Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor Graphics | Ryan Yeo
The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) had the highest enrollment by Yale-NUS College students among all NUS faculties over the last five semesters, according to statistics provided by Yale-NUS Registry.
There have been a total of 729 enrollments by Yale-NUS students in NUS modules since the first semester of Academic Year 2019/2020. FASS modules proved the most popular, comprising 61% of all NUS module enrollments. This figure includes the 17% of modules taken at the Centre for Language Studies (CLS).
The next most popular NUS faculty among Yale-NUS students was the Faculty of Science, which comprised 11% of all NUS module enrollments.
According to Yale-NUS Registry, the data are accurate at the end of instructional week 2 of each semester, and exclude NUS Faculty of Law modules read by Yale-NUS students in the Double Degree Programme.
Other NUS modules that Yale-NUS students have studied also include those from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (6%), NUS Business School (6%), and the School of Computing (3%). These faculties do not have directly equivalent departments in Yale-NUS.
These data were released following the Sept. 28 students’ town hall, where Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, speculated that the most popular NUS modules among Yale-NUS students would come from the School of Computing and the Business School.
This month, The Octant invited several students from the Class of 2025 to a conversation focused on their discovery of happiness and strength in the Yale-NUS community. As can be seen in the class Telegram chat, appropriately named “The Last Class of Yale-NUS,” the freshmen have been hit hard by the closure of Yale-NUS. The faith they’ve placed in the exciting possibilities a new chapter at Yale-NUS offers is being challenged in ways unprecedented and entire, but also right at the beginning of their time here, before emotions transcend memories and friendships forge meaning.
In light of this, The Octant presents a collection of the youngest Kingfishers’ happiest little moments as well as their self-reflections on the navigation of college life so far. They strive to seek and sustain what they have, knowing that they have a long way to go.
Name: Wang Shi Hui Jeanette
What’s your life philosophy?: “Always put in the best effort!”
Despite having a few worries here and there before arriving on campus—a general fear of making friends as a semi-introvert, the uncertainty of community and classroom interaction during COVID, and her aunt’s lingering comments on Yale-NUS’s competitiveness—Jeanette opened up about her favorite moment on campus in the past month or so that revealed to her the supportive environment at Yale-NUS:
“My spirits were a bit low that day… so I went to see Gohan (Cendana College’s favorite doggo!), alone, and there were a lot of people I didn’t know, a lot of seniors, and we just ended up talking together: about future employment, emotional attachments, a loss of identity perhaps, just releasing stress.”
Jeanette mentioned how she was surprised that the seniors seemed to care more about the impact of the news on her and the freshies, being attentive towards her emotions and response to the town hall announcement. “It really shows that the support system is there.”
She continued to talk about other aspects of college life that inspired her. The energetic class discussions made her less afraid to engage with others’ opinions. “I come out of class feeling super enriched and content. It was much more interactive than I imagined.” Relating her sentiments on the class dynamic to Yale-NUS’s interdisciplinary education, Jeanette gave a few examples:
“You start to realize all the courses are interrelated, from LitHum, CSI, PPT, to even QR, like how the analysis of Ramayana from LitHum is related to the methods of interpretation in Bhagavad-Gita from PPT. In QR, you unpack statistics and relate it to a wider social context… that’s what interdisciplinary is.”
Admitted under the Duke-NUS Medical School pathway, she presented her unique perspective on the liberal arts and humanities education at Yale-NUS:
“[I have] a more science-heavy background. Being at Yale-NUS helps create a more holistic education for me. Thinking back on what my philosopher professor once said: patients give us life stories, and as a doctor, we need to fully understand the patient as a whole, and not just by the symptom. That really stuck with me. The entire reason I entered Yale-NUS was to keep in touch with the humanities, because medicine itself is an art, it is interdisciplinary. You work with so many other specialties, and you interact with humans. In the words of LitHum, it celebrates humanity.”
When asked about some of her pillars of strengths in the face of recent town hall announcements, Jeanette shared spontaneous moments of life with her suitemates:
“I think my suitemates [are] all just clowns. I think one day our neighbors are going to complain they’re hearing too many screams. They make me laugh everyday, and they just remind me that we’re in this together.”
She also talked about the safe space her Residential College Advisor (RCA) created with baked cookies and one-on-one talks when some of them faced academic stress:
“My RCA reminds me that it’s an ungraded semester. Don’t let grades get the better of you, because that’s not really why we’re here. You’re here to learn—everyone is a philosopher.”
For her, the support system is both a source of happiness and what builds resilience. She talks about how her view of community support developed through the town hall announcement:
“The social support network is really dependent on the individuals within this larger community, so if we all work together to evolve, adapt, and change with what is happening, we can change for the better.”
Like many other first-years, she sheds light on a communal mindset of positivity in the face of the challenging news:
“Although it [Yale-NUS] physically won’t exist, it definitely still exists within us. We are the students, the ones that make up the content. I think that’s what we are. I remember my CSI professor, Prof. Benjamin, saying: ‘We are the ones who create and write history.’ We are writing history right now.”
What’s your life philosophy?: “To be a saint is an exception, to be an upright man is the rule” — Victor Hugo
For Avery, there was almost too much to love about Yale-NUS. Sometimes, it was the little moments that stole her heart: the “how are you doing” from schoolmates in the courtyard, a small interaction that Avery felt was “super heartwarming!”; her RCA’s gentle reminder to not share anything they weren’t comfortable with during their first RCA meeting; holding casual conversations with the Dean of Students in the Residential Colleges “like real family”; and the fruitful conversation with her professor, where a “Eureka” moment struck as her professor passionately introduced her own research.
More often, it was the general excitement of starting college in a culturally unique and academically excellent liberal arts institution. Avery said: “It’s this whole bustling experience, fully residential, where life and the community joins as one. There’s something that makes you happy happening everyday, and I look forward to the unexpected happiness everyday.”
She painted her happy memory with words: “It was during orientation, and my RCA group went to Saga College’s board game night at the Common Lounge. We stayed up till midnight playing board games. It was not outstanding in any way, but just a really peaceful memory with friends, chilling, chatting, and there was a breeze. We were doing things together, and it felt the best.”
In her recollections, Avery talked extensively about the sense of a safe space being created at Yale-NUS. Coming from a high school where toxic competitiveness floated in the air, Avery was struck by the space Yale-NUS community members held for each other.
“No one will force things, not even implicitly… [Everyone] is so sensitive and soothing,” she explained. “I’m kind of a shy and private person. But in this community, no one derides differences. I don’t have to feel judged. I don’t have to constantly second-guess whether I am close enough to someone else. I feel safe to go to them, I might feel safe being friends with a thousand-plus people here.”
After all, Avery said: “How can you not feel safe being here, with people that understand respect?”
She also mentioned how residential life plays a big part in the cultivation of deep connections, where her friend walked all the way from Cendana to Saga and back to talk her through the post-town hall trauma, or how she easily made friends with others at an event: “We both came out for a breath of fresh air, and just like that we’re friends already. It’s the magic of the community.”
For Avery, the safe space, or “the magic,” existed also in Yale-NUS’s academic structures, such as the replacement of rigid dissertations with an individual capstone project for graduation requirements, the ungraded first semester to allow a graceful transition, and the interactive seminar discussions. “It’s symbolic of the college telling us our opinion matters. Engagement and personalization is important for me.”
In relation to her response to the town hall announcement, Avery reaffirmed the uniqueness of the safe feeling Yale-NUS gave her:
“I was looking for other transfer options, and looking at the variety of colleges avaliable, I just didn’t feel anything else could be like Yale-NUS. I really treasure meeting new people with completely different lives. Our previous environments were different, but once coming here, we are strong as one, we are reassured because we exist in this space together.”
Name: Safinah Barvin
Age: 24 (post-JC and Poly)
A fun fact about yourself?: “I was a part of Singapore’s NDP Marching Contingent.”
For Safinah, making it to college was a moment of celebration. Emotions of happiness and gratitude were embedded in a single moment during the candlelight ceremony during Orientation.
“I remember looking around and feeling so happy because I finally made it to university, I finally made it to a place where I can be myself. Seeing the beautiful campus that it is—it’s so much greenery! I just thought that maybe it was worth all the effort I took, like, okay, this is it, all my effort was for this wonderful moment, and for the amazing four years to come.”
She explained how college also meant a sense of freedom for her. “Yale-NUS’s residential program has really given me time to explore myself. When I’m at home, I’m surrounded by my family members, my parents, my nieces, and I still have a curfew, despite being 24 years old. When I’m alone in my room at Yale-NUS, I am able to reflect what my personality really is. And being away from my family made me realize how dependent I am on them. It’s a part of the rediscovery.”
On what the Yale-NUS community meant for her, Safinah took a similar perspective with Avery: feeling safe.
“What I really, really love about Yale-NUS is that I can just be myself. When I was at other schools [Safinah has studied previously at both Junior College and Polytechnic], I think I always felt like a minority, and I always had to be cautious of what I said and what I did and whether I would face racism… but here, I’m not the only minority, at all. This place is where you can be yourself, free of judgement. And everyone’s just so sweet and nice.”
For Safinah, the safe community comes from the kindness and understanding of the people. In her experience at other schools, she often wondered: “Oh, will I be the odd one out?”
She explains: “I think even in secondary schools, you can at least see three or four people who are like me, but in [other] universities, especially the course I specifically chose, I knew that there would be a very high chance that I would be alone.”
Laughing, she continued: “I think people who come here are just nice people; I don’t know how the admissions team manages to choose students who are just so nice… here, people are aware of other’s different experiences because we all come from different backgrounds, so we know how it should be.”
She talked about how she first felt safe during the application process.
“The admission process itself, instead of only judging you by your grades, asks you to talk about yourself and your interests… It’s like they’re saying: ‘Hey, I see that you’re this holistic human being and that’s great, we want to know more of you and what you’ll bring to the community here.’ I started realizing what I’m able to share with the world. So I guess from that moment itself, I started feeling safe.”
Now at Yale-NUS, she is grateful for the safe community in terms of an ungraded semester and a vibrant social landscape.
“[Yale-NUS] is different because we’re allowed to explore. I am able to enjoy my first-year classes more since I’m just trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible without worrying about whether it will affect my final CAP.”
Coming from banking and finance background, Safinah explained how the ungraded semester allowed her to truly enjoy a liberal arts education, as well as try out the various social events Yale-NUS offers.
“In high school I go to school from 8 am to 5 pm. I don’t think I was given many opportunities like the Rector’s Tea where we invite people to share their life experiences. And the mooncake making sessions—such activities allow me to learn from others, and in that process I learn more about myself too.”
Participating in a variety of student organizations opened Safinah to a wide range of passions too: “It’s a good break from studying! I enjoyed Bollybhangra; they’re so welcoming and really accepting of newbies. I even joined Oasis, and tried contemporary dance for the very first time. I think I had the space to even try because Yale-NUS nurtures you to explore. And so I really discovered more about myself and my potential.”
Aside from the school, she is also thankful for the sweetest suitemates that help cultivate a safe space for her, informing her in advance whenever a male would be coming into the suite so she could put on her hijab and always remembering to order her non-alcoholic drinks when going out.
Name: Mohammad Dabeer Ahmed
What’s your life philosophy?: “Two things: first, to be kind, humble and grateful; second, because life is unpredictable, finding happiness in the little things.”
As an online student this semester, Dabeer admitted feeling distanced from the community at times.
