorrow. Why not wait and ask me about some of these matters before rushing into print with these criticisms?
Working at Yale-NUS College has been the highlight of my professional life. Like many in the Class of 2017, I am somewhat apprehensive about life “after Yale-NUS.” But I think that we have built a strong and resilient community here at Yale-NUS College. I hope that the principle of charity and an ethos of service will be guiding features of Yale-NUS College throughout its history.
Pericles Lewis is the President of Yale-NUS College.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: email@example.com