It was a heartfelt moment on the afternoon of January 12 this year when esteemed Professor and Rector of Cendana College, Steven Lynn Bernasek, sent the students of Yale-NUS College an email titled “My Retirement.” In the email, Rector Steven announced his upcoming retirement as of June 30, 2022. Serving as Cendana’s Rector for the past three years, and as a Professor of Science (Chemistry) since joining Yale-NUS in 2015, Rector Steven holds a special place in the hearts of the Yale-NUS community. The announcement of his next milestone was met with overwhelming responses of warmth, well-wishes, and sweet sentiments from everyone.
The Octant held an interview with Rector Steven in commemoration of his journey with Yale-NUS through these years. Here are some precious thoughts and words from the heart that Rector Steven would like to share with the staff and students of Yale-NUS:
What’s a really endearing memory from your time as the Cendana Rector that you hold close to your heart?
“Start of Sem and End of Sem dinners, especially the group photos with students.”
Having been with Yale-NUS all these years, which three words would you use to describe/represent your overall journey at Yale-NUS, and why?
“Exciting: The excitement of starting something new in my career. The excitement of the start of each semester and the return to classes.
Challenging: The variety of interesting problems to solve in various administrative roles. The uniqueness of the challenges in the context of starting up curricula, laboratories, and procedures.
Colleagues: The support of my colleagues in carrying out my work here, particularly my research fellows and students in my laboratory. Also my faculty colleagues who share a dedication to the idea and goals of Yale-NUS College.”
What is one word you would use to describe the students and staff of Yale-NUS, and another word you would use to specifically describe the students and staff of Cendana, and why?
“For Yale-NUS—Committed: Students committed to and excited about learning. Staff committed to the goals of Yale-NUS, and to growth in their jobs.
For Cendana—Tall: Everyone knows that our students seem to be the tallest on campus. Must have something to do with the size of Tower A😊. And students and staff stand tall in the building of community in Pulau Cendana.”
Do you currently have any exciting retirement plans that you would like to share?
“I expect to return to the US, to a home that I own in Texas. I probably won’t retire there long term, but will move to Kansas and a small rural property. I also plan to travel to visit my children and grandchildren, and to see interesting places around the world. I would also like to get my private pilot’s license up to date, and pursue my long time interest in flying small airplanes to visit interesting places in the US.”
Is there anything you would wish to tell the students and staff of Cendana and Yale-NUS before your retirement?
“It has been a real pleasure to work with and live with the students and staff of Cendana and Yale-NUS. Retiring is bittersweet, because I will be leaving friends and colleagues and the excitement and challenges of living and working at Yale-NUS and being in Singapore. I hope to return for visits and will continue to cherish the memories of my time here.”
As our final semester with Rector Steven comes to a close, from all of us here at Yale-NUS, we wish Rector Steven a wonderful and restful retirement, and a great big thank you for all he has done for Yale-NUS!
Story | Tanisha Naqvi (she/her), Contributing Reporter
Photo | Ong Wei Lin
On the morning of Friday, March 11, several faculty members found a small rubber duck and anonymous handwritten note sitting by their office doors. The note read KNOCK KNOCK, and several were emblazoned with smiley faces. Exactly two weeks later, many (but not all) of the faculty members from the first round received a post-it note on their doors, this time reading WHO’S THERE?. The duck, this time, was hand-drawn.
This incident has elicited a range of reactions and theories, and one common question across faculty and students: what the duck just happened?
An example of the ducks.Photo taken and generously shared by Ong Wei Lin ’24.
Duck duck who?
No person contacted for this piece knew, or was willing to share, who was behind the ducks. As Professor Matthew Schneider-Mayerson shared with me, “This is one of the great mysteries of history, right up there with the JFK assassination and the closure of Yale-NUS.”
A professor mentioned to me during office hours that each note bore different handwriting, leading professors to wonder about the size of the group behind the act. I am no forensic expert, and the sample size is small, but the handwriting on the three notes pictured above appears to be different, as do the drawings of the ducks—although this could be the work of a forward-planning individual trying to throw the public off the trail.
This professor also shared with me that not all faculty members received a duck. It is unclear why some were chosen over others; my interviewees did not have any theories.
Wee Chin Wei Bryan ’25 suggested on the (Y)NC help! I need… Telegram group chat that the professors could be playing a game “like the murder game or smth where you slip notes to people to kill them idk.” Perhaps this is a game between professors—although some professors’ reactions suggest that not all are players.
Professor Ricardo Cardoso said the incident reminded him of “that Korean show—Squid Game,” referring to the anonymous calling card received by characters of the Netflix hit. Prof. Cardoso was presumably referring to the inexplicably chosen few and the general vibe, which at least three professors (Prof. Cardoso included) and several students have described as creepy.
“I joked earlier that it was either bad performance art or a macabre warning that we will be purged,” said Professor Benjamin Schupmann (leading me to wonder how much performance art Prof. Schupmann has witnessed/participated in to make this judgement with such flippancy and ease). To some, the ducks are canaries in a coalmine: small, bright yellow harbingers of death. I cannot help but ask—what is coming next?
Rachel Tey ’24 has been theorising with her suitemates. “I htink it’s an april fool’s joke,” she confided in me over text on the night of Thursday, March 31. The structure of knock knock and who’s there led her and her suite to believe that a punchline would land Friday, April 1. She then shared her unease about the incident, pictured in the following screenshot:
Screenshot of conversation between Rachel Tey ‘24 (white) and Tanisha Naqvi ‘24 (green).
April 1 has come and gone, with no followup from the mysterious ducks. But Tey’s incisive “riddler shit” comment implies a political motivation behind the cryptic act—a theory allegedly shared by some professors, as one of my professors mentioned during office hours.
It seemed unclear what this motivation could be, until I emailed Prof. Schneider-Mayerson, who generously shared his theory behind the ducks:
“One can only assume that the knock-knock note, combined with the mini rubber duckie, is a reference to the climate emergency. Gaia is knocking, and in a time of rising sea level and extreme weather events, we will need to learn to (metaphorically) float. The rubber duckie offers short-term survival at the cost of plastic pollution, providing a lesson about the risks of renewable extractivism. The drama of climate change was set in motion by centuries of colonialism and capitalism, yet the punchline, the future, remains unclear. Who, indeed, is there?”Absurdist, dramatic performance art with a political bent? At this point, why not.
Creepy, curious, cute…
Reisha Lee ’23 shared on the (Y)NC help! I need… Telegram group chat that “prof matthew schneider-mayerson left a note that said “who’s there?” outside his office in response and was upset cus he didn’t get a reply, he is still trying to find the mystery messenger.”
Prof. Schneider-Mayerson elaborated: “I like knock-knock jokes as much (or as little) as the next person, so I responded to the “knock knock” note with my own “who’s there?” note. Cruelly, I received no reply.” To his knowledge, he has not been contacted since by the people behind the ducks.
It is interesting that the “knock knock” and “who’s there” are speech acts expected to elicit a response, and yet those behind the act remain uninterested in conversation, even aloof.
But the reaction to this incident is not universally negative nor suspicious. “Yeah I am soooo curious,” said Qian Zilan ’24, on the (Y)NC help! I need… Telegram group chat. “Don’t know who does this but it is very cute.”
Contacted directly, Reisha shared that she thought the incident was quite cute, and that she respected it.
“I think it’s cute too,” said Hanae Gomez ’23, over text. “probs some ppl trying to make ppls day.”
The case remains unquacked
As stated before, nobody interviewed knew—or was willing to share—who committed the mysterious, yet ultimately harmless and kind of silly, act. Maybe this silence is the bated breath of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe there is no other shoe.
Political act, performance art, creepy, or cute: the jury is still out on the characterization of this incident. General sentiment seems to be divided, leaning towards morbid suspicion, though there are some who think that the act is confusing but kind of sweet.
For now, all we are left with is a joke without a punchline, and a joker cloaked in shadow, with no name or face but the smile of a cheaply-made rubber duck.
Story | Avery (she/her), Staff Editor, and Ryan Yeo (he/him), Staff Writer
Graphics | Avery (she/her)
On Wednesday (March 30), Registry released the list of available courses for the Fall 2022 semester.
The first module list for Yale-NUS’s first post-closure academic year offers a reduced number of courses compared to the indicative three-year course lists distributed in February. On average, there was a reduction in course availability by 14% compared to the three-year course list, compounding student fears of a compromised Yale-NUS experience.
In an April 4 email to The Octant, and subsequently an April 7 email to the student body, Associate Dean (Curriculum) Steven Green explained that the three-year course list did not include courses to be taught by new faculty, since the College is still finalizing its hiring decisions. He also mentioned the tentative nature of the three-year course lists, which would be continuously updated as changes are made.
Comparison with three-year course list
In February, the Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty released a three-year course list, provisionally listing all the courses to be offered in the college over the next few years.
Prof. Green said the purpose of the provisional three-year course list was to help students “visualize what different Majors will look like over the next three years” in an email to all Yale-NUS students on Feb. 17.
However, the most recent module list released by Registry saw significant reductions in course numbers for ten majors, with some of the worst affected being Philosophy and Environmental Studies.
The number of Philosophy modules has more than halved, decreasing from eleven to five. Meanwhile, there are six fewer Environmental Studies courses, representing a 38% decline.
The Economics and Life Sciences majors were the only two to see an increase in course availability in the most recent list, with three (30%) and one (8%) more courses compared to the three-year list, respectively.
Comparison with this semester’s course list
There is also a significant decrease in the number of courses offered next semester compared to the number of courses offered this semester.
The tentative course list for this semester (AY21/22 Semester 2), which was released on Oct. 18, 2021, listed 202 modules. 196 courses were eventually offered.
However, the tentative course list for next semester (AY22/23 Semester 1) contains only 155 courses, or a 23% reduction in the number of modules offered, comparing both tentative course lists.
This translates to a decrease of 2.6 courses on average, across the 18 possible primary major affiliations registry uses (the 14 majors, Law, Languages, Social Sciences, and Historical Immersion). 11 majors experienced a decline in course availability, by anywhere between one course (for Psychology) and thirteen courses (for Arts and Humanities) (Fig. 2).
As rising sophomores will be given two more elective module slots each, the decline in courses will be more than proportionate than the fall in demand for electives. The fall in course availability also came despite a reduction in CC teaching needs from 41 sections in the current semester to 15 in the next.
The general reduction in courses corresponds to a decrease in the number of instructors. 53 instructors who are teaching this semester will not be doing so come August 2022.
Meanwhile, there are only 27 new instructors next semester, including new hires and those returning from semester breaks.
Green attributed this discrepancy to “a more-than-usual number” of faculty undertaking planned study leaves or sabbatical leaves, as well as a few junior tenure-track faculty taking up appointments at NUS. Yale-NUS would retain half of the latter’s teaching contribution despite the reassignment.
Green also confirmed an ongoing search for 15 new faculty members, who will finalize their courses over summer. Newly hired faculty—all on the non-tenure Educator Track, considering the remaining lifespan of the College—will be expected to teach five courses per academic year, and may partly alleviate the course reduction.
A search on Times Higher Education, a recruitment platform for academia, reveals 14 open job listings as of April 5 for Yale-NUS across eight different majors. It is possible that more listings, whose deadlines have passed, have previously been posted by the College.