“The biggest challenge is probably a lack of social life. I know I need to meet new people, it’s just been the same people from high school that I’ve been interacting with [due to online restrictions]. I haven’t been able to join a lot of clubs [since] not a lot are going hybrid.”
Dabeer hasn’t been able to attend school physically since 2020. With abrupt news overflowing, both post-town hall and in his personal life, Dabeer says: “It’s been draining for someone who hasn’t been to school in 18 months. Sometimes it just feels like bad news over bad news. Every day you get something sad.”
He explains the difficulty of learning through a screen for him: “I love stress, but in [the form of] physical work, you know. For my high school orientation, we attended classes for two days without sleeping, but I was fine even under the intense pressure because I was with people; I was physically going out and about.”
However, Dabeer shares his optimism and open-minded life philosophy towards the unusual and chaotic situation of undergoing the town hall announcement and the cancellation of Week 7 online.
“I really think everything in life happens for a reason, and I know I’ll be there in person someday, if not tomorrow,” he says. “It’s important to give the situation the benefit of doubt. I think that even if I had been on campus, how I would feel and how things would have been might not be too different.”
Dabeer’s own unique experiences have brought about a mindset of positivity. Shifting between four schools in four years and having lived in the UAE for 13 years and Pakistan for eight years, he has come to realize that “the people are what matters, not the place.”
The people, like for many other freshmen, are what Dabeer finds a lot of his happiness in at Yale-NUS. “I’m South Asian by ethnicity, and my online classes consist of a lot of South Asian kids, from places like India and Pakistan. It’s like what we talked about in CSI. I guess humans have tendencies to approve of one group over another. I think I would’ve bonded most with my people.”
He talked about a specific moment where his professor pronounced his and his friends’ names wrong. “We found it to be a sort of bonding moment. Sometimes we chill and talk in our own language in breakout rooms, and that makes online classes more bearable.”
However, Dabeer goes on to say, “The reason I came is because of diversity, as far as my identity is concerned,” referring to the diversity that Yale-NUS and, in a larger context, Singapore, delivers.
Dabeer is also grateful for the kindness and accomodation his professors have shown him. “I love my profs. My CSI prof allowed me to submit my paper three days after the deadline with the whole internet situation. My PPT prof took an entire 120 minute seminar just to address the questions on the town hall announcement… it’s nice to have someone to talk about it and provide that safe space.”
Despite some disconnections, Dabeer is confident in his adaptability. Looking forward to reuniting with his Pakistani friends on campus, Dabeer says: “I have faith in how I’ll make the best of my life once I arrive on campus. That’s what matters.”
Story | Benjamin Goh (he/him), Guest Writer Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
What is it that leaders do? And how do leaders do it?
I have been reflecting upon these two questions since the announcement of the closure of Yale-NUS College on August 27, 2021. In the extensive media coverage since then, we have seen different information, some of which contradict each other, from Yale, Singapore’s Ministry of Education, and the National University of Singapore (NUS). We have seen multiple op-eds about what this closure means for Singapore, for Asia, and for the world.
However, in this piece, I seek to address the less examined brand of leadership employed in the management of this closure. Since the town hall that Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, held with Yale-NUS students on September 28, 2021, I have gained a better understanding of how NUS leadership conceptualizes their leadership praxis: theirs is a leadership that seeks to inform rather than consult.
When Tan stated that he consulted stakeholders, he actually meant that he informed them. If Tan wishes to debate the semantics of whether the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) is a merger or not, despite the on-the-ground perception that it is a merger, then we can and should debate the semantics of consulting versus informing. We can and we should also debate on when this consulting happens, because there is a meaningful difference in whether consulting happens before or after the decision is made. In leadership, how individuals perceive your actions is just as, if not more, important than any actual statements.
This piece comprises three sections. Section One defines the differences between consulting and informing. Section Two explains why NUS’s leadership style, as demonstrated in their management of the closure of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP), has not been a consultative one. Section Three argues that NUS’s leadership style will be detrimental to the experiences students have and the trust stakeholders have in NUS.
NUS leadership has much to do to repair the trust deficit with their stakeholders before they can even begin the long and arduous task of winning over students.
1. Two leadership styles: consulting and informing
There are two key differences between a leadership style that consults and one that informs: consulting creates space for agency and innovation, while informing does not.
Consulting aims to create consensus, and if not consensus, then a stake in the development of the matter. It is not strictly “bottom-up” in that it can be initiated from the top, but it is certainly people-oriented.
In contrast, informing creates no space for agency nor innovation. It is instead aimed at information provision—in essence, telling people that a decision will happen and that it has already been made. It is thus not aimed at giving stakeholders a stake in the matter, because there is no point in further discussion, given that the decision has already been made.
Critically, informing can only be “top-down” because individuals from the bottom up cannot affect decisions in this manner. It is thus oriented towards efficiency rather than people. Informing entails neither understanding the views of the people impacted nor understanding their concerns and anxieties. It is not intended to understand their aspirations and hopes. Informing affords no space for co-creation.
To be fair, different circumstances call for different forms of leadership: the metric I use for deciding which circumstances calls for a leadership style that focuses on informing is in which the outcome is one of life or death. If the final product is not one that creates a life-or-death situation, then there is time to consult. There is time to understand the perspectives of the stakeholders.
This is, I believe, the reason why Tan was unable to articulate why the students of Yale-NUS, and indeed elsewhere in NUS, are upset with this and other such top-down decisions. Empathy is and should always be an integral part of leadership. We are ready for a brand of consultative leadership where leaders and those they lead work together to co-create a brighter future for their community.
2. Why consultative leadership?
What do the metrics of agency and consulting mean for higher education and our understanding of leadership? Agency is created when stakeholders are given the ability to vocalize their ideas, which are valuable to the creation of the final product. It means that people are given the capacity to contribute to the decision-making process. This is important because agency creates a sense of ownership, of wanting the project to succeed.
One might argue that the Yale-NUS “experiment” succeeded precisely because it demonstrated the benefits of affording agency. It is because the founders, faculty, students, staff, and parents were able to exercise agency, that the college is what it is today—a community of learning, in Asia, for the world. Ownership creates a sense of responsibility, not just to the institution, but to the community and each other.
As Robin Zheng, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, eloquently elucidated in a webinar on liberal education in Singapore, students in a Yale-NUS classroom speak and contribute to class discussion because they are accountable to each other for their learning. This is how we create productive spaces for conversation.
By endowing each student with a sense of ownership, we are encouraged to take pride in what we do. Thus we strive to do better for each other.
Conversely, leadership that merely seeks to inform creates no space for ownership; there is no reason why anyone should seek to own something that could be destroyed without any notice. There is no reason why anyone would pour their heart into a project if they expect to experience intense grief and heartbreak when it ends without their input. This is a world where there is little to no pride in the institution’s achievements. This is a world that diminishes community learning. Why would students fill in surveys or participate in curriculum reviews if they don’t feel a sense of ownership over the matter? Not creating space for agency reduces ownership and creates a worse outcome for the NUS community.
More than just agency and ownership, consulting creates space for innovation. We are all individuals with different lived academic experiences. Each of us brings something different to the table. This creates the potential to innovate something new and different, which could add value to the experience.
For example, if my suitemates and I were consulted as to what we thought the best part of the Yale-NUS experience is, we would not have said the Common Curriculum. I remember long anxious nights over Scientific Inquiry and the heavy reading load of Modern Social Thought.
We would have pointed to our informal curriculum, such as the innovations in the residential curriculum that ensure that students are educated in areas such as intercultural engagement. We would have pointed to our commitment to diversability, such as in educating students about the various learning accommodations that they could seek during Orientation or RCA group sessions through the year. We would have pointed to distinctive programs like Diversity Week and Mental Health Week. We would have pointed to innovations such as Assistant Dean Notes.
At the time of writing, the only thing of value NUS leadership sees in Yale-NUS is its formal curriculum. Yet if we had been consulted, we could have innovated ways of integrating aspects of our informal curriculum into the formal one.
For example, we could have suggested “brave space” guidelines, like the one I designed with faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), into the formal curriculum. These guidelines, such as allowing students to take a time-out if they feel overwhelmed by class materials, or a commitment to critically examining ideas without engaging in personal attacks, are important to create spaces for students and faculty to feel safe enough to discuss topics that could be controversial. Without these guidelines, students may very well not participate in class discussions because they may feel attacked or too overwhelmed to do so.
“Brave spaces” create space for conversation in the classroom, and create space for students to feel safe to discuss even controversial topics. We could have integrated learning accommodations for students like myself who have a hearing condition. We could have discussed how to integrate mental health support into the syllabus so that students know who to turn to if they require support. Despite having taken seven NUS classes across three departments at both the undergraduate and graduate level, I have never seen an NUS syllabus that notes the importance of mental health and the support one could get for it.
These things seem marginal to most people, but it matters to the university environment that is created. If students do not feel safe to speak up in class, they will not, and professors will need to think harder about how to get students to contribute to discussions, often by offering crass incentives like class participation points that invite superficial responses that do not go into the heart of the matter.
Learning accommodations help not just those who require the accommodation but those who don’t as well. Closed captioning, for instance, benefits visual learners. Using a microphone in large classrooms benefits auditory learners. And knowing who to turn to for support matters in life-and-death situations. Knowing that your professors prioritize your mental health allows you to trust that professors care for you, rather than merely being research-generating machines.
These are all innovations that we could have brought to the table to benefit the NUS community. Innovation is key insofar as we want to progress beyond one static position. However, without a sense of ownership and without discussion, innovation cannot take place. The outcome, then, is miserable for all stakeholders. The opportunities to improve are limited, and the institution’s ability to grow for the better is hampered.
In response to claims that he did not consult the relevant parties sufficiently, Tan noted that he had in fact consulted “every faculty in each of the departments at FOS and FASS” about CHS. Apart from this being empirically untrue, speaking from the experience of having worked with faculty members who had little knowledge about CHS and had to redo their plans for a module despite having planned the module from as early as March 2021, the timing of this consultation matters too.
If one consults after the decision has been made, is there really space for agency and innovation? One might ask: if you get to contribute to these student committees, is that not agency? But is it really agency and ownership if the boundaries of these committees have already been drawn? By virtue of the decision having already been made, even if there is space for autonomy and innovation, the space is limited by design.
This strategy entraps people within predefined boundaries, with little to no space to conceptualize something different. It is not enough to attempt to win over stakeholders after the decision has been made. It is equally, if not more, important that winning over stakeholders happens even before the decision has been made. Would it not be a more prudent use of resources to win over students from the start, and not only after the fact when opinions have already been made?
This is at the heart of the #NoMoreTopDown petition which was dismissed because it reported what people on the ground feel about CHS, as opposed to what it was claimed to be by the administration. In fact, I would argue that the reason why students in FASS believe that CHS is a merger and not a “virtual college”—a term never used in press releases, the CHS undergraduate admission brochure, or viewbook—is because they were informed of the decision and were not consulted. If students had been consulted, perhaps they would better understand what NUS leadership sought to achieve with CHS.
Yet, because they were informed of a new common curriculum combining FASS and FOS subjects—one that took effect a year later and is still in the midst of being worked out—it appears as a merger to them, and rightly so. NUS may not intend for it to be a merger, but if it looks like a merger, sounds like a merger, and is presented as a merger, it is a merger.
Consulting after the fact is no different from not consulting at all, as the boundaries have already been drawn. If we are serious about interdisciplinary learning that seeks to go beyond the boundaries of formal disciplines, then we should be conscious of the boundaries we are drawing.
To be clear, I am not positing that we should accept every single thing that is proposed in consultations. This is simply impossible. Instead, I am arguing that it matters that people are at least given a chance to speak on the subject for two reasons.
Firstly, it creates space for agency and a sense of ownership. Even if people do not agree with the final outcome, they take pride in the fact that they were consulted and can come to terms with it. There is thus some incentive to accept the new system. Comparatively, absent consultation, there is no reason to feel a sense of ownership.
Secondly, it creates space for innovation. It is through discussion that people innovate new ideas that could be better for the community. In the absence of consultation, individuals are disincentivized from engagement and innovation.
These two reasons do not require all opinions to be accepted. It merely requires that individuals are empowered to speak up and to contribute. Apathy exists when individuals have no incentive to care. Apathy hence exists when leaders only seek to inform, and not consult, on matters that do not result in life or death.
3. Current leadership style at NUS is detrimental to student experiences
The town hall with Yale-NUS students revealed that the NUS School of Computing and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST) will also come under this new curriculum structure, with the expectation that students would pursue a double major. I leave the evaluation of the rightness of this decision to the educational experts. In effect, NUS leadership is making the decision to combine the educational experiences of those who are not pursuing a professional degree and those who are into a common experience, despite the ostensibly different components of each degree. Music students, for instance, would require more time to engage in composition and rehearsals than the average FASS or Yale-NUS student.
What is of importance is that this is the first time this has been confirmed. While potentially beneficial, I am left to wonder how Computing students who regularly complain on Reddit about the difficulties of computing modules, and YST students who have to juggle a wide range of modules and performance rehearsals, feel about this? How would this add to their academic load and stress? Mental health matters and is important, said Tan in the recent town hall with students—yet this decision seems to disregard the potential stresses it would cause.
We were told that students only see things from one perspective. Putting aside the condescending language, is this perspective not important? What is the point of designing a top-notch curriculum if students are too stressed to learn from it? Learning is not merely receiving knowledge, but is also about reflecting on that knowledge and using it to do more. When students have more courses to do, with the workload remaining the same for their other classes, one wonders where students would find the time to learn?
This is not to say we should only hear from students. We should hear from a diversity of voices, including students, because it is only when we hear from multiple perspectives that we have a fuller picture of the implications and impacts of our policies. Such a style of leadership diminishes the student experience insofar as students are unable to advocate for themselves.
More than diminishing the experience of students, however, such a style of leadership engenders a spirit of distrust in the institution of NUS. If decisions can be made behind the scenes with little consultation, what grounds do students have to trust that NUS would live up to its promises? What grounds do students have to trust that their well being would be cared for? A style of leadership that only informs breeds a spirit of distrust because the perennial question would be: who watches the watchmen? Trust is built over time but squandered overnight. If we want to create ownership and innovation, we must have trust in the institution—otherwise, what would the incentive be to engage in such actions?
For the administration to even begin to win over the hearts and minds of students, students must first trust the university administration. Even before NUS can try to convince students of the benefits of the closures, they must first convince students that NUS has their best interests at heart. This will take time—valuable time that could have been used to improve the curriculum and student life experience. Time that could have been saved had NUS chosen to consult with students before the decision was made.
In the town hall, Tan articulated that the trade-off in this decision was between closing Yale-NUS now, and a diminished Yale-NUS experience and its eventual demise anyway because the gap in funding could not be plugged. Hence, he argues, closing two distinctive and excellent programs is the only solution that could be undertaken. Putting aside the lack of structural analysis as to why the gap in funding could not be plugged even when asked by students, and the fact that Tan conceded that Yale was willing to assist with fundraising, I would like to highlight a different set of trade-offs—a set that I opine is not worth trading off.
First, NUS is trading off a sense of ownership. NUS is trading off the pride students would have in building a community of learning in NUS, one that everyone could be proud of, for mere efficiency in decision-making.
Second, NUS is trading off potential innovation that could make the final product significantly better. How can we know what “good” is when only one person or planning committee determines it? When more people share their idea of how we can do better, it is the community and the institution that benefit.
Third, NUS is trading off the trust of its stakeholders. For a program to be successful, it is not enough to say that it will be successful. Stakeholders have to be persuaded that it will be successful, and persuasion is not an equation that is logical and rational.
Indeed, humans are not wholly rationally-driven creatures. We can sometimes be influenced by beliefs that are seemingly illogical and irrational. Beliefs such as not believing that the institution has the best interest of the stakeholders at heart.
Actions say more than words, and it is not enough for institutions and leaders to say “trust us.” They must demonstrate through actions that they are worth trusting. They must put their money where their mouth is. Otherwise, they will lose trust. These three goods—ownership, innovation, and trust— seem objectively more important to retain. The style of leadership undertaken has implications beyond just one community—it affects the institution as well.
There is an African adage that goes along the lines of: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” On the road ahead, we need to ask ourselves: what do we value more? Speed? Or distance? We also need to ask ourselves: what is on that road ahead? Where is our final intended destination? What are our aspirations for the institution? How can we turn these aspirations into reality?
In a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous, leaders do better when they consult, listen to, and consider a diversity of perspectives, not just those they want to listen to. Professor Tommy Koh spoke of “loving critics” and I think that’s what we, the students resisting the closure of Yale-NUS and USP in our own ways, are. We resist because we love our community, and we want NUS to do better than it is doing currently. The day we stop our resistance is the day we stop loving this institution. That, I think, will be the day that NUS has truly failed.
Tan spoke about winning over students on his vision. Intellectually, I could be persuaded to believe in his vision, but I have minimal faith in his leadership. If Tan could ignore consultation on an issue like this, I am left to fear what other major decisions Tan, or indeed other leaders in NUS, could make without consulting their stakeholders. There is no incentive for me, or any other student, to want to make New College a success when it could be closed overnight.
It is not enough to win students over. It is more important to demonstrate leadership by example and not by authority. That is how you win hearts and minds. That is how you build trust and ownership, and engender an environment where students are community builders.
Ultimately, it is not just where we go that matters. It is also how we get there.
The morning of Aug. 27 marked upheaval and confusion across NUS, when the formation of the New College and College of Design and Engineering (CDE) was officially announced by NUS.
The merger of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP) remains opaque: no information has been provided on the curriculum or faculty of the upcoming New College. Meanwhile, first-year students enrolled in the School of Design and Engineering (SDE) and the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) will start CDE’s common curriculum from Jan. 1, 2022; its content and requirements have been outlined here.
Students have expressed their frustrations with the mergers and their announcements through social media and the #NoMoreTopDown petition.
“Have you actually asked your friends and faculty members?” Prof. Tan said. “For every one that says no, I’m sure I can find 10 others that actually have the reverse experience.”
To learn about these decisions’ impact on students, The Octant separately interviewed five students across NUS faculties, who shared their reactions, thoughts, and criticisms concerning the mergers and their announcement.
Lack of clarity and transparency
All interviewed students hoped to receive clearer, less confusing information about the mergers from NUS.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” said Ken Bradley, a second-year Industrial Design student at SDE, whose juniors are set to take the CDE common curriculum next semester.
They later resorted to analogy to describe their confusion: “It feels like, you issue a skincare product, saying it’s gonna clear your skin, it’s gonna clear your skin, just insisting that it’s gonna clear your skin.”
“But the ingredients are not even on the packaging. So if you put it on—well, am I going to get a chemical burn? What’s going to happen? Or is this just water in a bottle?”
J, an ex-USP student now in her fourth year at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), though not acutely affected by the New College merger, had similar criticisms about its announcement by NUS. “It’s not specific,” she said.
“I know the rationale that they provided was because this is a very sensitive decision, which is why they didn’t involve people. But I guess from the point of view of a student, or any member of the public, there are just a lot of question marks as to what exactly was this sensitive decision-making process?”
She continued: “It would have been nice to speak to students and get their understanding of what they’re really looking for in an education or what’s useful for them.”
Diana Kondratova, a first-year Architecture student at SDE who is unsure whether her plans to minor in Physics will be compromised by CDE’s common curriculum, expressed her wish for a clearer announcement from NUS.
Kondratova said: “Even though it might be drastic, it would be more coherent, and easier to adapt to. Because right now they’re saying that they’re going to make changes starting semester two.”
“But what kind of changes? Like, what, are they going to make new mandatory mods we’re going to take? Nobody knows.”
She later shared: “The way this is being executed makes no sense, because they’re being so untransparent about what’s going on, like the fact that tutors don’t even know what’s going to happen next semester.”
Elly Lau, currently in her fourth year at FASS, also wondered how NUS’s lack of clarity concerning the mergers would affect student intake for CDE and the New College. “If you want to do admissions for new students but you don’t even have a complete picture, then how do you expect to attract students? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Kondratova said: “It’s just that communication is key, right? And when it’s absent, I think that’s when people get frustrated and confused.”
Key stakeholders disregarded
The consensus from many students’ comments is that NUS’s announcements fell short on both consultation and clarity.
The Monday after the merger announcement, Kondratova approached a professor in her faculty: “I asked my tutor about it, just very frustrated, because for them as tutors, I assumed they had a little bit more intel on what was going on.”
“But essentially, they were in the same place as we were, which is even more bizarre.”
This contrasts with Tan’s remark in the Sept. 28 town hall with Yale-NUS students: “We have had, actually, a lot of engagements with our students and faculty members.”
According to Kondratova, her tutor shared that when the tutors were briefed a week before classes started, they were only told to continue teaching in the same way as they had been before.
The commenter said: “I had assumed that rigorous and faculty-wide consultation had occurred prior to the decision on the mergers of the various institutions, but am now completely surprised to read fromthe full petition of how terribly this has all been managed and executed.”
“To learn that current members of the faculties were learning that mergers were occurring for the first time (and at the same time) as an alumnus who’d graduated almost 20 years ago is completely outrageous.”
She said: “I feel like for CHS it was profs who got the shorter end of the stick, because they had to devise a whole new common curriculum in less than a year.”
“This whole interdisciplinary thing… I mean, for professors, it’s sort of a struggle. Like, how do you teach an entirely new interdisciplinary module if it’s not what you’ve been doing for a while?”
Lau said that greater consultation from NUS was a simple ask that had not been fulfilled. “When you teach things like project work, they’re always like: ‘Oh, you have to gather feedback from your participants or beneficiaries,’ and then you incorporate that into your solution,” said Lau.
“These are simple skills that we are taught in schools, but it’s not being put into practice on a level that actually affects people’s everyday lives, which is wack. I just wish these weren’t difficult things to ask for.”
Kondratova spoke further on the announcement’s timing for students: “If they let us know that this was happening at least a month before school started, I think it would have made more sense.”
“I feel like the fact that they’re throwing out all this information about the mergers mid-semester… it just shows that they weren’t willing to hear what the main stakeholders, the students, had to say in the first place, right?”
Kondratova fell briefly silent, before continuing: “But it is what it is, right? The worst part is, you have to deal with it. You can’t really do anything.”
Interdisciplinary means what?
None of the students interviewed knew what the New College or CDE curricula would look like. However, speaking from their experience receiving an interdisciplinary education at NUS, they shared their hopes for what interdisciplinarity could look like: relevant, non-compulsory, and incentivized modules.