The distribution of open job listings by major, however, is not proportionate to the fall in course availability for each major. For instance, the Anthropology and Philosophy departments only have one open job listing, despite only offering half the number of courses in AY22/23 Semester 1 compared to AY21/22 Semester 2.
Figure 3: Distribution of open job listings by major. Information accurate as of April 5, though it is possible that more had been posted by the College whose deadlines have passed.
Students express frustration: “What’s the point of planning?”
The course list has caused frustration among students who were hoping to plan their academic careers. “As a prospective PPE major that still hasn’t been won over by Philosophy, I was planning to take Philosophy modules,” said Karel Nareswara ‘25. “Yet, the selection is astoundingly little.”
Some have also criticized the variety of courses offered. While the Economics major may have seen more module offerings than expected, Sheriah Peries ‘25 said: “It doesn’t solve the problem if half of the Econs modules are finance modules.”
According to Green, the three-year course lists should only be used as an indication of the general curriculum, and to “guide hiring decisions,” not as a guarantee for the availability for any course.
“These three-year course lists were designed to help alleviate some of that anxiety [about course offerings] by allowing students and faculty to envision the broad nature of the curriculum between now and 2025,” Green wrote in the emails.
He added that the lists were intended to be “living documents” to be updated periodically, with the next revision scheduled for late April.
Nonetheless, the confidence created by the three-year lists turned into frustration for many. Nareswara said: “I truly believed that there was enough for us to plan our academic journey ahead. It was quite disappointing as the module offerings did not really match the provisional one that was sent out.”
“If there are already ‘promised’ modules missing when three batches of students are still in the school, it doesn’t really inspire confidence in what is going to happen when the population dwindles even more.”
The reduced course availability comes after several commitments by Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), that a “full suite of electives” would continue to be offered until 2025.
Others argued this is a direct consequence of the College’s planned closure, given faculty transition plans and decreasing demand for electives.
“What’s the point of module planning if they close down the College and change everything?” said Ulad Treihis ‘24, who recently declared his major in Mathematical, Computational, and Statistical Sciences, only to have the modules he took prerequisites for disappear.
In the months immediately following the closure, NUS President Tan Eng Chye also said that closing the College was the only way to maintain the full Yale-NUS program.
After much anticipation from freshmen and sophomores in the student body, on Feb. 17, Assistant Dean of Curriculum Dr. Steven Green released a tentative list of courses that will be offered every academic year until 2025 at Yale-NUS. In previous dialogues with freshmen and at Student Government meetings, Dean of Faculty Dr. David Post had repeatedly promised to try and provide the full Yale-NUS experience with respect to the majors, minors, and courses that would be offered until 2025.
Uncertainty in Course Planning Continues
As promised when the closure was announced, all of the planned majors and minors will continue to be offered until 2025. But the uncertainty of planning for the next three academic years poses difficulties. In the dialogue with first-year students, Dr. Post had said that since he does not know who is leaving and who will be hired, it is reasonable to expect some alterations from whatever future plan they decide in 2022 now. In his email, Dr. Green reiterated this sentiment and wrote that “the course lists may be affected by faculty movement and transition plans, study leaves, or teaching relief to compensate for taking on a large administrative portfolio; on the other hand, there will be new courses taught by new faculty (in the process of being hired) and visitors from Yale and NUS, and there may also be courses cross-listed from cognate majors.”
It is too early to understand and predict both student and faculty migration from Yale-NUS. While NUS had promised to honor tenure and contracts for all current staff and faculty at Yale-NUS, the veracity of this is yet to be confirmed, especially with a lack of real equivalent departments at NUS.
A key tenet of Yale-NUS’s liberal arts education is the offering of a wide variety of majors from across various disciplines. Compared to majors offered in the greater NUS and in other Singaporean higher education institutions, Yale-NUS offers new and niche course tracks like Urban Studies, Global Antiquity, and more. For these majors and minors, there are no real substitutes offered in NUS. The closest NUS substitute for Urban Studies would be Real Estate or Geography, which, though these are distantly related and much broader alternatives, has rather troubling implications. It is a major overreach to consider that Real Estate and Urban Studies, two fundamentally different courses, should be considered equivalent to one another. With the closure of Yale-NUS for NUS College, such niche majors, already rare in Singapore’s higher education scene, are practically going extinct.
For such niche majors, Urban Studies in particular, will offer up to 25 courses every academic year until 2024, with 17 planned courses for the final academic year of Yale-NUS in 2025. However, 10 academic courses every year from now on will be new elective courses offered by newly hired faculty. This may very well change how major requirements are structured for the Class of 2024 and Class of 2025, depending on what will still be offered then. If students are hoping to study a certain course, Dr. Green mentions “to sign up for desired courses at the earliest possible opportunity to avoid disappointment.” By the time the major declaration exercise for current freshmen occurs in 2023, most will be expected to have an idea of what major they want. However, a key aspect of a liberal arts education is the liberty and freedom to explore between various disciplines, and with major/minor requirements combined with pursuing other interests, this will be difficult with caveats posed by the uncertainties.
Uneven Decline in Course Offerings Across Majors
For more popular majors like Mathematical and Computational Sciences (MCS), the variety of courses offered also decreases incrementally every academic year. There are 39 courses and a Historical Immersion (HI) offered next year, and only 33-34 courses offered the year after.
However, for less popular majors such as Arts and Humanities, the decline of course offerings is more substantial. Next year, the Arts and Humanities track will offer 28 courses and 6 HI courses, but the year after, it falls to 24 with 4 HI courses and finally 19 courses with 5 HI courses. Considering that the major has few students in its discipline, it is reasonable to assume this trend would continue for the cohorts of 2024 and 2025 as well.
The wide disparity in courses offered in 2023 to 2025 between popular and less popular majors proves the earlier caveat true: for interested students, the earlier they take said courses, the better. Even more important to consider is that for majors like Urban Studies, Economics and History, many of the courses planned are to be new or remain undecided, as they will be taught by yet-to-be-hired faculty.
Arts and Humanities
28 (6 HI)
24 (4 HI)
19 (5 HI)
27 (7 HI)
23 (8 HI)
25 (8 HI)
39 (1 HI)
17 (2 HI)
Number of courses offered over the coming academic years by major. Source: Three-year course lists.
A possible reason for this decrease can be attributed to the removal of introductory modules in the future academic years. Many introductory modules for courses, such as Introduction to Anthropology or Introduction to Environmental Studies, are slowly eliminated over the years and are unavailable in the final year. It is recommended that students interested in the major/minor take them early to fulfill any requirements and prerequisites.
While students would still be able to switch majors up until the end of their third year, the lack of introductory modules would make it difficult to switch that late. The caveat, once again, rings true. Despite Yale-NUS’s promise to offer a liberal arts education until its closure, the removal of introductory modules makes it difficult for the latest cohorts to switch majors.
A student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that they found it “a pity.” They added that, “a liberal arts education is really this idea of embracing new disciplines… the disappear[ance] of intro mods, that’s really upsetting.” They mentioned a junior in one of their classes who is done with their major requirements and now has the liberty to explore other disciplines for possible minors, or even a major switch, which is a common practice amongst many upperclassmen. With the loss of this system, it cannot be denied that a fundamental part of Yale-NUS is going to be missing for the final cohorts. Even now, there are many upperclassmen who take introductory modules during their junior or senior year, and try out new minors or switch majors drastically as they delve deeper into new disciplines. It is a shame that such liberties will not be available to the cohorts who graduate in 2024 and 2025.
While it is unrealistic to expect a fully planned list of offered courses to be finalized three years in advance, the loss of introductory modules detracts from the variety offered to Yale-NUS students until 2025. From the beginning, the cohorts most affected by the closure, the freshmen and sophomores, were promised that the closure would not take away from the full Yale-NUS experience that was promised to them. However, as options become more and more limited, this promised ‘Yale-NUS’ experience, with respect to the holistic liberal arts education, begins to ring untrue.
NUS College plans to designate the parts of its community using the Yale-NUS campus the “West Wing,” in contrast to “Cinnamon Wing” at the current Cinnamon College.
In response to student fears, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) Joanne Roberts affirmed that Yale-NUS has no plans to adopt the designation or to alter signage around campus.
“West Wing” Designation Sparks Student Fears of Erasure
The term “West Wing” was first used in an email on March 4 addressed to University Scholars Programme (USP) students about housing arrangements.
In the email, USP students—who will be considered NUS College students from August—were asked to choose between rooms in the “Cinnamon Wing,” and the “West Wing,” which it clarified was “located in Yale-NUS.” The email also revealed NUS College would house about 120 students in the Yale-NUS campus, and occupy consecutive floors sharing a single sky garden to facilitate community building.
The discovery was met with immediate anxiety from students that NUS may be erasing aspects of the Yale-NUS identity by renaming its campus even before the College’s closure in 2025. Compounding the criticism was signage used for NUS’s Open House on March 5. No mention was made of either USP or Yale-NUS, despite tours scheduled around Cinnamon College and the Yale-NUS campus on which students still live and learn.
Yale-NUS students were informed on March 10 that current USP students would be moving into the Yale-NUS campus, in an email regarding the annual Room Draw by the Student Affairs Office.
In correspondence with The Octant, NUS College Vice Dean (Residential Life) Eleanor Wong explained that “West Wing” is an internal designation specific to NUS College.
“The term West Wing will be used to refer to the community of NUS College staff and students residing on YNC premises,” Ms Wong elaborated, “Like the Cinnamon Wing, the West Wing will have its own Master, Residential Fellows, Residential Assistants and other staff.”
When asked about the departure from the Residential Colleges system, Wong responded, “since NUS College is already a ‘college’, we thought it might be less confusing to name the two residential communities under the umbrella ‘wings’.”
She also disclosed that NUS College has not yet discussed whether to split the “West Wing” into the equivalent of Residential Colleges once there are enough students, stressing that she only has information on the first year of operations.
“For some issues, we may still be exploring several different options,” Wong wrote over email, “for other issues, it would be prudent to review on a periodic basis before we decide next steps such as after we’ve had a chance to experience our first year together.”
No Plan to Adopt Name: Roberts
Correspondence with Dr Roberts revealed there are no plans by the Yale-NUS administration to use the West Wing name in any way.
“We have no intention of using [‘West Wing’],” Roberts affirmed over email, “until 2025, we will refer to the buildings as we do now and all our signage will remain.”
“I suspect that new NUSC students living on our campus will begin to use the terms we do to refer to our joint spaces,” she added.
Partly corroborating this claim, Wong explained that “as the YNC premises will continue (at least certainly in the first year) to be run by the YNC facilities management team, we would likely defer to YNC’s Infrastructure Team as to whether it is feasible/necessary to change any major signs.”
This came even as both administrators agreed minor concessions could be negotiated on physical signage around campus. Roberts suggested “we should agree to add a few signs to assist” NUS College, such as directions to Cinnamon College or to NUS College offices, while Wong mentioned the possibility of “asking for some flexibility to be able to sign-post as ‘NUS College West Wing’” floors assigned to them.