Alefiya, currently in her second year at FASS, said that the point of an interdisciplinary education is to “play to the strengths of each discipline.”
Bradley, in a similar vein, said that a good interdisciplinary curriculum would examine the core competencies of the professions in each discipline, and then take into account their ecosystems and working partners.
“I am… not sure if that’s what they’re doing?” Bradley said.
Most students said that interdisciplinary learning should not be made compulsory for various reasons.
J said that a good interdisciplinary curriculum would ensure “flexibility” and “diverse options,” rather than simply “collapsing things into one program, and then students have to go to that program rather than being able to choose.”
Despite the module emphasizing that the GE modules provide “workplace-ready skills that would help FASS graduates get better jobs,” Lau still found herself asking: “How is this going to be relevant to what I’m interested in?”
She said that a better alternative would be for NUS to integrate computational thinking into her existing Sociology modules. “Arguably that might be the harder thing to do,” she said, “but then that connection might be stronger in terms of relevance.”
Bradley also suggested that students should study the basics of their subject, before moving on to modules designed specifically to be interdisciplinary. “You should make those modules the star modules,” they said, suggesting that teachers with field experience in an interdisciplinary environment would be better equipped to teach interdisciplinary modules, which could then draw students in.
Prioritizing student welfare
Both Bradley and Kondratova shared concerns about SDE’s current workload, and how it might compromise students’ education and health if left unchecked. Kondratova mentioned the strain already introduced by a new compulsory Engineering module for Architecture students, while Bradley worried that CDE’s attempts at an interdisciplinary education would increase overwork, negatively impacting students’ education and health.
“It’s been five weeks; I pull off at least two all-nighters every week. It’s so crazy,” Kondratova said.
According to Bradley, it is “keep doing work, keep doing work, keep doing work” for Engineering, Architecture, and Industrial Design students as well.
They added: “There’s not a sense of belonging; it’s a sense of obligation and dread. One of the things that I really wish that NUS was willing to address—actually my biggest concern—is the mental health of students.”
Kondratova mentioned that the introduction of an Engineering module, EG1311 Design and Make, has caused existing workload-heavy Architecture modules to count for fewer modular credits. Kondratova said that Studio (AR1101 Design 1) is an eight-credit module that teaches the fundamentals of Architecture. Since the curricular changes, the module has been reduced to four credits. According to Kondratova, Design and Make is also strenuous, but the workload for Studio has not been decreased.
Bradley was concerned that overworking students could compromise the CDE’s future attempts at an interdisciplinary education. “I think one of the concerns with more compulsory modules is: Does it actually address this lack of belonging and overloaded feeling?”
“One of the most important things to being an interdisciplinary lifelong learner is to feel secure, safe, and mentally stable. Otherwise, you don’t want to learn anything new or ask what other people are doing.”
“That kind of flies in the face of interdisciplinary cross-pollination. Because you didn’t learn anything. All you learned was to do the project.”
They shared their view on what interdisciplinary education should encompass instead: “It’s not just hard skills and soft skills. It’s also about self-management and interpersonal relationships—that, admittedly, is very hard to teach.”
“You’re not exempt from what you’re teaching us”
Some students also felt a strong sense of irony in the way the decisions were made.
J said: “The whole point of having this tight-knit community like USP is because they want to provide an environment where people who are actively engaged can have an avenue to be actively engaged.”
“So I thought there was this whole, like, irony where you make a big decision and the students are not given any say in it, and not even a heads-up.”
Bradley pointed out that the ability to receive critical feedback is necessary to being a good designer: “If you don’t know how to do that, you’re a horrible designer.”
They continued: “NUS management are being bad designers of NUS. They’re not designing a very hospitable environment.”
“My personal motto is: ‘Design for people with people.’ I think maybe NUS Management should keep that in mind: When you design systems and a syllabus and curriculum for people, they’re gonna interact with it, and they’re gonna experience it. So you should have a bit of empathy.”
“You’re not exempt from what you’re teaching us,” Alefiya said. “You’re teaching us the power of speech and critical thought, and you’re not exempt from following it.”
The formation of CDE was announced on Aug. 2021 and involves a merger between the School of Design and Engineering (SDE) and the Faculty of Engineering (FOE). Meanwhile, the formation of CHS was announced on Sept. 2020, involving the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Science (FOS).
In a town hall with Yale-NUS College students on Sept. 28, students stepped up to the microphone to voice their concerns to Tan about the lack of consultation during the decision-making process in the formation of the New College as well as CDE and CHS.
Tan, however, questioned the truth of students’ statements and challenged students to “rely on facts.” He then claimed that “extensive consultations” were carried out with student representatives and faculty members from the faculties affected by the formations of CDE and CHS.
Tan said, while slowing down to emphasize his point: “I was in every department. I spoke to every faculty in each of the departments in FOS, FASS, SDE, and FOE. I went down to every department and I spoke to them.”
“It’s true that for the students, we did it in closed groups for SDE and FOE. But for FOS, there were actually a number of town halls, likewise for FASS.”
“So that’s the facts. Check with any department. I was there.”
The Octant’s fact checking, however, shows that many student representatives and faculty members in the affected faculties were unaware of such consultations.
An “open secret”
The Octant received conflicting accounts on the extent of consultation with FOS faculty.
A faculty member from FOS told The Octant that the CHS announcement had been an “open secret” among some faculty members before it was announced in Sept. 2020.
“The department heads had already actively been discussing this both formally and informally with faculty for about three months,” the faculty member said. “And there were rumors and gossip about this merger for even longer before that.”
The FOS faculty member continued: “There was certainly consultation with faculty prior to the [CHS] announcement—and, if my recollection serves me well, the design of CHS, especially the curriculum, was modified in response to faculty feedback.”
However, another faculty member from FOS told The Octant that she received only two email invitations to faculty discussions about CHS.
According to the FOS faculty member, the first session was held on Sept. 22, only one day before the CHS announcement. The other was held on Oct. 19, one month after the announcement.
The CHS curriculum is still incomplete at the time of writing, with several modules yet to be announced. Meanwhile, CDE still does not have its own website.
Decision was “already cast in stone”
Meanwhile, many other faculty members and students in the affected faculties said that they were unaware of any consultations prior to the announcements of CHS and CDE.
A faculty member from FOE said in an email to The Octant: “We were not ‘consulted’ on the decision; at least I wasn’t. Perhaps faculty higher up the food chain were consulted in some way. But I don’t know.”
“Indeed, the President did visit each department to talk to the faculty members. But by then, CHS and CDE were already set up, already cast in stone.”
“The visits to the departments were not consultative in nature. The President was there to explain his rationale for setting up these colleges, but some colleagues were not convinced.”
“The colleagues I’ve interacted with are not too pleased about the decisions but are resigned to work within the parameters.”
Two town halls with the FOE and SDE faculty members were held on June 2 and 3, after the decision to form CDE was made but before it was publicly announced. The town hall was hosted by Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost of NUS; Aaron Thean, Dean of FOE; and Lam Khee Poh, Dean of SDE.
The faculty member continued: “There were several faculty members who voiced their displeasure at the merger. But the Provost was defensive at the town hall.”
FASS faculty members have also previously been cited as criticizing the lack of consultation in the decision to form CHS. FASS faculty members reported having only been consulted after the announcement was made, and one faculty member said that his department was left “scrambling” due to the lack of clarity behind the decision.
FASS and FOS students, meanwhile, told The Octant that they were only aware of one engagement session on CHS for each of the two faculties on Oct. 22 and 23, 2020 respectively.
These engagement sessions only took place one month after the formation of CHS was announced, and not before. Tan himself was also absent from both of these engagement sessions.
A student representative from SDE, meanwhile, told The Octant that there was an engagement session with student representatives last week, but they were not aware of any consultations prior to that session.
Meanwhile, a student from the Architecture department of SDE said that they were also not aware of any engagement sessions with the wider student body regarding CDE to date.
Story | Lily Chen (she/her), Contributing Reporter Photo | Provided by Prof Chaewon Ahn (she/her)
An introduction to the series:
When I came up with the idea of interviewing new faculties in mid-August, a week before the tragic announcement, I was clueless of what I would encounter. After August 27th, I considered shifting the direction of the interviews entirely to just focus on the closure, as that seems to be the only thing that people care about, but in the end I chose to add some questions and keep the rest casual and unrelated to the closure. The main motivation is that in the process of reaching out to the professors and during the actual interviews, many professors indeed expressed their appreciation and desire to have a “normal conversation.” This reminds me of the start of COVID, when everyone was drowned in the sea of depressing COVID-related news, it was so crucial to have some “normal conversations.”
In this series of interviews, you will read about the new faculties that joined the College this academic year, not only about their background and research interest but also their personal life and experience. It is, no doubt, hectic, to start a career during a tumultuous time like this, but the professors are very optimistic about their time here and they are genuinely excited to be a part of this community. All in all, life goes on and we still have four years left with those dedicated professors, who truly care about a liberal arts education. I hope that you can keep an eye out and follow this series in the following weeks.
Q: I know that a lot of professors have experience of living in different countries. Would you like to share with me about where you have lived?
A: I actually have lived in many places. I was born in Korea, then my family moved to France first, and then settled in Germany because my parents were studying. So I spent my childhood in Germany, came back to Korea and learned Korean when I was 10 years old. And I stayed in Korea until college and moved to the US to do graduate studies. I lived in Boston, and in between I had this one exchange semester in Paris, so there was a short six month period when I lived in Paris for a while.
Q: So do you consider Korea as your home?
A: Yes I do. I guess it’s because I spent my elementary school, middle school, high school and college years in Korea. I consider Korea to be a home for me, versus Germany for instance or Boston, but I do also feel that when I think about rooting or settling in some place, it gets a little bit tricky, because I feel like I could settle pretty much anywhere, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be Korea.
Q: You mentioned that you went to university in Korea and also in Boston in the States. So how was your university experience? Do you have any “life advice“ for students at Yale-NUS?
A: One thing that definitely was very different is that, in Korea, I went to a small art school, it’s a very similar atmosphere to Yale-NUS, because the class sizes were really small, we had a very intimate relationship with faculties and with each other. That was a great time, and I studied architecture back then. But then when I moved to the US, I got into MIT, so it was like a massive, very large school with so many different disciplines. It was definitely kind of a very different experience from what I had at my undergrad, and it really pushed me to think of where my comfort zones are, who I am. To be honest, because I was exposed in such an environment that I was really not used to, there was a lot of searching myself happening in the first couple of years when I moved to the US.
Q: Your research interests are architecture, urban design, data visualization and urban studies. How did you get into it and why are you so passionate about it?
A: So currently, I would define myself as an urban researcher rather than an architect and urban designer. I think it really all started from this curiosity about how spaces are made, and it was a really big realization for me when I was in high school learning that all the spaces that I’m experiencing are a product of someone or some forces. So that really intrigued me to get into architecture school. However, at some point I realized I’m not so much a designer on the architect, because I would be constantly curious of how are these conditions that really define the limits of what I can do as a designer, how are these conditions formed, so that really encouraged me to get into urban design, and then further to urban studies. The data piece in it is really what happened while I was in MIT. My master’s years was in an architecture program, but still it was such a transformative time for me that I got to be familiar with big data, urban data and GIS and these type of data driven approaches, which really influenced me to do my PhD also in urban studies in the intersection of urban information systems and city design.
Q: Based on your teaching experience so far at Yale-NUS, is there anything that you didn’t expect, like a “Expectation VS Reality”?