Some interviewed are unconvinced by the arrangement. Luca ‘25 argued that “the use of the term ‘West Wing’ creates a complete feeling of separation from Yale-NUS.”
As NUS College grows, “it creates a constant awareness and doom in the last batch of YNC students, knowing the school we grew and love is dying,” they elaborated.
Separately, Dean of Students Dave Stanfield told The Octant the floors in current Yale-NUS Residential Colleges that were allocated to NUS College students were chosen after considering Yale-NUS student preferences, in consultation with Student Government and with reference to housing survey results.
“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.” — George Orwell, 1984
When Yale-NUS College first started recruiting students, it was introduced with the slogan “1 + 1 = 3.” Bringing together the best of both Yale and NUS, Yale-NUS was going to be “far more than the sum of its parts.” For those of us who have been a part of this journey, that is probably not too far from the truth.
So when it was announced last year that Yale-NUS College would “merge” with NUS’s University Scholars Programme (USP), I cautiously held out hope that the new institution could also be better than either Yale-NUS and USP has been alone at providing “broader access to inclusive interdisciplinary liberal arts education at NUS for the longer term.”
As President Tan Eng Chye put it in a Straits Times op-ed, “combining the USP and Yale-NUS would allow us to preserve the distinctive educational approaches that both have been working hard to refine over the years, resulting in a New College which will be greater than the sum of its parts.”
However, I have now realized that my hopes were misplaced. Whereas Yale-NUS College promised to make 1 + 1 = 3, and by and large delivered on that promise, NUS College might more appropriately be represented by the equation 2 + 2 = 5.
From merger to collaboration?
The “2 + 2 = 5” motif was popularized by George Orwell in his novel, 1984: “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.”
Of course, in 1984, Orwell was writing about a totalitarian government that engaged in mind control. For the purposes of this article, I am borrowing the motif merely to highlight how the Yale-NUS community as well as the Singapore public at large has been misled to think of it as a merger, when in fact it really is a closure of Yale-NUS—2+2 ≠ 5.
In a recent interview with The Octant, the newly appointed dean of what will be NUS College Professor Simon Chesterman clarified that the term “merger” was “misleading.” Instead, NUS College’s relationship with Yale-NUS and USP will be one of “collaboration, not integration.”
According to Dean Chesterman, he wanted to “push back against the merger language to assure current students that they would not miss out on the student experience they had been promised.”
What I am concerned about instead is whether future students at NUS College will miss out on the student experience that they were promised: the best of USP “combined” with the best of Yale-NUS College.
I have two specific concerns. First, who gets to decide what is the “best” of our respective colleges, and how? In particular, who gets to decide what were the best of Yale-NUS that should be carried over into NUS College? While USP has an official seat at the table with Professor Loy Hui Chieh—a Residential Fellow at Cinnamon College (USP) since 2014—serving as Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) of NUS College, there is no formal Yale-NUS representation in the leadership of NUS College.
Second, the ethos of community that both Yale-NUS and USP have built over the years arguably is one of the defining features, if not the defining feature, of our university experience. Here, I am referring to the student-administration relationship and our colleges’ relative autonomy from NUS, which set both our colleges apart in the larger university landscape.
These concerns are shared by a majority of Yale-NUS and NUS students, based on a poll conducted in December 2021. Most students were deeply unsatisfied with the lack of a collaborative, consultative and open approach in the planning process for NUS College. Only 2% and 5% of Yale-NUS and USP students said that they were satisfied with the planning process.
As the Chinese proverb goes, a tree can grow to a thousand feet because of its roots (树高千尺不忘根). If the planning process for NUS College—in which key stakeholders were not informed and the decision to close Yale-NUS was presented as a “fait accompli”—already betrays the community-centric nature of our colleges, how can the outcome of this process encapsulate the best of what both of our institutions have to offer?
It is no wonder then that our colleges are now mere “partners” and “collaborators.” What was supposed to be a “merger” is really an entirely separate and different project run by the NUS administration rather than a genuine amalgamation of our communities—in fact, as this poll demonstrates, many students felt like they were never a part of the consultative process that led to the merger decision in the first place. The point was never to retain what made both USP and Yale-NUS tick.
How did this happen? How could a “merger” between and “combination” of the best of Yale-NUS and USP become something else entirely? How could two plus two equal five?
How did 2 + 2 = 5?
After the announcement of the closure of both Yale-NUS and USP, the question that many of us grappled with was: why? Was it really the finances? Or something more insidious?
The fact is, we can never know for sure. But what we do know at least is that we—both members of the Yale-NUS and NUS community and the Singapore public—were lied to. What was a “merger” and “combination” is now described as a mere “collaboration.”
The communities that our colleges have built—the student groups, our college traditions and cultures, our ties and memories across cohorts—will be gone too, purportedly to make “room for an entirely new slate of actors.”
To be fair, Dean Chesterman expects that there will be an “overlap in the types of student organizations we will see.” But of course, there will be basketball teams, dance troupes, a debate club, and so on at NUS College. That much is obvious.
The more pertinent question is whether there will—and can—also be a group advocating for NUS to divest from fossil fuels like Fossil Free Yale-NUS? Or groups like the Gender Collective and The G Spot to support women and sexual minorities on campus? What about a political education and advocacy group like CAPE, which was co-founded by both Yale-NUS and USP students?
What I also find interesting is the appointment of Dean Chesterman—who happens to be the son-in-law of former President Tony Tan—as the Dean of NUS College. Lest this be taken the wrong way, I should caveat here that I have nothing but respect and admiration for Dean Chesterman, who served as the Dean of the Faculty of Law when I was a student there. The following paragraphs should not be read to suggest that he is unqualified to serve as Dean of NUS College.
I am reminded here of the perhaps forgotten controversy over his appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Law in 2011. At that time, many had expected that then NUS professor Michael Hor would be appointed Dean. Professor Hor eventually left to serve as Dean of the Faculty of Law at Hong Kong University.
In a 2014 Straits Times interview, Professor Hor was asked whether he did not become Dean at NUS Law because he wasn’t good enough for the institution. According to the report, he responded diplomatically and said “I don’t know.”
However, he noted that there was “certainly a perception that after a certain level, only people with the right kind of politics will make it.” In his view, such a perception, whether right or wrong, was widespread and needed to be corrected. Two plus two should equal four.
More than a decade later, one can only hope that such perceptions will be corrected when NUS College begins operations later this year in August 2022. As Daniel Ng and I suggested in an earlier piece, the NUS College administration can start by affirming its commitment to the principles of academic freedom and free inquiry enshrined in the Yale-NUS Statement on the Freedom of Expression.
Some advice to prospective NUS College students
What does all this mean if you’re an 18-year-old, or the parent of one, reading this article? Should you or your child take up the offer to join NUS College? I think so.
After all, the formal education that you will get at NUS College will probably be somewhat similar to what we currently have at Yale-NUS and USP. I am sure that the faculty joining NUS College—some of whom will be from Yale-NUS and USP—will do their best to ensure that every student receives the best possible experience.
Though NUS College has not committed (and probably won’t) to the principle of free expression like Yale-NUS did, I hope you will embrace the spirit of free inquiry that underpins a liberal arts education. To get the best experience, one as close as possible to a true liberal arts education, be sure to engage actively by arguing and discussing issues—no matter how controversial or politically sensitive—with your professors and fellow students in the classroom.
But if you wanted to go to Yale-NUS and USP because it offers a politically and culturally more open environment for you to learn through active engagement with the community outside of the classroom, then perhaps you will be in for a more difficult time than we had. You probably will not have the same freedom to learn and explore both in and outside the classroom that we once enjoyed.
If you are queer, you might also feel less comfortable than we did at Yale-NUS and USP. Notably, in his response to the Octant reporter’s question on maintaining diversity, there was no mention of this issue.
At the same time, one of the leaders at NUS College is Professor Eleanor Wong who serves as Vice Dean (Residential Programmes & Enrichment). Professor Wong was one of the lead signatories to the Ready4Repeal petition calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality alongside Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong and former NUS Law dean Professor Tan Sook Yee.
Since there may be potential queer allies among the leadership, it remains to be seen whether NUS College will preserve the values of diversity and inclusion that both Yale-NUS and USP embodied after years of advocacy by students at The G Spot and the Gender Collective respectively.
Ultimately, the safe space for minority communities and the “gray space” for student activism that we forged at Yale-NUS (and USP to some degree) did not emerge naturally just because of Yale’s involvement in the project. Instead, it was built over time by our communities through trial and error, sweat, and tears.
If these are things you care about, you—as a prospective NUS College student—can still help to prevent all that we have achieved from simply disappearing when our institutions become defunct. Reach out to and engage with Yale-NUS and USP students, alumni, faculty, and staff who can share their experiences of pushing boundaries, fostering brave spaces and holding the administration to account.
Finally, be wary of misrepresentations, half-truths and corporate spin. Always question the basis for policy decisions, especially those purportedly made on your behalf and for the greater good but without the community’s input. NUS College is as much yours as it is the administration’s and it will be up to you to give life to the principle of #NoMoreTopDown as members of NUS College.
We may not have been able to stop the closure of Yale-NUS and USP, but that does not mean that the fight for collective decision-making, accountability and transparency is over. There is still much for you to do at NUS College. We still have the chance to keep the renewed spirit of student activism—that many Yale-NUS and USP students helped to rekindle—alive in Singapore, try as some might to extinguish it.
In 1984, the character Winston noted, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” Though the freedom to insist on the truth does not always come easy, it is now incumbent upon you to insist that two plus two equals four.
Daryl Yang ’19 is currently pursuing a Master of Laws at Berkeley Law School on a Fulbright scholarship. He graduated in 2019 from the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts jointly offered by Yale-NUS College and the NUS Faculty of Law. As an undergraduate student, he co-founded the Inter-University LGBT Network and the Community for Advocacy & Political Education (CAPE).
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Content warning: This article contains discussions of caloric intake (under “Food Portions Fixed by Contract: SATS”). Reader discretion is advised.
A recent policy change in Yale-NUS dining halls that limits the amount of food diners can receive has caused controversy among the student body.
Following criticism, the Student Affairs Office announced that students would be allowed to tap their cards twice per meal service, though student response has been lukewarm.
Previously, there had not been a specified maximum to the amount of food the dining halls could dispense per student. While students have been limited to one collection per meal service since the start of SATS’ contract, portion sizes had been freely adjustable when collecting meals prior to this change.
SATS, the caterer for the College’s compulsory meal plan, did not announce the change in its policy. However, the earliest complaint known to The Octant occurred on 8 February, when an anonymous student reported having requests for extra food denied due to a “new policy” in the Cendana Dining Hall.
Multiple, consistent accounts have since emerged on YNC Spoon & Forks, a 900-member Telegram group dedicated to dining issues among the student body. These include sustained discussions on 12 and 15 February where several students reported limited and insufficient portions of food given across the three dining halls. On one occasion, a student was given six potato wedges and one piece of diced chicken, while another received three meatballs in addition to rice.
Requests for additional food were either refused or inadequate.
Food Portions Fixed by Contract: SATS
Portions of food provided per serving are contractually fixed, according to SATS in a 14 February meeting with the Dining Experience Team (DXT), the school’s main liaison body with the caterer. These include 80 grams of vegetables, 80 grams of chicken or fish, and 150 grams of rice or noodles.