A: First off, I never expected I would be teaching my first class remotely via zoom from Korea, so that’s a big expectation versus reality situation. But I was really surprised about how students are so engaged. I had to send out my syllabus and had a first announcement to the class towards the first week of classes and students would already sign up to my office hours to just come by and say hi. I think that was a culture shock to me to be honest, I would never have been at MIT, where I used to TA, students would seek you when they have issues, troubles, or when they need something from you, not to be just welcoming you, and that was a really big shock. I really want to know what my students are feeling towards the class. I’m teaching geospatial and demographic methods, so it’s a very tool-oriented course, and there’s a lot of content to cover every week, so I feel like I’m rushing into many things, and I wonder how students are feeling about if I’m giving students enough space to do things themselves, and if they feel that the speed of the course is actually right for them. So there are many kinds of unknowns, to be honest, but I had a really really good beginning of this career with this class.
Q: What does a liberal arts education mean to you?
A: One of the things that really connected me to the school while I was doing the interviews was what Prof Beng Huat Chua said. He was saying that the liberal arts education is not really about creating or fostering skills that are useful, it’s more about helping students, teaching them how to ask questions. He was saying something that we’re not teaching anything that is practical, it’s rather about the things that are maybe not practical, but still essential for being a human being. I think that really resonated with me, because it’s a pretty rare model to have an education [like this] these days, especially in many schools that I see, there is such an emphasis in STEM majors. There’s such an emphasis in kind of majors that would connect to higher rates of getting better jobs, so I think what is really unique and amazing about the liberal arts education, especially in Yale-NUS, is the fact that it really focuses on helping students gaining the skills to think and be critical and start posing questions that they would be answering with their experiences.
A: Even though I have been here only for two months and only teaching for four weeks now, it’s still enough time to learn what this community is like, in my opinion, and for me it’s really sad to know that what I started to really like is not going to exist in 2025. And this is a line that came up in The Chair in Netflix in the first episode, the main character says, “I feel like I came to a party that is already over.” (laugh) That’s how I feel in some ways, but in other ways I also feel that there are four years left, and there are so many really committed, hard working professors who have built this community with the students. Have some trust in them that we will find better resolutions within four years.
Q: Are you a cat person or a dog person?
A: I like cats. Yes, I am a cat person. I wish I had a cat, someday maybe.
Q: If you won a lottery and decided to give up teaching, what would you do instead?
A: Give up teaching…I don’t know. I would move to a small island, and read and take walks and…honestly, I never really imagined these things.
Q: Small island, sounds like Singapore?
A: Like minus people (laugh). Like the small island of what I imagined was, you know, like deserted, or being in nature.
Q: Do you have a dish that you can cook very well, and would you like to share the recipe?
A: I am not a good cook, I have like five dishes that I can make based on while I’m watching the YouTube recipe. And that’s how I survived my graduate years, to be honest. I can make Bulgogi. I found this formula that is perhaps not so healthy but still very easy to cook. You would have pork, and then some vegetables chopped, and then mix it with soy sauce and sugar and salt and pepper, but then there’s this kind of ratio on which you would include each of these ingredients, if you have two cups of soy sauce, which is a lot, then you would have one cup of sugar, which is also a lot. And then I think half a cup of minced garlic, and then you’re letting it sit there for a while.
Q: If you had a choice to choose a superpower, like being invisible or flying, what would you choose?
A: Flying would be great. It’s not a superpower, but I also picked up skateboarding during COVID. And I learned very quickly that the tricks that you kind of see that seem doable are actually not doable at all…if there is a superpower that kind of enables me to do all the tricks that I wanted to in one day that would be awesome.
Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor and Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief Graphic | Siddharth Mohan Roy (he/him), Social Media Manager Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
This is part three of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part one, which addresses the NUS-wide curriculum restructuring and Yale-NUS’s financial sustainability, can be found here. Part two, which addresses the transition process to the New College, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates.
At the town hall on Tuesday, NUS President Tan Eng Chye addressed Yale-NUS College students directly, for the first time since his announcement that the school would be closing more than a month ago.
During the live Q&A section toward the end of the town hall, many students stepped up to the microphones and spoke over Zoom to ask questions, air their grievances, and ask Tan for acknowledgment of the hurt caused by the lack of accountability behind the decision.
However, Tan repeatedly dismissed and challenged student concerns in his responses, and avoided acknowledging the hurt caused to students by the decision even when asked to do so several times. Most students were left visibly and audibly upset after the town hall concluded.
An informal poll conducted by The Octant on a college-wide Telegram group for Yale-NUS students after the town hall asked how satisfied students were on a scale of 1 to 5.
Of the 319 respondents—almost one-third of the entire Yale-NUS student population—95% of students ranked their level of satisfaction at 1 or 2. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they were “completely unsatisfied” with the town hall.
The town hall saw the largest number of pre-submitted questions of any town hall in Yale-NUS history. At the end of the live Q&A portion, there were still dozens of students queuing at the microphones and raising their hands on Zoom with their questions unanswered.
In part one of The Octant’s coverage of the town hall, Prof. Tan described financial considerations behind the decision to close Yale-NUS and explained his vision for an NUS-wide curricular restructuring. In part two, Tan described the need for New College policies to fit into the wider NUS ecosystem, which may affect several autonomous Yale-NUS policies.
Unhappy NUS Students and Faculty? “Well, I’d like to talk to them”
At press time, almost 15,000 people have signed the #NoMoreTopDown petition, while professors, alumni, and other observers have also expressed strong disapproval.
In light of the sizable amount of opposition, a student asked Tan if he could promise to engage with students meaningfully. She said that despite the opposition, she and her peers in Yale-NUS and the wider NUS felt “deeply upset” and did not feel like their concerns had been taken seriously.
“Unfortunately, most of my peers hesitate to even attend these town halls, because we no longer expect that genuine conversation will happen, and we fear that we will be disappointed again.”
“Yet, if we want to encourage our students to care beyond ourselves, as Education Minister Chan Chun Sing has announced in Parliament, we need to build a community where students can feel safe when they express their opinions in a hope of contributing to a more inclusive and excellent community in NUS.”
Added to that, she pointed to the existing regulation at NUS that considers actions that damage the university’s reputation and interest as a “serious offence.” She said: “A regulation like this has contributed to a real sense of fear that anything we say or do publicly, even if it is out of love for our university, can be construed to be against the interests of the university.”
She then asked Tan: “Will you ensure that these popular sentiments are not just heard or taken into account, but actually engaged upon in a transparent manner that meaningfully affects your executive decisions, specifically your merger decision?”
“What concrete actions will you, as the President of NUS, take in response to the fact that so many people have expressed their strong disapproval towards your plans?”
As the student spoke, many members of the in-person audience snapped their fingers in agreement. At the end of her question, the audience broke into loud applause.
In response, Tan said that there was some “misinformation” in the #NoMoreTopDown petition.
“First of all, if you look at the petition, it has actually had quite a bit of misinformation. The College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) is not a merger. The College of Design and Engineering (CDE) and CHS, we went through more than a year of consultations.”
“I think integrity is extremely important. If you voice your displeasure, please rely on facts.”
Yale-NUS was not consulted prior to the closure announcement, with its president and governing board being completely sidelined in the decision making that led to the closure.
He then denied that there was any significant opposition to his decisions from within the NUS community and questioned the student on the truth of her statement.
“Have you actually asked your friends and faculty members?” Tan challenged. “For every one that says no, I’m sure I can find 10 others that actually have the reverse experience.”
When the student replied that she and many others had indeed spoken to a lot of their friends and faculty in NUS, Tan retorted: “Well, I’d like to talk to them.”
Tan did not address the unhappiness from students and faculty across the NUS community on various platforms, such as on the petition page and on The Ridge, the NUS Student Union’s publication.
The Octant had also reached out to Tan and various other members of the NUS management, including Prof. Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost, in the month following the announcement, but requests for meetings with them have received no replies.
When the student asked Tan whether his statement meant that student voices would be heard, and what concrete actions would be taken, Tan replied: “I’d like to hear exactly, really, what troubles them. What exactly they are unhappy about.”
“If I think these sorts of concerns are justified, we will certainly try to make changes and refinements. We have had, actually, a lot of engagements with our students and faculty members. I can say that the sentiments that we get are very different from the sentiments that you get.”
“I look forward to listening to them, as we always do. And we will refine our approach as we see fit.”
A student also pointed out during the Q&A that the consultations with CDE and CHS, which Tan said proved the petition inaccurate, only involved a few student representatives behind closed doors, with no input from the wider student bodies.
The student also said that Tan’s response detracted from the “main meat” of the petition. He continued: “We do not want you to debate us on semantics. We want you to address NUS’s recent, and, actually, continuous process of making decisions from the top and behind the scenes.”
In response, Tan said: “It is not appropriate to bring in the other stakeholders—even, in this case, the Yale-NUS governing board.”
“There are other cases, like the CDE. But that’s something which impacts the entire body.”
Since the closure announcement, the college—from students, staff, to faculty—have been grappling with grief and anger. Many students find it hard to stay focused and motivated while trying to process the immensity of this event together.
“Just imagine,” Tan said, “had I actually taken the approach to say: ‘Okay, shall we have half a year where we talk about whether NUS should disassociate itself from this partnership with Yale?’ I think this would have actually a tremendous impact on the Yale-NUS community.”
“Can you perhaps think in this way? I am actually preventing the Yale-NUS program from being diluted”
During the live Q&A section of the town hall, another student said that the community could not move on from the decision without the NUS leadership taking ownership and showing that they were listening to their voices.
She said: “When I think about what leadership means, it means having a vision and conviction to progress forward, yes. But I also think it means having care, consideration, and compassion for the people that a leader is supposed to lead.”
“How will you recognize and acknowledge the hurt that your decision-making process has caused to thousands of students, staff, and faculty? Are you willing to commit to learning from this experience and prevent such widespread harm from being caused again in the future? Are you willing to incorporate greater inclusivity and involvement of stakeholders?”
Tan replied: “Change is often difficult. And it’s often difficult to face change. So, I hope that the Yale-NUS community can look forward, rather than backward.”
“Can you perhaps think in this way? I’m actually preventing the Yale-NUS program from being diluted. Right?”
Many students reacted in disbelief toward Tan’s statement, with some members of the in-person audience breaking into incredulous laughter.
The student, in response to Tan’s statement, replied: “I just wanted to point out the fact that answering my question with questions of your own is literally not showing compassion and active listening to what students and the greater Yale-NUS community is trying to say.”
She continued: “I think we are all really genuinely trying very hard to understand all the financial and other behind-the-scenes decisions that are being conducted. But I don’t believe that this same degree of empathy and active listening is also being accorded to us by the administration.”
Tan did not respond to the student’s comment.
Another student then stepped up to the microphone, and said: “Right now, I’m not asking for more details and clarifications on the New College, and the process or rationale behind the decision.”
“I am simply asking this: Do you know? Do you understand? Do you care? And if not, why?”
In response, Tan said: “It may not seem that I care, but I do care. That’s the reason why we have tried to answer many of your questions.”
“But I just hope that the community can calm down a little,” he continued. “Try to listen. Listen to our perspective, too.”
Tan said the key concern is to minimize the impact on existing students by ensuring a “full Yale-NUS experience,” and protecting the livelihoods of existing staff and faculty. Because the program is not sustainable, he said, it would be irresponsible to continue the college by taking in another batch of students.