Whereas serving sizes were more generous and freely changed, SATS now intends to strictly follow these apportionments, and will refuse requests for additional food beyond twice the specified quantities. No reasons for the change have been given, though reports of popular options quickly running out have led some to speculate that SATS is reducing the overall prepared amount, either for cost reasons or to alleviate food wastage.
The new policy has been met with widespread criticism. Students quickly pointed out the nutritional inadequacy of the serving sizes: according to information provided by SATS, one standard portion per meal service would amount to about 1500 calories a day, while the Health Promotion Board recommends 1800-2200 for an average adult.
The serving sizes are also unable to meet differing nutritional needs among the student body, such as higher protein requirements by athletes.
Others believed such a change is inequitable, such as Max Pasakorn ‘24, who highlighted “it’s been quite distressing to have to fork out extra money for meals outside because the servings are unsatisfactory” for lower-income students on campus.
The high prices of the meals themselves have drawn scrutiny, which some argue are not justified by the quality and quantity of food served. The College charges up to $9,050 per year for room and board after subsidies, though the amount paid to SATS per meal tap cannot be disclosed as its contract is confidential.
“We are paying so much money to this school, and the fact that we have to struggle this much over something like food is ridiculous,” remarked Mich ‘22.
Adjustable portion sizes were among promises given to the student body when SATS competed for the College’s catering contract in early 2021. Several other promised services have also not been implemented, such as monthly restaurant-style meals or offering at least two vegetarian options per meal service.
Double Taps Permitted, to Mixed Response
Dean of Students Dave Stanfield provided the first official response by the school administration in a college-wide email dated 17 February.
Citing cost concerns, he explained the previous unlimited serving sizes were “beyond what is required contractually and what makes financial sense,” and that it was “within [SATS’] rights” to implement the current restrictions. He added that the changes had not been communicated to the Student Affairs Office prior to implementation. SATS has now been requested to inform the Office before rolling out future changes.
Some have expressed incredulity that finances were behind the change in policy. “How does it take so long for a company to figure out its operational costs?” An anonymous sophomore wrote, “who’s putting the checks and balances on them?”
Students would also be allowed to tap their cards twice—and therefore collect food twice—per meal service starting from 21 February. According to Stanfield, this would “allow students more flexibility and the option of larger portions” for students dissatisfied by current serving sizes. Crucially, the maximum number of taps per week remains limited at 19 per student.
While some welcomed the measure, others remained unconvinced.
“I don’t see how that is a solution,” said an anonymous first-year from Cendana College, “the issue is that we want more protein, but if we [tap twice], it means we have to sacrifice meals on other days.” Another anonymous sophomore echoed the sentiment, arguing it meant “if I want to eat more this meal, I shall have to go hungry tomorrow.”
Zirdi Syukur ‘23 also remarked students might either receive too little or too much food: “I just want some extra chicken, not a whole other meal.”
Leonard Chan, a Residential Life Officer at Elm College and head of the DXT, explained that the double tap allowance was “one of the solutions” DXT had been pursuing, and assured that the team would “continue to push for better portioning,” though SATS had been insistent on regulating portion sizes. He added that SATS would consult its nutritionist on the matter.
Chan also clarified that “SATS is obligated to give each student a portion for each meal, but they were agreeable with the one-portion top up if students want after DXT gave feedback last semester.”
When asked about SATS’ accountability to the school, Chan commented that the DXT is the “main communication channel” between the caterer and the College, adding that they hold a “cordial and collaborative relationship.”
“Usually, when it’s I who send them a feedback message, they respond immediately and professionally,” he elaborated, though “extremely stringent” regulations by the Singapore Food Authority, global supply chain disruptions, and a centralised procurement process have slowed and impeded SATS’ ability to provide certain services, such as cut fruits and restaurant-style dining.
I need your advice. I am really awkward around guys when they express some sort of interest in me and I don’t really know how to act…. I guess most of the time I am really fearful to lead guys on or lacking the courage to start something new by reciprocating the interest. What do I do? (especially when I don’t know them well enough yet as a friend?)
Experimentation is never bad. You have options and positive intentions. Know that this will neither be your last, nor theirs. You’re not the Wattpad bad boy with the disheveled bed head and swoon-worthy eyes who goes around breaking hearts left and right. Do not delude yourself, dearest child.
Start slow and stay steady. Be a friend. Establish the necessary systems of communication. Set boundaries and make your intentions clear. Take the initiative to have difficult conversations prior to establishing your romantic and sexual relationships. Don’t feel as if you can’t use personality 5 with the personality 8 individual. If they want to know you, they will try. After all, if you don’t enter relationships being 120% yourself, will you ever feel comfortable in it?
Being fearful of leading people on may stem from deep-rooted trauma, leading to a fear of commitment. But I’m here to tell you that you will never know how you really feel about a person or an experience until you give them a shot. It might be freer than you would have initially thought.
And courage? That’s just a matter of hitting the send button. If you are sure of yourself, then trust your feelings a little more and see where it takes you.
Dear Aunt Agony,
My high school ex and I broke up on pretty okay terms and we finally decided to talk. But while talking to him, I felt that he kept dropping hints about how he is not over me. I recently had a break up and am still recovering. I honestly feel super uneasy. I know the best thing to do is to just avoid talking to him for a while, but I can’t stop feeling bugged and somewhat irritated by it. How do I stop myself from feeling this way? :((
Avoidance is not cowardly, but quite the power move if you will it to be so. If anything, purposeful avoidance should be normalized. Media has painted an interesting image of what the strong look like: indifferent but charged, passive but direct, and cold but confrontational. But I find that sometimes the strongest thing to do is not to dwell on such things. You’re smart for realizing that and distancing yourself from him.
Take this moment to reconcile with yourself. The person you were when you were with him is still within you. Don’t internalize the avoidance. Slowly but surely, come to terms with your feelings and consolidate yourself in all your entirety. Remember, if you’re homesick about a person, actively make the distinction that it’s not him you’re missing but the person you were with him. Realize that you are a self-sustaining life force, and that is absolutely gorgeous!
So go ahead and archive him on WhatsApp, block him on TikTok, and mute his DMs on all social media platforms. Remove him from the periphery of your life and occupy your mind with the better things in life. Reduce his presence in your life.
Overthinking, however, can be a slightly harder challenge to tackle. People always say that overthinking achieves absolutely nothing. Molehills are made into mountains and feelings begin to create more feelings. Keep yourself distracted, stay hydrated and be social.
Know that you are more than your feelings, and a passing breeze should be just that.
Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is no substitute for professional advice, and should not be treated as such. The Octant understands the sensitivity of such issues. If anyone has any complaints, concerns, or comments please feel free to contact The Octant at email@example.com.
In an interview with The Octant last Monday, Prof. Simon Chesterman, Dean-designate of NUS College, said that NUS College will be an independent entity, and its relationship with University Scholars’ Programme and Yale-NUS College will be one of “collaboration, not integration.”
This comes after months of announcements from NUS calling the formation of the new college a “merger.” Chesterman said that the term “merger” was “misleading” when asked to clarify why this language had been used.
“Integration between students would make sense if this was a true merger into one thing now, but Yale-NUS programs will continue without change throughout [Yale-NUS] students’ candidatures.”
Chesterman explained that he wanted to push back against the merger language to assure current students that they would not miss out on the student experience they had been promised.
“I have no jurisdiction over or interest in having jurisdiction over the Yale-NUS experience,” he said. “But I have regular meetings with President-designate Roberts and we both want to support one another.”
When asked about his vision of the future relationship between NUS College and Yale-NUS, Chesterman stated that the two entities would be “partners, but not unified,” and that NUS College has a “strong interest in ensuring Yale-NUS succeeds” in the next few years.
NUS College will take elements from both USP and Yale-NUS, but will be an independent entity that is not a continuation of either program. As such, NUS College will have elements of a liberal arts education but, unlike Yale-NUS, will not run a full liberal arts program, according to Chesterman.
These elements include small class sizes, a common curriculum, and a residential program. At the same time, students will be able to pursue fifty majors across both traditional liberal arts subjects and professional degrees.
According to a report released to the NUS community last month, the NUS College Planning Committee has proposed an “interdisciplinary curriculum” of 14 modules, comprising seven foundational modules on “critical competencies” and “global orientations,” six elective modules, and a capstone project.
Chesterman said that most of the core modules would be developed under the leadership of one Yale-NUS faculty member and one USP faculty member.
Speaking about other aspects of student life, Chesterman said that all USP Interest Groups will formally cease to exist from next academic year, to allow NUS College students to create organizations from scratch.
“We don’t want to give the impression that NUS College is just a continuation of USP. USP students are entering NUS College in the same way as NUS College first years, so there will be a fresh set of organizations created at the start. There will be room for an entirely new slate of actors, though we fully expect overlap in the types of student organizations we will see.”
Meanwhile, Yale-NUS student organizations will continue in their current form. Chesterman said that there would be room for NUS College students to join Yale-NUS student organizations. However, Yale-NUS and NUS College students “are in different programs and subject to different rules and policies,” he said.
As had been agreed in the Student and Residential Life subcommittee of the New College Planning Committee, the orientation for the first cohort of NUSC students would be staff-led.
“Yale-NUS students will be invited, if they wish, to participate, and USP senior students may be invited to lead certain activities where the fact that they have been in NUS longer gives them expertise and perspective that is valuable for incoming students, such as academic mentorship,” he said.
Chesterman had also previously confirmed that the entire first cohort of NUS College students will be housed in Cinnamon College, which currently serves as the residential college for USP students who live on campus, to ensure a “cohesive experience” for students.
When asked about plans to maintain diversity in NUS College, Chesterman stated that there would be an explicit focus on admitting students from a range of majors and countries, but that other aspects of applicants’ backgrounds would also be considered.
Chesterman also said that NUS College hoped to enroll around 80 international students from 30 different countries out of 400 students in the first cohort. However, there would be no fixed quotas for admissions.
In addition to need-based bursaries and scholarships for Singaporean students, “international students would be offered strong merit-based financial aid,” Chesterman said.
What do you say when you are bored out of your mind during winter housing? “If only there were otters coming into campus,” obviously.
Otters were spotted across the winter break on campus, according to several reports. On one occasion in the morning of 25 November, a solitary otter was recorded by the Student Affairs Office to be swimming across the biofiltration pond.
The otter could be heard chirping, before landing near the stone crossing.
Others reported seeing at least three otters at once, following ample precedent sightings across the year. On 8 June, an otter family was sighted attempting to traverse a building on the main NUS campus, generating much fanfare on Facebook and Mothership.
Philip Johns, a Senior Lecturer in Life Sciences whose research focuses on otters, commented that the otters likely arrived searching for a new home.
“The otters that live in Singapore, called smooth-coated otters, are territorial and live in big family groups called “romps”. Because they’re territorial, one rompmight displace another romp—and that’s happened several times in Singapore,” he explained.
While Johns also suggested the otters may have been pups who have left their families to “venture out on their own,” he believed this is less likely a possibility. Either way, otters reaching maturity eat fish far bigger than what the biofiltration pond has to offer, and it is unlikely the fish were the reason they came.
“They were probably just checking out a waterway to see if it was big enough to live in (obviously it is not). And then they left.”
While this should dispel popular fears that the pond fish were eaten, some students were concerned for the otters’ safety. One anonymous senior thought it was “concerning that they are traveling,” and hopes “they are okay.”
Crossing the roads surrounding UTown can be dangerous for otters, since their diminutive stature and poor eyesight mean they can’t react in time to fast-travelling vehicles.
Others reacted to the situation with more amusement, like one anonymous freshman, who welcomed the introduction of “an integral part of Singaporean culture onto our campus.”
“Otter wars are a quintessential part of the Singaporean experience,” they clarified.
Smooth-coated otters, though officially a locally endangered species, have established a reliable presence in parts of the island like Bishan and Marina Bay. While beloved by locals—even voted as a national icon—their presence have also caused frustrations, including one incident where they ate koi fish worth up to S$80,000.
Smooth-coated otters, though officially a locally endangered species, have established a reliable presence in parts of the island like Bishan and Marina Bay. While beloved by locals—even voted as a national icon—their presence have also caused frustrations, including one incident where they ate koi fish worth up to S$80,000.
Vegetarians and vegans know you have heard it, O’ Yale-NUS student, bastion of free thinking, esoteric meme making, and SATS Food bashing, that darkness in the back of your mind. The cognitive dissonance of knowing that your dietary preferences, blessed be Vegan Teacher, are killing cows. You are aware that this delicious piece of beef before you is contributing massively to Climate Change and the destruction of global ecosystems, that it is a byproduct of animal oppression, and that it is arguably unhealthy for your own body. But meat is so tasty, you say, so juicy, so proteic, so texturized and… wait, did you say gross?
It is with the absurdity of self-righteousness that vegetarians sit at the dining halls to listen to our friends complain about how gross they find SATS Food meat meals. How gamey the chicken! How dry the salmon! How bleach-tasting the shrimp! Yet, when the comment inevitably comes up, “just don’t eat the meat la,” it is as if we have offended the person across from us. In fact, a quick 200-respondent survey that I conducted on Telegram indicated that 40% of our community never takes the vegetarian option, and around 65% takes it less than twice a week. Beyond a preference for meat, it often feels as if the idea of even casual plant-based meals is not a possibility for a lot of our community. A meal is meat or it is incomplete, even if the meat you are eating—in your own words—plainly sucks. That is where the wisdom of the great Childish Gambino screams in my mind: “Shit, do you really like that shit that you like? Or do you like the way they gave it to you?”1
In our contemporary world, eating meat is not a preference for most; it is more of a passive acceptance of a social norm, especially for Western (or Westernized)dinners. A colonial social norm at that, since the establishment of meat as the center of global diets and as a symbol of class status and mobility is directly correlated to the diets of colonial hegemonies. The exportation of violent birth, nurture, and death—delivered by an industrial machine that paints non-human animals as objects to be exploited—is a reflection of the destructive system that is leading us to ecological collapse. Furthermore, through the immense lobbying and marketing power of the meat industry, we have been misled to believe that protein and its nutritional importance equals a piece of meat in every plate. The strategy has been so effective that SATS firmly believes vegetarians and vegans want to eat meat too, just, like, fake. The world offers this much meat, despite all its problems, because big people with big money benefit immensely from its harms, and they are manipulating us.
When a regime has managed to set its objectives as a natural order—when its subjects only need to be passive to contribute to them—you know that you are in danger.
In this case, to go plant-based individually means to struggle against a very strong social and economic current. Going for the moral superiority of neoliberal veganism and guilt-tripping people into eating the vegetarian option can sometimes be a source of great malignant joy. But, the cold reality is that righteousness politics is not going to make society plant-based by 2030, which is an urgent carbon emissions deadline. Even framed by the urgency of the ecological crisis and the powerful moral imperative of anti-speciesism2, the vegan approach has been demonstrated to be a complete failure worldwide because it has failed to be accessible and political. Instead, it has become a trend for rich people to judge others with, flaunting their privilege while they consume niche products that are sometimes just as harmful as meat.
Structural change within the food system requires much more strategy, however. As Donella Meadows, the legend of environmental studies, maps in nine useful points, diverse centers of pressure create differentiated change in social systems3. This is where the anticapitalist veganism that has recently flourished in the Global South has placed its pressure: dismantling industries, cultural norms, and matrixes of power manufactured by big meat. One of the important centers of change is school canteens, because they are major consumers and also define eating habits for young generations. As part of joining that change, two interlinked leverages are very useful to changing the way that we consume in Yale-NUS: feedback loops and paradigm change.
Feedback loops are the methods through which a system reinforces itself, essentially equivalent to vicious or virtuous cycles. In our case, a simple cycle is that, as more people consume meat, more people see others eat meat, and so more people associate the standard of dining with meat, so more people eat meat. These reinforcing circles can also be very powerful to install better system norms, however, as the snowball effect of self-organizing agents takes form. The core of the better norm is the implicit assumption, the paradigm. For example, if we think of meat as the quintessential protein, we will believe we need meat. Likewise, if we think of non-human animals as objects of consumption, and not a huge population of exploited lives, what we can consume changes drastically. What you need to change a paradigm cycle from one to another is a nudge, a powerful discharge of social pressure on a single leverage point. Or, you know, to appeal to the laziness of overworked students.
For our school, the nudge resides in the very options of the meal offered by SATS, in changing the majority option to plant-based (the three main offerings) and the deviant option to meat (the single offering). The tidal force of the system changes direction, and thus passivity supports a much more ethical option. Meat would still be offered, but because it is the deviance, it would now require much more moral energy to choose—it must become intentional. No one judges you for the effects of your dietary choices, just make sure that you really like what you like when it is not backed by the social norm. In turn, this will trigger feedback loops of more plant-based meals, which our planet needs much more than the moral high horse of individual veganism.
Yes, I hear your counter, O’ Yale-NUS student, the VE meal has indeed really sucked historically. We all saw that sad, sad excuse for a veg lunch that was just fries, some tomatoes, and corn, blessed be corn. But the faults of the offering result from the fact that the SATS VE offering is not conceptualized as a meal in the first place, rather as a placeholder for the meat in the other options. Personally, I hold the suspicion that the vegan meal is designed through the ingredients that have already been selected for the other three meals, instead of its properly balanced elements. Otherwise, you would not give so many burger buns to people that you never give burgers to. If the dining halls reallocated spending from costly mock meats to whole nuts, vegetables, legumes, and spices—which, if sourced properly, are more affordable than meat—we would all eat better. By changing paradigms we would also be changing provider priorities, which should considerably improve the quality of the vegetarian meal.
Especially now that the NUS College set meals are being negotiated and we are defining what the legacy of Yale-NUS will be, we should push for a change of the dining hall options to those that display our integrity in respecting Mother Earth. In fact, by supporting transitions to offer more meat-free meals, we would be doing much more in passive consumption than we can do in greenwashed lifestyles like plastic policing and “sustainable” spending. The catch is that you, O’ Yale-NUS Student, real island boy, have to support the policy change for SATS. The systemic nudge is in your feedback asking for more options, in your support for upcoming petitions, and in our collective stand to redefine the practices of our administration. I do not know about you, but if I am going to complain about the meal anyways, I would rather have something that causes the least harm possible. Who knows? Perhaps, like many of its students, Yale-NUS will find out that it never needed meat in the first place.
 Childish Gambino. (2014). Late Night in Kauai in STN MTN/Kauai. Glassnote Records.
 Anti-speciesism is a critical framing of human and environmental relationships, arguing that the exploitation of animals is a system of oppression, just like white-supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, and that it is an ethical duty to fight actively against it.
 Meadows, Donella. (2008). Six: Leverage Points—Places to Intervene in a System in Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Class of 2025—the final cohort of Yale-NUS College students—has embarked on the second semester of their university journey. The Octant speaks to the Admissions Team to learn more about the class profile.
Breakdown of nationalities
The Class of 2025 comprises 240 students representing 35 nationalities (Fig. 1). The ratio of local to international students is 60% to 40%.
Singapore remains the largest country represented overall, while China and India represent the largest populations among international students. Students from the United States, Indonesia, and the Philippines also constitute a large proportion of international students.
Meanwhile, the male-female gender ratio is 43% to 57%.
Students of each nationality
Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan
Hong Kong, United Kingdom
Austria, Canada, Kenya, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam
Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Côte D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Germany, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tanzania
Fig. 1: Breakdown of nationalities in the Class of 2025.
The acceptance rate for the Class of 2025 remained low at 4% (Fig. 2). This figure is a drop from last year’s acceptance rate of 6%.
The increase in the number of applications from 10,558 in the previous admissions cycle to 14,367 in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle accounts for the drop in the acceptance rate.
Meanwhile, the Admissions Team did not disclose the acceptance rate breakdown between local and international students.
Jasmine Seah, former Director of Admissions, explained that this is because there was a large number of international applicants who applied via the Common Application with Yale University. As a result, the separate acceptance rate breakdowns would not be representative of the final enrolled class and its demographics.
39% of students from the Class of 2025 are on need-based financial aid, merit scholarships, or both. In comparison, this figure stands at 57% for the Class of 2024.
However, the Admissions Team was unable to share the separate breakdowns of financial aid statistics between local and international students, as well as between need-based financial aid and merit scholarships.
Ms. Seah said: “We can share the overall percentage of students on need-based aid and scholarships but we do not publicly report separate numbers.”
“This is because fees are significantly higher for international students and [because] some students receive merit-based scholarships, where they might have otherwise qualified for need-based financial aid. Some students receive both financial aid and merit scholarships at the same time.” In May 2020, Joanne Roberts, then Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, estimated that financial aid offers to international students would drop from 80% to 50% in future years.
Meanwhile, there is still an overrepresentation of students from junior colleges and similar institutions in the Class of 2025.
Among the 154 students from 33 Singapore-based schools, 82% students come from junior colleges and similar schools, such as the Singapore Sports School, School of the Arts, and Millennia Institute (Fig. 3). In comparison, 76% of students in last year’s admission cycle came from these schools.
Meanwhile, only 5% of students from Singapore-based schools come from polytechnics in the Class of 2025. The proportion of students who studied in polytechnics has halved compared to the Class of 2024, where 11% of students came from polytechnics.
Commenting on the unusually high proportions of female students and local students for the Class of 2025, Seah said that there were no changes in the Admissions Team’s approach to enrollment.
“We remain consistent in our practice of holistic admission and in understanding the full potential of each applicant,” she said. “There is no change in our approach apart from the changes in our financial aid policy.”
“The limitations on global mobility due to the pandemic may account for some shifts in student decision-making. We think it would also be fair to highlight that the final composition of the cohort is the result of the decisions of several individuals facing unique circumstances.
“Fluctuations are to be expected and the final class is not always a function of admissions decisions, but also the decision-making of the individuals concerned. Some students choose to attend, and others do not.”
Some other statistics that were requested included breakdowns on students’ race, gender identity (including non-binary students), and monthly household income bracket.
Seah explained that the former two statistics are optional questions in the Admissions application, and thus the data would be incomplete. Meanwhile, household income information is considered confidential and cannot be disclosed, she said.