Speaking to The Octant after the town hall, the student said while Tan did answer her questions on the surface, on a deeper level, it “still betrays a lack of understanding and care” about the “psychological distress and turmoil that this decision has inflicted” on the Yale-NUS community.
“He did not take the time and effort to actually process my question and understand why and what I’m asking,” she added.
Decision-making process: The downside is that “I have incurred the anger of the Yale-NUS community”
A student then asked about the cost-benefit analysis behind the decision, and what NUS stood to lose from making the decision.
Tan replied: “This decision, good and bad. Good, in the sense that I would have made accessible some of the key benefits of Yale-NUS and USP to students in NUS.”
“Bad, of course, in the sense that I have incurred the anger of the Yale-NUS community.”
Tan continued: “Largely, I want you to see that I’m looking at the interests of the entire NUS.”
When the student pressed Tan on why he thought Yale-NUS students were angry, Tan responded while waving his hand towards the audience: “I fully understand it. From your questions, I can fully understand. But let me just try and say it again: Let’s cool down and think about it.”
“I think you are in a very unenviable position. I tried to explain to you that, if we do nothing, your program will continue to be diluted. And you are the ones who eventually will suffer, starting from next year.”
Another student addressed Tan’s previous comment about the decision being made in the interest of NUS as a public university, as well as Tan’s previous comments that the decision was made in consideration of “an important stakeholder” in MOE.
The student said that the decision implied that NUS was willing to sacrifice the interests of students and faculty in order to pursue its institutional interests. The student then asked about Tan’s plans to assure students and faculty that NUS still values their interests, and to heal the breach of trust.
To which Tan replied: “I’m happy to work with your Yale-NUS senior leadership to continue talking to some of you.”
“I know it will take some time for you all to accept this. But please also bear in mind that there are certain circumstances.”
“It’s just quite obvious, at least from my point of view, where the college is heading. There are some trade-offs in whatever decisions we make. So we make the decision in the interest of the current batch of students.”
“I hope to slowly win all of you over.”
Another student asked how the NUS management would ensure that student representatives have a final say in the New College committee’s overarching decision-making process, rather than being token representatives. He then asked if a procedure could be set up to ensure that staff, students, and faculty on the ground can be heard while decisions are being made.
Tan responded: “I don’t think that students should have the final say, but I think that the community should have an important say.”
“Students have only one perspective. They come from a perspective of something that they don’t know.”
“While they are important, they cannot be the only say. We should hear from the students, but I think we should take a more holistic view.”
Tan continued, responding to the question on if procedures can be put in place for voices on the ground to be heard, as well as for committee decisions to be communicated with transparency: “Our New College committee has student representatives, and the student representatives will be the conduit. So feel free to submit and to surface your ideas to the student reps, and we’ll take that into consideration.”
Speaking to The Octant after the town hall, the student said having student representatives as conduits was not enough because “that’s what we have now.”
He highlighted that there should be a formalized channel by which students and staff can be made aware of the decision-making, provide input, and know how their feedback is evaluated.
“Students and staff cannot simply ‘surface our ideas’ to the committees without knowing what’s happening—how else is NUS meant to see that ‘holistic view’ of its stakeholders’ needs?”
As the town hall concluded with many students still waiting in line with questions unasked, the student moderator asked if Tan would be open to more dialogues in the future.
In response, Tan said: “Again, I’m open. And I hope to slowly win all of you over.”
Students: “I came to this town hall without much hope, and I left with even less”
Most students interviewed left the town hall unsatisfied and unhappy.
Speaking to The Octant directly after the town hall, Daniel Suresh Thomas ‘25 said: “I came to this town hall without much hope, and I left with even less.”
“What I felt from this town hall, and what I got the most, is that Prof. Tan Eng Chye doesn’t see Yale-NUS as a part of the wider NUS community. He sees it as a separate entity and, in essence, has decided that our views should not be considered and our perspectives should be ignored.”
“In the various town halls, there has been a flip-flopping and skirting of the real issue. There have been various reasons raised [for Yale-NUS’s closure]. First of all, it was to enhance the interdisciplinary approach. Then, we found out that the real reason was finances. There has been no transparency and no clarity.”
“I think that this pill would be much easier to swallow if everyone knew exactly what they were swallowing.”
Josh ‘24, who raised a question during the live Q&A section, said: “Prof. Tan was repeating material we already know. It’s ironic that he described his problem as us not listening to his point of view, when all he could offer us was the recycled talking points from his previous statements.”
Josh added: “I was surprised to hear Prof. Tan say that being upset about top-down decision-making is primarily a Yale-NUS sentiment. He implies that NUS students are mostly happy or accepting about previous, equally top-down decisions NUS administration has made, such as the formation of CHS and the CDE merger.”
Roberts: “I wish the session had gone a bit differently”
Speaking to The Octant on the day after the town hall, Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS, who was one of the panelists on stage at the town hall, said: “I resonate with the feelings of many members of the community when they wish for Yale-NUS to be recognized as successful and valuable.”
Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students and panelist at the town hall, shared these sentiments. He told The Octant in an email: “Yale-NUS is a special community that holds great meaning and significance to so many of us. That was never more evident than through the sentiments shared during the town hall.”
When asked about student sentiments that Tan showed a lack of empathy during the town hall, Roberts said: “I think that he came and he wanted to explain his decision to the community, and I think the community wanted to feel seen by him emotionally, and to have their emotions recognized by him.
“I think he was trying to do that, but I am not sure that it was entirely successful.”
“I think he is a calm and reserved person. I’m glad he came, and I wish the session had gone a bit differently.”
The Octant is verifying the statements that Tan made during the town hall, and will publish another report soon.
This is part three of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part one, which addresses the NUS-wide curriculum restructuring and Yale-NUS’s financial sustainability, can be found here. Part two, which addresses the transition process to the New College, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates.
Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor and Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief Graphic | Siddharth Mohan Roy (he/him), Social Media Manager Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
This is part two of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part one, which addresses the NUS-wide curriculum restructuring and Yale-NUS’s financial sustainability, can be found here. Part three, which addresses the live Q&A section where Prof. Tan dismissed and challenged students’ concerns, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates.
At the town hall on Sept. 28, NUS President Tan Eng Chye addressed Yale-NUS College students directly, for the first time since his announcement that the school would be closing over a month ago.
In part one of The Octant’s coverage of the town hall, Prof. Tan described financial considerations behind the decision to close Yale-NUS and explained his vision for an NUS-wide curricular restructuring.
In this report, we focus on how Tan described the need for the New College policies to fit into the wider NUS ecosystem, which may affect several Yale-NUS policies, including those on sexual misconduct. Tan also described aspects of the transition to the New College, and told Yale-NUS students to “think more positively” about the move.
Tan then fielded questions on accountability and transparency during a heated live Q&A session. This will be covered in part three of The Octant’s series of reports on the town hall.
New College will be less autonomous; need to be “mindful of the broader culture”
As an autonomous college, some policies at Yale-NUS are distinct from those of NUS.
For example, unlike NUS, Yale-NUS does not make the Faculty Code of Conduct public, which has since become a cause for concern in the Yale-NUS community.
Responding to whether these policies would be implemented in the New College, Tan said: “I know that Yale-NUS has a special concern for this group of students. That doesn’t mean that NUS does not.”
“A lot of your practices are quite consistent with our practices. Maybe there are slight nuances here and there,” he said. “The New College fits into the NUS ecosystem, and the nuancing and the positioning of the New College has to be consistent with the nuancing and positioning of the larger NUS ecosystem.”
“You must also be mindful of the broader culture when you want to push certain practices. You must be sensitive to adverse reactions. So we have to do this carefully calibrated (sic).”
When pressed for a more concrete response on gender-inclusive housing, Tan pointed to a similar discussion that was tabled while planning for the establishment of University Town in 2011.
He said: “We did get the feedback of parents, and parents actually have slightly different thinking. We have to be very mindful in the context of the larger ecosystem. We have to do certain things that are more acceptable to the larger ecosystem. You don’t want to build a small enclave, where there can be possibly some tension and conflict.”
“I think we will take this on board, but we want to make sure that the larger ecosystem is comfortable.”
The decision to close Yale-NUS was also met with parental pushback. After the “merger” was announced, numerous parents of current and deferred students and alumni of Yale-NUS expressed strong disapproval against the closure and concerns for their children’s academic experience. In early September, more than 260 parents penned a letter to the President, demanding more clarity on the reasons behind the closure.
The NUS management did not consult with parents to gather their feedback prior to this shock announcement.
Yale-NUS’s sexual misconduct policies and the “first #MeToo incident”
Still, Tan acknowledged that there are numerous aspects of Yale-NUS policies that NUS can benefit from, such as the sexual misconduct policies.
“In 2019, that was our first #MeToo incident,” Tan said. “We actually studied the Yale-NUS system, and took a lot of learning from the Yale-NUS system. [We] implemented it quite quickly, within five weeks.”
On April 18, 2019, Monica Baey, a then-NUS student, posted stories on her Instagram account about Nicholas Lim, a fellow NUS student who had filmed her showering. The incident had happened five months prior, and Lim was let off with a conditional warning, a one-semester suspension, and an apology letter.
The #MeToo hashtag, however, was not used in any of Baey’s Instagram stories.
On April 30 of that year, NUS convened a committee to review the university’s sexual misconduct and survivor support policies. Six weeks later, the committee submitted its recommendations to NUS, with reference to similar policy changes and programs in Yale-NUS.
NUS began implementing the recommendations in the following months, including introducing tougher sanctions for sexual misconduct in June and setting up the Victim Care Unit in August, which has since been renamed the NUS Care Unit.
Tan said he was unable to give details of which current Yale-NUS sexual misconduct and survivor support policies could be extended to the rest of NUS, as a formal review and consultation will be under the purview of the New College planning committee.
Reni Chng ‘21 was part of the ground-up initiatives by Yale-NUS students calling for a better sexual misconduct policy and survivor support system. Speaking to The Octant after the town hall, Chng said they were “confused” by Tan’s description of the 2019 incident as the “first #MeToo incident,” as Baey did not use the hashtag in her calls for better survivor support in NUS.
Chng added: “Survivors in NUS had already been calling for better support and reporting channels long before 2019. If he wanted to reference the first incident to get nationwide attention, the orientation camp incidents back in 2016 had made similar waves in the papers.”
A student coordinator from the NUS student organization Students for a Safer NUS, which advocates improvements in NUS’s handling of sexual misconduct cases, shared Chng’s opinion.
Speaking in their personal capacity, the student noted: “His framing it as a ‘#MeToo’ incident seems to downplay the damage sexual violence has on survivors and twists it into something positive.”
“However, it was the result of many institutional failures in NUS that left survivors in serious harm before this. This wouldn’t have changed had one’s story of not just sexual violence, but how the institution failed them, became known nationwide.”
Chng then said that much of Yale-NUS’s sexual misconduct and survivor support policy improvements were student-driven and student-initiated, and expressed doubts that Yale-NUS’s level of responsiveness to student feedback could be replicated in the New College.
“Our first campus-wide sexual respect survey was worked on by students. There are survivor support initiatives which students played a major role in organizing as well,” Chng said, pointing to the sexual misconduct policy reform in 2018 and Take Back the Night, an event that called upon the community to stand together for sexual empowerment and respect, as examples.
Chng continued: “It was not the case that students would give feedback once and wait months for admin to work on it. Students were part of every step of the process.”
“The Yale-NUS system that they ‘took a lot of learning from’ is one built on the work of students, made possible because administration worked with us rather than top-down. There is no use trying to learn from the product if the method is ignored.”
“I was at the town hall after the Monica Baey incident and heard NUS students repeatedly voice frustration at the lack of say they have in the very policies that affect their own safety. These top-down decisions reflect that this fundamental approach has not changed.”
“If ‘less autonomy’ is to be the starting ground of New College, I have no confidence that sexual climate related policies in this environment will be ones that support student safety.”
Transition Period: A Full Yale-NUS Experience?
Both Tan and Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS, reiterated that they were committed to ensuring the “full experience” for Yale-NUS students in the remaining years of the school, by retaining a small student-faculty ratio, maintaining facilities, and retaining faculty and administrative staff members.
However, a student said during the live Q&A that they felt that NUS’s current promises would not adequately capture the full experience. The student then asked if NUS could provide concrete statements and goal markers to ensure that the full Yale-NUS experience provided by the school would be one that was reflective of student experience.
In response, Tan said that NUS would work very closely with the Yale-NUS Governing Board and administration to ensure that many of the existing offerings at Yale-NUS would remain intact. He also said that NUS would provide Yale-NUS with resources if necessary.
He continued: “I would also like you to think more positively in this particular angle. As Yale-NUS is winding down, we will be bringing in a group of New College students.”
“This is actually a good opportunity for Yale-NUS to try to infuse some of your values into this group of New College students. And that is only possible when you interact with them, embrace them, and engage them. That’s something we hope you can try to embrace, and hopefully infuse some of the things that you hope to see in the New College.”
During the live Q&A section of the town hall, a student then asked about the possibility of delaying the formation of the New College in order to ensure a more effective and consultative planning process.
Tan responded: “I’m confident that we can push the New College for implementation next year. I have already said so earlier that [at] NUS, we are quite accustomed to making even major curricular changes. We have enough dedicated and able faculty members to do that.”
As Yale-NUS students currently only gain access to NUS modules in the second round of the module registration exercise, Tan was also asked if Yale-NUS students could get a higher priority when applying to NUS classes in the transitional years ahead. Tan replied that NUS will “look sympathetically to this sort of issues,” and will work with Prof. Roberts to iron out the details.
Adding to that, he said: “I guess some of the popular modules will be those in the School of Computing and also in the Business School.”
Financial Compensation to Students, Staff, and Faculty On Transition Committees
The student moderator asked if NUS will consider offering any financial compensation to the students, faculty, and staff who are part of the transition committees, given that such work is essential to the construction of the New College.
Tan said that in order to ensure the same academic experience for Yale-NUS students in the next four years, the existing resources will have to remain unchanged, which meant that there could not be any reduction in fees.
He added that the dwindling student population over the next four years would cause a reduction in revenue for Yale-NUS, but the “underlying costs” of ensuring the full academic experience remained the same. Tan said that this gap had to be met “either by NUS or by the reserves from Yale-NUS.”
We would like to express our gratitude to Reni Chng ‘21 for helping with this article
This is part two of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part one, which addresses the NUS-wide curriculum restructuring and Yale-NUS’s financial sustainability, can be found here. Part three, which addresses the live Q&A section where Prof. Tan dismissed and challenged students’ concerns, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates.
Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor; Xie Yihui (she/her), Editor-in-Chief; Suman Padhi (she/her) and Siddharth Mohan Roy (he/him), Contributing Reporters Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
This is part one of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part two, which addresses the transition from Yale-NUS to the New College, can be found here. Part three, which addresses the live Q&A section where Prof. Tan dismissed and challenged students’ concerns, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates.
At a town hall on Tuesday, NUS President Tan Eng Chye addressed the Yale-NUS student body directly, for the first time since his announcement that the school would be closing more than a month ago.
Other than Prof. Tan, the town hall was also helmed by Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS; and Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students of Yale-NUS.
According to the student moderator, the town hall saw almost 100 pre-submitted questions, the largest number for any town hall in Yale-NUS’s history.
Speaking from the Performance Hall stage, Tan described his considerations behind the decision to close Yale-NUS, including considerations of financial sustainability and his vision of an NUS-wide restructuring that will include the School of Computing next year. He is still considering ways to incorporate the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music into this structure.
Tan also described plans for the transition to the New College and fielded questions on accountability and transparency during a combative live Q&A session. These will be covered in parts two and three of The Octant’s series of reports on the town hall.
NUS-wide restructuring: common curriculum to ensure a broad intellectual foundation
Tan reiterated that the “merger” of Yale-NUS and USP is part of the broader roadmap in his personal vision to make the curriculum structure of NUS “very similar to” that of Yale-NUS.
According to Tan, students under this new structure will take about one-third of their total modules as common curriculum modules, one-third as electives, with the remaining portion under major requirements.
The formations of the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) and College of Design and Engineering are all part of the shift towards this curricular structure that aims to promote interdisciplinary learning. Tan added that the NUS School of Business was “already under this curriculum structure.”
The restructuring has previously impacted the Faculty of Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, School of Design and Environment, as well as Faculty of Engineering. Tan said that these four faculties are the biggest in NUS, which means two-thirds of students are involved.
According to statistics released by the NUS Registrar’s Office, however, undergraduate students from these four faculties constitute 55% of the NUS undergraduate student population for the Academic Year 2020/2021.
Tan also outlined plans for further restructuring that would affect the rest of NUS. He said: “Next year, the School of Computing will come under this curriculum structure. We only have the Conservatory of Music that we’re still trying to find a way for them to come under this curriculum structure (sic).”
“We want most of our students to do a double major. They can actually choose a second major from a spread of second majors available across the entire NUS.”
“This is one way we are pushing, and the common curriculum ensures that our graduates have a very broad intellectual foundation.”
The New College fits in, he said, because it would allow students from other faculty to access the common curriculum.
Tan also said that he hoped the new changes would allow for a more diverse version of the Yale-NUS common curriculum: “Currently, you have an interdisciplinary curriculum, spanning from humanities to social sciences to sciences. “
“We are hoping that we can inject elements of design, engineering, and other areas, or even business, into it, so it will be more diverse.”
Finances: Yale offered help, but not enough
In a recently-published statement, Yale-NUS’s alumni raised the point that liberal arts colleges need time to grow their endowments and these investments require time to bear fruit. The alumni statement said that the first few batches of the College’s alumni have barely hit the age of 30, and are not yet able to make generous donations. The statement also said that in the past few weeks, alumni have proven to be “actively dedicated to maintaining ties with Yale-NUS and ensuring the continued growth of its community.”
In response to the statement, Tan said that it was impossible to raise funds based on the current pace of fundraising. As explained previously by himself and Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, Yale-NUS aimed to raise $300 million for its endowment by 2030 which, with the help of government matching, would amount to an endowment of $1 billion. To date, however, only $87 million has been raised.
Furthermore, Tan explained that the total cost per Singaporean student at Yale-NUS, which includes the government subsidy of $70,000 and the tuition fee of $20,000, is $90,000. In comparison, the fees for each student at CHS is $8,000 with a government subsidy of $22,000, with a total cost per student amounting to $30,000.
“It’s three times the cost. Three times the cost is actually tremendously difficult to match, to sort of bridge,” Tan explained. “It’s not just the endowment that you have to bridge; it is the number of faculty you have to bridge and the number of admin staff that you need to trim.”
“It’s not so straightforward to raise money, not in Singapore,” he continued. “It is easy for Yale to raise a billion dollars a year, because they do have a very conducive culture in the States for fundraising.”
“In Singapore, fundraising is still very nascent. It takes time, and it takes a lot of cultivation. NUS has been working hard on this, but when you look at the scheme of things, it is actually very challenging to try to raise that. And the thing that begs an important and urgent response is: Who is going to fill in the gap?”
While Tan did “raise the [financial] issue to Yale,” who offered to help, the assistance was not sufficient to close the gap.
He said: “To be frank, at some stage, Yale actually volunteered that they could try to help us in fundraising, but the thing is that the gap is really too big for us to bridge. The key thing is that even if realize, you still have a big gap (sic).”
During the live Q&A session, a student highlighted that, given that Yale-NUS failed to meet the endowment target that was planned from the beginning, there seemed to be a “misprojection and miscalculation” of financial targets and estimates.
When the student asked who should be held accountable for this misprojection, Tan replied: “I would say it’s a model that we embarked on. And it’s unfortunate that the model didn’t work.”
“If you want to say, ‘whose fault?’, you can say that perhaps it’s also partly NUS and partly Yale-NUS for being unable to raise the funds. And we tried. We managed to raise less than $90 million. And like I said, it’s not that NUS is not used to fundraising. NUS has to raise $150 million every year to make sure that our budget is sustainable. And I think we’ve been quite lucky that NUS managed to raise that.”
“But it’s just that it’s harder to impress donors on the concept of a liberal arts college.”
Tan’s comments followed Minister Chan’s statement in parliament that Yale-NUS failed to meet the endowment target “through no fault of its own.”
Tan explained that changing Yale-NUS, an autonomous liberal arts college with its own faculty, majors, and modules into an honors college will mean greater financial sustainability due to the reduced cost. The New College would only have to focus on some parts of student academic experience.
“The majors are planned in their respective faculties,” Tan said. “The New College is responsible for the common curriculum, which is about one-third of the module exposure for students. Certainly, I think the cost is manageable. “
Alternatives considered, but not feasible
Tan reiterated that many other alternatives were considered to support Yale-NUS’s financial sustainability.
However, he said that when MOE’s “premium funding” to Yale-NUS ends in 2022, the deficit would be too large to close.
“You really need many iterations of increasing enrollment, cutting financial aid, and increasing class sizes to be able to bring [the deficit] down,” Tan said. “We’ve studied a lot of options, and there’s no viable option but merging or integrating [Yale-NUS] into the university framework,” Tan said.
Tan added that the possibility of increasing the enrollment to 1500 or 2000 had been raised by Roberts. However, Tan said this was not possible because the existing campus could not accommodate the increased intake.
Previously, Yale-NUS leadership also acknowledged that the fundraising had not been sufficient, which had led the College to retract its need-blind admission policy for international applicants this year.
In an email to The Octant on Sept. 20, Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS, explained that the change in the college’s admission policy to need-aware for the international applicants in this year’s admission cycle was part of their efforts towards financial sustainability. There had also been increased fundraising and engagement efforts with parents to support the college, but these efforts alone “would not have sufficed.”
Prof. Tan Tai Yong added: “Other options such as further budget cuts, reducing the residential tenure for students and/or scaling Yale-NUS’ cohort size up to a larger and more sustainable intake of about 500 students per annum (similar to other US Liberal Arts College programmes) were also presented to the Yale-NUS Governing Board as options to make the College more financially sustainable.”
This is part one of The Octant’s three-part coverage of the students’ town hall with NUS President Tan Eng Chye on Sept. 28. Part two, which addresses the transition from Yale-NUS to the New College, can be found here. Part three, which addresses the live Q&A section where Prof. Tan dismissed and challenged students’ concerns, can be found here. Follow our Telegram channel and Instagram page for the latest updates.
It has become a cliché universally tired of that the New College seeks to combine the best of its parts. A recent spate of high-profile statements has echoed this claim, from NUS President Tan Eng Chye’s full-page op-ed to Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing’s Parliament speech on Monday. Unfortunately, this is a lofty claim that comes with mountainous challenges that the New College may—or may not—overcome.