Story | Phone Myant Khant (he/him), Abigail Teh (she/they), Rebekah Nix (she/they), Ho Sze Koy (he/him), Agimaa Otgonbaatar (she/her)
Photo | Unsplash (Jordan Opel)
COP26 may have passed, but humanity must not believe that the job is done. In the coming years and decades, there is a need for more intensive action on the climate front. At this juncture, we believe it is timely and relevant for students to offer our collective perspectives on Singapore’s performance and targets from the conference.
Lacking concrete goals, ambition, accountability
Singapore’s COP26 commitments and actions have been extensively covered on local news, with Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Sustainability and the Environment calling COP26 “a most productive conference,” labelling it a “very big win.” We believe this overstates Singapore’s modest achievements from the conference. While COP26 was a step up from previous meetings, we believe it is at best a gentle nudge in the right direction, instead of the drastic transformational change required.
Singapore needs to show confidence and bravery in making ambitious changes, instead of sticking to the status quo and drumming up support for its currently modest and inadequate pledges. Many of Singapore’s pledges from these talks lack ambition, clarity, and accountability, so it is likely that their potential to do good will likely go unrealized.
For example, Singapore joined the Global Methane Pledge, a global initiative to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030 through voluntary actions. Yet Singapore itself has not declared any concrete commitments towards reducing its own methane emissions. Singapore has also agreed to work towards net zero emissions, but has nothing but a vague timeline for this goal, to be reached “as soon as viable.”
Singapore also pledged to phase out unabated coal by 2050 from its power mix—transitioning to natural gas, solar, and emerging low-carbon alternatives. Unabated coal only refers to coal burnt without the use of technologies to reduce carbon emissions. This pledge does not outright ban the use of coal altogether, despite the attention-grabbing headlines thrown out to the public. Given coal’s low contribution of 1.2% to Singapore’s power mix at present, it is disappointing to see a target set nearly 30 years into the future.
Likewise, Singapore’s endorsement of the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which pledges to reverse deforestation by 2030, has potential to do good, but a lack of specific goals or actionables leaves its success questionable. Deforestation has been a key element of Singapore’s historical development, and has left Singapore with limited forest and little capacity to enact change domestically. However, by limiting government investment in activities linked to deforestation overseas, Singapore can play a role in conserving the earth’s forests. Yet, the declaration limits itself, only pledging to facilitate sustainable trade and development policies.
Singapore can do more
In her speech during the conference, Fu sympathized with small island nations which will be impacted heavily by climate change, yet ironically withheld acknowledgement of Singapore’s own contributions to the climate crisis.
The primary narrative about Singapore’s role in the climate crisis continues to harp on the challenges faced by Singapore as a small island nation. Soon, these will begin to sound like excuses that hinder ambition to do more. Fu also encouraged Singaporeans to take collective action, shifting the responsibility to bottom-up approaches, and away from top-down policy and infrastructure changes. These government actions are critical at this moment to reach our climate targets—targets required for Earth’s survival. The perspective of our state leaders towards the Singapore Green Plan and our COP26 goals may be one of pride and achievement, and in many ways, Singapore does have the potential to be a stalwart of climate positive action in this region. However, it remains timid and avoidant of claiming such a role, missing the resolve to be brave on the climate front. Indeed, Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that monitors government action on climate goals, rates Singapore’s current climate policies as “critically insufficient.” We should not have to wait until COP27 for greater change to happen.
What students can do
As students in Singapore, even if we might not be able to hasten the lethargy of international or national governments, we can continue in our climate activism, individually and collectively. Action can come in the form of lifestyle changes such as switching to a greener diet, riding a bike, limiting AC usage, etc., but you can also share responsibility and commitment within a group. By joining sustainability groups and green initiatives on or off campus, you can learn how to recognize and reduce your impact on the climate.
At Yale-NUS College we have three student organisations that work towards sustainability—i’dECO, Fossil Free YNC (FFYNC), and YNSEA. i’dECO is an inclusive community that seeks to promote sustainability within and beyond Yale-NUS through effective and forward-looking solutions. We have a wide range of projects from waste reduction in school, urban recycling and nature treks, to environmental education for high school students, and we always welcome new ideas.
FFYNC campaigns for NUS to divest from fossil fuels and work on other climate change issues together. Drawing inspiration from climate movements around the world, FFYNC is a home for environmentally conscious students to make friends, take action for real change, and give our generation a fighting chance for a stable future by holding our institutions accountable.
YNSEA works to promote marine conservation within the Yale-NUS community, advancing knowledge about the ocean and our role in preserving it. Through scuba diving, beach clean-ups, international volunteering and other events, YNSEA seeks to develop a sense of environmental advocacy and social change.
As representatives of i’dECO, we hope that this short reflection on the relevance and impact of COP26 on Singapore represents a small but significant voice in advocating for stronger action. We, as students—and many as residents of this country—have a responsibility to raise our voices for change. We acknowledge the steps being taken, but we hope that there will be braver, stronger steps to come. We want to see transformative change happen, and hope our voices play a role in guaranteeing the change we deserve before it’s too late.
NUS plans to house the entire inaugural cohort of NUS College in Cinnamon College, The Octant has learned.
Citing the need for a common first-year experience, Dean-Designate of NUS College Simon Chesterman confirmed plans exist for this arrangement in an email dated 21 January.
“The first cohort of NUS College will be around 400 people. The only way to give them a unified experience is to house them in one location, which for this year means Cinnamon College.”
This arrangement was also communicated to prospective applicants in an information session on 19 January hosted by NUS College admissions officers Laura Severin and Jasmine Seah. They added that NUS plans to “house students in the other Yale-NUS colleges as the years go by.”
Housing all first-year NUS College students at a single location was not an option discussed at student consultations by the Facilities Management Working Group, according to students in attendance at the sessions last November.
“Nope, they didn’t mention that,” an anonymous freshman commented, adding that she thought NUS College first-years would “take the rest” after Yale-NUS students had chosen their rooms.
Students interviewed reported concerns this may distance NUS College from the Yale-NUS population. According to a survey conducted last semester, about 80% of Yale-NUS students prefer spreading NUS College students across residential colleges.
“While selfishly some part of me feels happy with this separation as it will seemingly prolong the life of the Yale-NUS I know,” said one anonymous freshman, “I think that this move will contribute to a perceived segregation between the two communities.”
“There won’t be any actual integration,” said Arena Zega ’25, “we won’t have any freshies to build a community with, so the community will eventually be erased.”
Wang Xing Hao ‘23 suggested “that’s fair” since “they might be focused on serving [Yale-NUS] students first,” though “it’s weird if there isn’t some integration starting from the 2nd or 3rd batch.”
When asked if the plan would distance the Yale-NUS population from NUS College, Chesterman responded that he looks forward to “engaging further with the YNC community and facilitating interaction between NUS College and YNC students as we welcome that first cohort later in 2022.”
Dean of Students Dave Stanfield and Associate Dean of Students Cory Owen were not informed of specific plans.
“That’s information I heard secondhand,” Stanfield replied when asked to confirm the arrangement, “but I have not received confirmation.” Owen, a member of the Facilities Management Working Group of the new college, added that she had “not heard any of this.”
The Dean of Students Office later updated they would be meeting with NUS College administrators on housing arrangements.
The limited capacity at the 600-room Cinnamon College has also raised speculation that current USP students may be asked to take up accommodation at the Yale-NUS College campus, though this possibility is not confirmed by any senior administrator.
“They were like, it’s possible we don’t even get students coming into YNC next year,” said an anonymous student who attended the Class of 2025 Dialogue on 19 January with Yale-NUS leadership.
The S4F coalition consists of students from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), and Yale-NUS College.
The coalition also launched its two-week campaign on Monday, with the aim of engaging students, professionals, members of the public, and university leaders in wider discussions about the report’s findings and recommendations.
S4F’s report is a ground-up, independent research effort by over 60 students, alumni, academics, civil society members, and lawyers over the course of three years, according to Shawn Ang, an NTU student and member of the S4F team.
“[This work] testifies to the urgency and severity all of us across generations feel towards the climate crisis,” Mr. Ang said.
Key linkages between universities and the fossil fuel industry highlighted by the report include the areas of finances, management, academia, professional development, and the co-optation of campus spaces.
For example, S4F highlighted that NUS and NTU’s endowment investments both have indirect exposure to fossil fuels. While NUS has a “low single digit” percentage of fossil fuel exposure, equating to at least $59 million, NTU has not reported its fossil fuel exposure. The report also identified that NTU, NUS, SMU, SUTD, Yale-NUS, and Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) each have at least one member in their Board of Trustees who are also senior leaders in fossil fuel companies.
The S4F report also said that such linkages could harm academic freedom, potentially cause conflicts of interest in university management, and send students into a “declining” fossil fuel industry.
The report then recommended that Singapore’s universities divest from fossil fuels, seek sustainable alternatives to linkages with the fossil fuel industry, and implement climate crisis education, over the short, medium, and long term.
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS, said that the presence of the fossil fuel industry in universities was “deeply troubling” in education efforts around climate change.
He said: “Should those who have profited off of the climate crisis—off of widespread suffering, death, injustice, and mass extinction—play any roles in decisions about education?”
Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Environment, Energy, and Ecology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said: “The data is clear: divesting from fossil fuels is critical to achieving necessary and equitable climate action.”
“In this decisive decade, we must pressure both state and non-state actors, including universities in Singapore and beyond, to move towards a renewable future and make climate change action a top priority at their institutions.”
Ang admitted: “As students, we’re constantly worried about backlash, censorship, and reprisal from publicly questioning the status quo. Yet, we press on and dedicate countless hours, weekends, and months of our lives to this, knowing that our short window of time to act to ensure our planet remains habitable is almost gone. We cannot rest without doing everything we can.”
Ning Yiran ‘23, one of the S4F report’s editors, said that since the report’s release, some have questioned the legitimacy and effectiveness of the campaign. She emphasized that individual actions are insufficient to solve climate change problems.
“Many of us, including myself, have personally experienced the struggles involved in changing our lifestyles to extensively reduce our personal carbon footprint. We strongly believe that collective and institutional action will be much more effective than personal attempts to reduce fossil fuel use.”
“Ultimately, we are all finding our own ways to make the world a better place, and Fossil Free represents a vision for a just and equitable post-carbon world that we strongly believe in.”
The S4F campaign follows other youth-led climate and environmental activism efforts last year, including the collective statement “An urgent call from Singaporean youths on the environmental crisis,” released during COP26 in November, and the SG Climate Rally 2021. In the midst of both efforts, fossil fuel divestment was cited as an “urgent” climate action.
As part of the S4F campaign, student organizations across Yale-NUS, NUS, and NTU will be organizing a simultaneous “Wear Blue Day” on Tuesday (Jan. 25) to show support for the recommendations. S4F also plans to engage the community with on-campus community booths on the same day, as well as an online “Universities and Climate Change” event on Jan. 26, meant to facilitate two-way conversations about the report.
Ning reiterated that S4F would like to engage closely with university leaders and stakeholders on the specific recommendations in the report. The coalition hopes to use the short-term recommendations as a starting point for further action.
“Our campaign is only the beginning, and I believe there is much more work in store for us, including strengthening our negotiations with university leaders, learning and engaging in conversation with stakeholders, and continuing to expand our presence and share our message.”
Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor Photo | USP-YNC Poll Team
Today, a group of students released the results of a poll across the Yale-NUS College and University Scholars Programme (USP) student bodies.
The students also released a statement alongside the poll results in the form of an open letter to the New College Planning Committee. The statement included four proposed commitments to ensure a “collaborative, consultative, and open” approach to the New College planning process.
The statement included a timeline for the New College Planning Committee to respond to the poll and implement the commitments. The proposed deadline for an initial response was set for Dec. 10, and a follow-up poll was slated for mid-February next year.
The full list of commitments and timeline can be found at the end of the article.
The poll was opened to the student bodies on Oct. 27, two months after the closures of Yale-NUS and USP were announced. It received a total of 600 responses, including 466 Yale-NUS students and 134 USP students. These numbers constitute approximately 47% and 15% of the Yale-NUS and USP student bodies, respectively.
The poll aimed to gather student feedback on whether the New College planning process was “collaborative, consultative, and open,” as previously promised by Ho Teck Hua, Chair of the New College Planning Committee. It asked how satisfied students were on these metrics on a scale of 0 to 10.
It should be noted that the USP sample size is relatively small (15%) and may not be entirely representative of the USP student population.
The poll defined a collaborative approach as one that “involves students at every step of the planning process.”
A consultative approach was one that “considers students’ interests at every step of the planning process.”
Finally, an open approach was one where information about the New College was “accessible to students at every step of the planning process.”
The mean responses for each metric of the planning process, however, were low (Fig. 1).
The poll also gave respondents the option to elaborate on their responses. A sentiment analysis on the qualitative poll data showed an overwhelmingly negative sentiment around various aspects of the planning process and students’ confidence in the New College (Fig. 2).
The majority of comments on the planning process provided negative sentiments on transparency, consultation with students, and the valuing of stakeholder input.
The poll then asked if respondents were confident in the New College’s ability to provide an interdisciplinary, accessible, flexible, and inclusive education to incoming students starting next year.
Mean responses for confidence among Yale-NUS students remained low. USP students were more confident about the New College compared to their Yale-NUS counterparts, but still gave low mean responses (Fig. 3).
Meanwhile, most comments on confidence in the New College expressed doubts that the New College could embody interdisciplinarity and be inclusive to international students, low-income students, LGBT students, and students of various academic backgrounds (Fig. 4).
Finally, the poll asked students what they would like to see in the planning process (Fig. 5).
Only 2% and 5% of Yale-NUS and USP students, respectively, said they were satisfied with the current arrangements.
The other options were selected by the majority of respondents. In particular, around 80% of respondents from both student bodies wanted more transparency in information released about the New College planning process, and more checkpoints for students to be involved in decision making for the New College.
2. Show that student feedback is actually considered (1)
3. Remunerate students in Working Groups because they work on the NC on top of full-time student workloads (1)
4. Keep the curriculum open to change (1)
1. Commit to taking in student feedback by having more students at the decision-making table; it should be a sharing rather than informing students what decisions have been made (11)
2. Reverse the merger; review the decision to merge (11)
3. Preserve policies that protect disabled, LGBTQ+, and racial minority groups through disability accommodations, gender-neutral housing, etc. (7)
4. Release working group meeting minutes; release recorded town halls (4)
5. Remunerate students in Working Groups because they work on the NC on top of full-time student workloads (3)
6. Onus to communicate updates to fall on paid staff rather than students (3)
7. Support stakeholders such as deferred matriculants, alumni, those graduating beyond 2025; assure how YNC degree will be valid (3)
8. Review CHS, YNC, and USP curricula; consider whether professors have enough time to prepare course material; do not let incoming students be guinea pigs until the curriculum is thought through (3)
9. Engage student organisations, lay groundwork for student organisations to carry on (2)
10. Allow YNC faculty and staff opinion to be considered in student life decisions (1)
Fig. 6: Additional responses for the question: “What would you like to see in the planning process for the New College?”
Proposed Commitments and Timeline
The open letter to the New College Planning Committee included the following list of consolidated proposed commitments from the results of the poll, as well as a timeline for adherence to the commitments:
We urge the New College Planning Committee and WG Chairpersons to commit to the “collaborative, consultative and open” approach that was previously promised by fulfilling the following:
Publish the discussion points of all WG meetings.
Allow WG Student Representatives autonomyto disclose how the feedback contributes to the discussion points, how the feedback will be considered in further discussion, and the summary of this feedback.
Amend decisionspertaining to the New College according to the student feedback at every step of the process.
Publish the decision-making processesexplaining why student feedback was accepted or rejected.
To ensure transparency and timeliness of your response to these community sentiments, we ask that you adhere to the following timeline:
10 December — Please provide an initial response to this email, acknowledging the results of the poll and committing to taking these points into consideration. 20 December — Implement points 1 and 2 (stated above, where applicable). 14 January — Implement all four points (stated above). Mid-February — We aim to carry out a second USP-YNC poll to check in on the level of satisfaction with the new level of transparency in the planning process.
The timeline stated above can be changed should the NCPC and WG Chairpersons present an alternative timeline with the same objectives to the student body. Should it be unfeasible to ensure a transparent and assured process within a time frame agreed on by the Planning Committee and the student body, we urge the delay the formation of the New College by one year for sufficient time to revise the decision-making processes to accommodate student interests’ as a key stakeholder in the formation of the New College.
Finally, we acknowledge the pains of student representatives and professors in trying to get student feedback but are disappointed by the low turnout. Students in the poll reflected structural reasons for why they did not turn up: overwork, insufficient information to engage with, feeling like they do not have a stake. Therefore, we hope you take the suggestions, in Figures 5 and 6, into consideration.
Q: I know that a lot of professors have had the experience of living in different countries. Would you like to share with me about where you have lived?
A: I guess it would be good to have a bit of self-introduction. I grew up in Hong Kong, and I got my undergrad degree at the University of Hong Kong. After that I moved to the States to Cornell University to do my PhD in operations research. That was from 2014 to 2017, so I stayed at Cornell which is in upstate New York. [Then] I moved back to my home in Hong Kong to do a postdoc for a year. After that I moved to the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen) from 2018 to 2021. I joined Yale-NUS in July 2021, so I’m now in Singapore. But then, even back in my PhD days I have visited Singapore for research purposes. So, Singapore is not really a brand new place to be.
Q: So do you consider Hong Kong as your home?
A: Yeah, I do consider Hong Kong as my home, but then there’s an old saying—I don’t know whether it is in English or Cantonese—that “home is where your heart belongs.” So, I mean physically, I consider Hong Kong to be my physical home in the sense that I have many friends and family still there, like my parents and my sister. But then after my relocation to Singapore, I consider Singapore to be my new home, in the sense that I also brought a lot of my family, like my wife and my dog, to Singapore. My family is now living in Singapore, so I consider Singapore to be my new home.
Q: You mentioned that you went to university in both Hong Kong and also in the States. How was your university experience? Do you have any life advice to give to Yale-NUS students?
A: My advice to any college student is to try to explore an area that matches with your interests. In that way, if you pursue a career in industry, or if you pursue an academic career like me, you will not regret it. I think for college students, my advice is to find and develop your own interests while you’re at college. It can be something academic, but it can also be something non-academic as well; that’s totally fine.
Enjoy your college time, because no matter what you do after you graduate from college, things will become very hectic. When working in industry, you definitely have much less time than you have as a student. On the other hand, if you pursue an academic career like me, you will have more and more academic pressure. So in some sense, college is like the last few years that you have complete freedom to pursue your own interests. Just treasure your time while you’re in college, enjoy, and learn the best out of it.
Q: That’s very fair advice. Your research interest is related to statistics, physics, and probability theories, would you like to elaborate more on that?
A: My research is about the study of stochastic processes, basically trying to develop theories to describe random phenomena. This kind of random phenomenon can happen in our day-to-day life. For example, people will use stochastic processes to model the random fluctuations in the stock market. And there are various random phenomena that happen in the real world. So, one of my research areas is to create and better understand stochastic processes.
It turns out that I’m interested in a really special class of stochastic processes that we call the Markov chain, or Markov process. So if any of the students here decide to do a major in Mathematical, Computational, and Statistical Sciences, they may take some more advanced courses in probability and stochastic processes. In these courses you would learn about the first special kind of stochastic process called the Markov chain and Markov processes, which play a fundamental role in our understanding of random phenomena.
One of my research programs is to develop the theory of Markov chains and processes, as well as to study their applications in statistics and data science. So in statistics and data science, it turns out that a lot of algorithms that people use in data science or in machine learning are closely related to Markov chains and Markov processes.
More broadly speaking, I’m interested in statistical physics, applied probability, stochastic optimization and information theory, but all these topics are kind of connected by Markov chains and Markov processes, which have become my primary focus in my research.
Markov chains and Markov processes are just everywhere. Perhaps one of the simplest examples is card shuffling. Let’s say when you go to a casino, you have to shuffle a deck of cards. You may ask yourself, how many shuffles do I need for the deck of cards to be considered fully random. It turns out that this question boils down to the analysis of a specific Markov chain, and it turns out that the answer to that question is that it only takes seven shuffles, what we call the riffle shuffle, to mix a deck of cards. That’s one example of a real life application of Markov chain theory. And this principle has then been applied to the design of the shuffling machine at the casino. It turns out that the principle behind the operation of this random shuffling machine is exactly related to this card shuffling problem that I just described. So, this is just a very layman’s introduction to the Markov chain, and I hope everyone can appreciate the beauty of it.
Q: Would you like to give me the story of travelling to Singapore? Was the process of getting entry approval smooth?
A: That was a headache. I consider myself lucky in the sense that I could physically arrive in Singapore on time before the semester started, and I do know quite a few of my faculty colleagues who failed to arrive on time to Singapore because of the pandemic. For me, I departed from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is considered to be one of the safe regions from Singapore government’s perspective. So, the process has been pretty smooth for me and my family. And we had to do seven days of Stay-Home Notice (SHN); that’s about it. But one thing that troubled me is, apart from bringing along my wife, I also brought along my dog from Hong Kong, and that turned out to be pretty troublesome, and obviously I didn’t want my dog to serve quarantine by herself. I wanted my dog to serve quarantine with my wife and myself, because we three are like a family. That was a bit of a headache, but luckily, it got resolved at the end, and we managed to find an apartment that allowed all three of us to serve our SHN together.
Q: So far, based on your teaching experience, did you have any moments of “expectation vs. reality”?
A: Before I came to the college, I was told that the students here are pretty impressive and they are of high quality. And my experience so far has been pretty positive. There’s not really a huge gap or huge deviation between expectation and reality. My impression of the students here is that they are really smart, pretty hard-working, and so far everything has been in line with my expectations.
Q: What was your immediate reaction to the announcement of the school’s closure? Were you sad, angry, or upset?
A: I was just upset, for various reasons. I guess one of the reasons that I’m upset is because based on my limited time here at the college, I feel that the college is such a great liberal arts college in general. The people, the faculty, and the students here are awesome. It is a huge loss to Singapore and to NUS that this college cannot be sustained in the long run. So I feel sad.
The second reason that I feel sad is because I could also foresee the reactions from alumni, from our students, and from our faculty. Most of them must be very disappointed about this decision. I also feel sad for the junior faculties, especially faculties like me who just joined the college, or the freshmen who just joined the college. I mean, obviously we didn’t expect this at all. I do know some faculty and students that are kind of stuck somewhere else because of the pandemic and they cannot really make it to Singapore at this point. In general, I just feel sad for all parties involved.
Q: Is teaching at NUS appealing to you?
A: This is a good question, and in fact, I had worked at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in their Shenzhen campus for the past three years before going to [Yale-NUS] College [to teach]. And at that university, you can imagine, we need to teach big classes. One of the classes that I’ve taught in the past had like 500 to 600 students, which is similar to one of the biggest classes at NUS. So in that sense I do have experience in teaching such a big class, and I certainly do not mind. But on the other hand, I also do enjoy this liberal arts college setting, where you have such a small class size and wonderful class interaction during the lecture. If I go back to NUS to teach for them, one thing that I’m going to miss for sure is the small class size here and the interaction with the students.
Q: What does a liberal arts education mean to you?
A: To me, liberal arts education means freedom to explore students’ own interests. That’s why you have the common curriculum: you are exposed to a wide range of courses, unlike in a traditional university setting. In a traditional university setting, most of the time you pick your major in the first year or at the beginning of the second year, so you specialize right away. In a liberal arts college, you will have the privilege to first learn from a diverse range of perspectives and disciplines. Afterwards, you will specialize into the direction of your choice.
So a liberal arts education means that we are nurturing future leaders and future global citizens who have a wide range of perspectives, who are not limited to a particularly niche area. But at the same time, they are still capable of doing some very technical things. It is especially relevant in my own discipline, statistics and data science. So, for sure, if you want to find a job in the industry as a statistician or data scientist, you will need technical skills in data science, you will need to know the relevant statistics concepts, you will need to develop computer science skills to do your job, so for sure technical expertise is very relevant in the career of a data scientist or statistics related career.
But on the other hand, you will also need that global perspective to handle your day-to-day job in industry as a data scientist. Nowadays, one of the hot topics in data science is the data privacy issue. I mean, a lot of companies or governments are collecting our personal data. How are they going to protect it Organizations like tech companies or governments can use this data for their own purposes, so how can we protect our data privacy?
Apart from attacking it from a technical perspective, there are many papers and literature that attack this question from a more mathematical, statistical, computer science perspective. At the same time, you will also need to have knowledge and perspective from other disciplines, say from law, social science, arts, and humanities. You will need to have a very balanced perspective, in addition to technical expertise to address these pressing questions of data science and data privacy. So I think that the advantage of a liberal arts education is you have this balanced perspective, you’re broadly educated. Based on my encounter with liberal arts college graduates versus traditional university graduates, I do think that these two systems produce very different people.
Q: Now moving on to some fun questions: could you please give me your “top three list” of anything? It can be the top three foods, top three sports, etc.
A: I would say the top three fruits. So my top one is orange. Second one is mango. Third one is banana. The reason why I put orange first is because back in Hong Kong, I actually have a nickname from middle school, people call me “orange” in Cantonese in Hong Kong, because I used to have orange as part of my lunch in my lunchbox delivered by my family. So at that time my middle school friend called me “Orange,” instead of Michael or Michael Choi. That was a nickname from my middle school, but then after I moved on to high school and university, I still kind of self introduced myself, “Don’t call me Michael, call me Orange!”
Q: What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?
A: I remember when I was young, I visited South Korea with my family. At one of the restaurants we had live seafood. So, like, live octopus. So that was pretty weird to me, because the octopus was kind of alive… I mean, it’s not alive, it’s already dead, but then, it’s kind of moving, so you put that moving octopus in your mouth. That was pretty weird to me, especially at that time when I was pretty young. I was only 10 or 11.
Q: What skill did you pick up during COVID?
A: That’s a good question. I guess I know how to use Zoom [now]. I mean before COVID, I knew Zoom was a very useful conference or meeting platform. Back in Cornell when I was a PhD student, in 2017 or 2018, the faculty and the professors there were already using Zoom sometimes for online meetings. Now, due to the pandemic, I have to use it on a regular basis.
Story | Linh Ha Nguyen (she/her), Contributing Reporter and Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor
Photo | National University of Singapore
It was revealed in a town hall last Tuesday (Nov. 16) that “NUS College” is the tentative top choice for the name of the New College.
The town hall was held to clarify the New College’s Common Curriculum and transition process. The name options for the New College, which would be used in the college’s first admissions cycle, were also publicly addressed for the first time by Simon Chesterman, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law and member of the New College Planning Committee.
According to Prof. Chesterman, “NUS College” is the top choice as it suggests an “exclusive program within a comprehensive university,” and follows the tradition of other major universities such as Harvard College and Yale College.
Unlike the New College, however, Harvard College and Yale College comprise the entire undergraduate population of their respective universities.
The other frontrunner for the college’s new name is “Honours College.” Chesterman said that while this was a “neutral” name that was “easy to explain,” it was not favored because it sounded too “generic.” He added that it might cause confusion as not all students in the college would have an honors degree.
Chesterman said that the naming of the college would run simultaneously with “a more elaborate process” that determines the college’s vision and mission.
The New College Planning Committee has hired Kantar Public, a consultancy group, to conduct focus group discussions with potential and current students on the naming and branding of the New College, he said.
Some takeaways from the focus groups conducted by Kantar Public included clarifying tangible aspects of student development and identifying specific ideas of what the college would be.
Chesterman added that some logo mockups were already created and presented to the Planning Committee as well as the NUS Board of Trustees.
For now, the placeholder name would remain as “New College” until official announcements are made in the future, he said.
Other name candidates
Chesterman said he was briefed that keeping the name “New College” was a “non-starter.”
Instead, he said the new name needed to be sufficiently specific in order to give the New College a “basic identity” that was distinguishable from other NUS residential colleges and faculties.
At the same time, the name also needed to be general enough that it would not “constrain the development of the New College.”
Apart from Honours College and NUS College, Chesterman revealed that some other candidate names the team considered included Scholars College and University College.
However, Chesterman said that Scholars College sounded “a bit too academic,” while University College was too generic. He added that the branding of the name “University College” would be difficult: “It was always going to difficult if you had to say ‘National University of Singapore University College.’”
Meanwhile, other candidate names such as College of Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Liberal Arts Studies, Casuarina College, and Merdeka College were rejected for being too specific, which could constrain the evolution of the college or cause confusion with other residential colleges.
Chesterman said that some students gave feedback that the proposed new names for the college were “all pretty meh.” According to one student, Chesterman said, the NUS College name “might just look like we’ve lopped the ‘Yale’ part off of ‘Yale-NUS College.’”
However, he added: “This is not a democracy. A few years ago, there was a proposal to name a new Antarctic exploration ship in Britain. The number one most popular name was Boaty McBoatface.”
“They ended up naming it the Sir David Attenborough.”
Reactions from students: Generic, uninspiring, uninformative
Students from Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP) who spoke to The Octant reacted to the proposed names with disapproval.
Kim ‘25 said: “What in tarnation is ‘NUS College?’ NUS already has NUS Overseas Colleges, NUS College of Humanities and Sciences, and so on. There is just no individuality. I guess they really just didn’t care about what the college truly is.”
A third-year USP student who wished to remain anonymous said: “This is a generic, uninspiring, and uninformative name that is ill-suited for the university’s premier interdisciplinary program.”
Another USP student from the same year simply said: “I suddenly prefer ‘New College.’”
“Seriously, they should have just asked the students. I bet we can come up with much better ideas,” the anonymous user said.
“I think NUS management really need[s] to talk to their students more. They didn’t ask us about the merger, and then they came up with this name all on their own (which are both not great ideas). They can end up with something way better if they just did some giveaway for students who give suggestions and do some voting thing.”
The name has also become a subject of mockery.
The Mocktant and USNonsenseNews, the satirical newspapers for Yale-NUS College and USP, respectively, released headlines on the same day of the town hall, mocking the generic nature of the “NUS College” name.
Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong revealed to The Octant that the Dean of the New College—a merger of Yale-NUS College and the University Scholars Programme (USP)—will be announced early next year.
In an interview that took place earlier this month, the President also expressed hopes for the leaders of the yet-unborn college, while also acknowledging their mandate to set the paths for its development.
Who is the New Dean?
Over in NUS, Professor Aaron Thean, current Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, had been named as the Dean-Designate of the newly formed College of Design and Engineering, a merger of the Faculty of Engineering and the School of Design and Environment.
Meanwhile, the College of Humanities and Sciences, a “virtual college” combining the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science, has the heads of its constituent departments as co-deans.
As the official narrative is that USP and Yale-NUS are going to be “merged,” this has since generated suspicions that the dean of the resultant entity will come from either college.
In response, Prof. Tan Tai Yong said NUS is “looking broadly” for potential candidates for the New College Dean.
Tan is stepping down after he finishes his full term in June next year. Meanwhile, Director of USP, Prof. Kang Hway Chuan reached his sixth year in office this June, equalling the longest time served by his predecessors. However, no new appointment has since been announced.
Tan outlined several Yale-NUS legacies that he hoped the New College would carry on: interdisciplinary learning, learning outside of the classroom, and a vibrant student life.
Having been a commuter undergraduate, Tan has come to understand and appreciate residential programs after spending years at Yale-NUS.
“I hope that there’ll be [a vibrant student life] in the New College and not just with students staying in hostels and then going into other things, but a kind of a programmatic way of enjoying and benefiting from student life.”
Having the right type of students, for him, is the key factor for a vibrant student life. He said: “You want students who can come in and say: I’m not here just to get a degree. I’m here to have a full educational experience. And I’m prepared to take ownership and take leadership of various things, various activities and various causes.”
Tan said the leadership of the New College should appreciate the proactiveness of students and provide space and support for experimentation. “Don’t plan everything, let some things come from the ground, through the organic expression of what students want to do.”
“These are what Yale-NUS has done very well and I hope that the New College will embrace it.”
The New College, however, will be part of NUS instead of functioning as an autonomous college like Yale-NUS does, with its own policies including those on student activities.
For example, in the Yale-NUS Events Policy, student organization events are considered “Business As Usual” unless the event is large-scale, involves external partners, receives external sponsorship, and/or collects registration fees.
This “Business As Usual” approach contrasts with NUS’s current approval requirements, where the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) requires students to submit an event proposal at least six weeks prior to the start of any event for approval.
When asked about the differences in NUS and Yale-NUS policies, Tan said: “It is difficult for me to speak about NUS now because I’ve been out of it for eight years, so I am not sure what happens there. ”
Tan was the Vice Provost (Student Life) of NUS from January 2010 to December 2014.
“Yale-NUS is a small community. We can do a lot of things very quickly,” he said. “NUS has 35,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate students, while Yale-NUS has 1,000 in total.”
“We have a Dean of Students Office who works very closely with students, but NUS has faculties, departments, residence, and so on. So it’s a very different landscape.”
“Will the New College function like this? I think we’ll have to wait for the new leadership to decide.”
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.
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.
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.