The Mirage of Inclusivity
Let’s start with the basics. Inclusivity has been claimed as an essential reason for the “merger” (the de facto closure of Yale-NUS), with Minister Chan Chun Sing and Prof Tan Eng Chye both promising and reiterating a more “inclusive, accessible, and affordable” New College, and “broaden[ing] access to interdisciplinary education” conspicuously displayed in all three statements.
There are two ways to assess accessibility: the total number of students admitted and the opportunities for financially disadvantaged students to attend.
Unfortunately, the first metric falls apart at first glance. The New College is planned to matriculate 500 students per year, and even less for the first year. Yale-NUS’s target cohort size is about 250, and USP between 220 and 240. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the problem.
But perhaps the New College is inclusive because it enables more underprivileged students to attend? To assess this, let us consider the existing policies. The current Yale-NUS financial aid policy pledges to meet all demonstrated financial need for all admitted students, Singaporean or not. This has its fair share of problems, such as the controversial “student effort contribution” and sometimes inconsistent aid packages. But it still represents a commitment to reduce fees to whatever (they think) a student can afford, with no strings attached.
In contrast, NUS’s financial aid package comprises a patchwork of schemes that tend to rely on repayable loans, have stricter income requirements, and crucially do not promise to cover full need. By NUS’s calculator, a Singaporean “relatively needy student” in the College of Humanities and Sciences can expect to pay $5,515 upfront including residential fees, and more importantly take out $8,200 in loans per year—a considerable sum the student must eventually repay. As a result, underlying the apparently exorbitant fees is the fact that, for those on financial aid, Yale-NUS can actually be more affordable than NUS.
The New College must therefore do better to honor its promise of inclusivity. The problem is that New College does not administer its own major programs, and home faculty fees are charged outside of its control. Indeed, the USP FAQs suggest a student will pay tuition to their home faculty and no additional New College fees, except for a hostel fee. Bound by its nature, even if it fully covers residential fees—current residential colleges do not—faculty fees will likely fall under the jurisdiction of the NUS Office of Financial Aid with its more stringent requirements, unless those are changed university-wide.
Without these changes, even if the New College does subsidize these fees for students, it will have to face questions as to why other home faculty students, enrolled in the exact same course but without the enrichment of the New College, should be subject to a different policy.
And that’s not mentioning international students on financial aid. Our clearest indication yet comes from the op-ed, where Tan describes how “its funding model will be more closely aligned with… our philosophy of providing support for financially disadvantaged Singaporean students.” The conspicuous exclusion of international students from this statement damages his claim that “The New College will be more sustainable, inclusive and accessible to all potential NUS students,” and undermines Chan’s hopes for students to be “more global in orientation and exposure.”
Tan Eng Chye has expressed particular interest in setting up a Common Curriculum. He writes that the New College “will provide a broad-based, interdisciplinary common curriculum to allow students access to many more disciplines – science, engineering, design, law and computing, in addition to the humanities, social sciences and sciences.”
It is clear NUS’s broad vision centers around providing a greater variety of compulsory course offerings. However, this is problematic because NUS home faculties encourage early specialization. Students are able (and sometimes required) to select a course of study at matriculation. The exposure to new areas of study provided by an assortment of compulsory courses before major choice—an important benefit of a common core—is then nullified, and “access to many more disciplines” risks becoming a hindrance.
Other goals of a common curriculum also hang in the balance. Arguably the most important among them is to cultivate wider, intangible awarenesses in addition to subject-specific competence. The Yale-NUS Common Curriculum Review, for example, notes how it helps students develop “intellectual curiosity” and “ability to sit with ambiguity” among a wide gamut of “capacities and broader awarenesses,” and emphasises “the need to coordinate across courses to enhance learning objectives.” While somecolleges adopt an open curriculum that they believe best promotes student engagement, in a curriculum of compulsory courses, how every course can connect with one another to achieve something greater must be carefully considered.
Unfortunately, devising a curriculum that achieves both subject-specific skill and broader qualities takes scrupulous consideration and therefore time. It cannot be achieved by simply piling more courses onto the catalog. The Yale-NUS Common Curriculum took years to plan and continues to be refined, while the USP’s progenitors started as early as 1996, four years before USP was launched.
Tan claimed the New College would take less time because they already have all the faculty they need from Yale-NUS, USP, and the wider NUS, but that ignores the fact that most existing faculty must also handle full-time teaching and research duties. Unless these duties are abandoned, it is unlikely faculty can offer nearly the same time and commitment to the New College as Yale-NUS’s founding faculty did before 2013, even if more can be deployed. Yale-NUS’s Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) Joanne Roberts also clarified at the parents’ town hall that Yale-NUS faculty with full-time teaching duties would not be expected to contribute to the planning process, directly contradicting Tan’s claim.
Besides, the task they face is also different. Curriculum developers for the New College only have a few short months before the application season to design at least an outline of the curriculum. In these months, they face the onerous task of integrating “the best of” the 22 common core courses in total offered by Yale-NUS and USP, in addition to the “new STEM elements” Tan so favored, into one curriculum that students can comfortably juggle with home faculty requirements while ensuring the curriculum achieves overarching objectives. Is fitting pieces from different puzzles into one picture—while racing against the clock—really so much easier than designing one from scratch?
The key to a liberal arts education also lies in an immersive residential experience, close faculty engagement, and more, as has been so eloquently explored elsewhere. Unfortunately, the new information presented does not present a promising image for what the New College can accomplish. It does not suggest that the New College will represent an enhancement from either existing offering, let alone compensate for the loss of Singapore’s only liberal arts college.
Chan promised a step-up from the USP’s current two-year residential program. However, any residential ambition is necessarily pitched against the infrastructural capacity of the New College compound: around 1,600 beds will eventually be made available to New College students. Assuming an intake of 500 students a year and inevitable vacancies, each student can expect around three years of campus housing.
But arithmetics here ignore some crucial details. The total population of the New College will surpass that of YNC and USP each by about 1,000, so they will necessarily be spread across six or seven residential towers of varying sizes. This is not to mention students will have fewer formal opportunities for interaction, restricted to Common Curriculum classes and (only possibly) student organizations. The impersonal scale and magnified distances of the College will then counteract efforts to replicate and enhance the close-knit communities at existing programs, potentially negating the extra one year (or less) of residential life the “merger” promises.
Chan also claimed the New College would “increase accessibility” to small-group teaching in YNC by opening such seminars to students from all faculties, and diversifying major options for students studying the common curriculum. It is unclear how this is not already achieved by the USP’s small group teaching practices, but the assertion also elides the reduction of options by the “merger”.
Before the “merger”, a prospective student could choose from a wider range of majors by enrolling in the CHS, or personalized instruction in the 14 majors of YNC. However, since all majors in the New College will be hosted by NUS faculties, the “merger” essentially eliminates that choice and forces everyone into the former, when the in-depth study into a major is precisely where, for those who need it, individualized learning is the most important.
A university experience is defined as much by its ability to engage students as its ability to protect them. Over time, the residential communities of YNC and USP have both developed policies tailored to their students’ needs, often after hard-won battles with administrators as the petition argues.
The hard-won gains of students in either institution can be easily lost. The integration of the colleges will mean their consolidation under NUS control, and college-specific policies can be replaced by wider NUS policies whose inadequacies they were meant to supplement in the first place. Yale-NUS, for example, has developed an arguably more sensitive approach to supporting survivors of sexual aggression that informed NUS processes in the past, as well as comprehensive measures to support queer students on campus.
While these student protections should never be exclusive to small communities, the fear is that NUS is uninterested in extending these protections and may simply eliminate, rather than adopt, them as it absorbs these communities. Indeed, all major speeches by relevant decision-makers have ignored these issues entirely. When Yale-NUS’ Dean of Students Dave Stanfield was asked on these policies’ longevity specifically, he could only give his personal commitment to “try to introduce some” of them. That reassures no one.
Minimum Benefits, Maximum Costs
Weighing benefits against costs is the essential part of any decision-making process, and this is no exception. No matter what motivations for the closure there were—financial sustainability, strengthening inclusivity, or else—a participatory, transparent process could have examined possible alternatives to determine the most favorable option from all stakeholders’ points of view.
Unfortunately, NUS, through a top-down process of non-consultation, is determined to pursue a path with minimal reward and maximal cost. As I have shown above, the New College faces arduous and numerous challenges that must be overcome within a compressed timeline to even stand a chance of improving from its predecessors. It bears hefty hopes, but is unlikely to accomplish them without disproportionate efforts that NUS has shown no plans for.
The damage the closure has caused is astronomical. Not only has NUS dealt horrendous blows to the lives of students and faculty alike, but it must also grapple with the reputational self-destruction its decision has inflicted, in Singapore and on the worldstage. If that is not enough, it has become responsible for the erasure of two distinctive, established, and internationally competitive programs from Singapore’s education landscape, with nothing to replace them except a scarcely planned and potentially compromised New College.
This “merger” is not inevitable. It is a human decision, and they made it. The question is— should they have?
Correction: A previous version of the article stated that the total population of the New College would surpass that of YNC and USP, combined, by 1,000. In fact, the population of the New College surpasses that of YNC and USP each by 1,000. We have since made the clarifications in the article.
Story | Ryan Yeo (he/him), Managing Editor Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)
On Sept. 26, alumni from Yale-NUS College released a statement responding to NUS’s decision to close down Yale-NUS. In an email addressed to several media outlets, the alumni said that the statement was presented in solidarity with the #NoMoreTopDown petition by NUS and Yale-NUS students, as well as various statements released by students, parents, and faculty members of Yale-NUS.
Signed by 522 alumni from the Classes of 2017 to 2021 at press time, including 190 of them who signed anonymously, the statement highlighted the unique value proposition of a Liberal Arts College (LAC) education offered at Yale-NUS and questioned the reasons behind the closures of Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP).
The value of Yale-NUS: a “different and unique educational option”
In the statement, the alumni noted that the closure of Yale-NUS and USP puts an end to two “great and unique programs.” USP offers a program where students take interdisciplinary USP modules on top of classes in their specific faculty at NUS. The program suits students who want to primarily explore their major in depth, with an interdisciplinary foundation and residential living, the statement says.
Meanwhile, Yale-NUS offers a core curriculum designed to feed directly into majors and minors taken within Yale-NUS, alongside a full four-year residential program, small class sizes, a dedicated set of faculty, and a singular focus on undergraduate education.
The alumni noted that there is a “high and growing demand” for a LAC education in Singapore and Asia. According to the alumni, Yale-NUS graduates are contributing across many spheres in Singapore and across a wide variety of organizations, including in multinational corporations, the public service, banks, big tech, startups, research organizations, the arts, and civil society.
The statement also pointed out that Yale-NUS graduates also had higher starting salaries compared to the national average, and a faster median salary growth rate compared to other universities, in the last four years.
“Yale-NUS’s development has surpassed reasonable expectations for any developed institution, much less one less than a decade old,” the statement read.
“Without a LAC in Singapore, access to a LAC education will be challenging, in particular for lower-income Singaporean students,” the statement continued. The statement pointed out that comparable institutions that offer a LAC education overseas may cost the Singaporean student four times as much as Yale-NUS.
“Additionally, those who do go overseas may not return, thereby exacerbating the brain drain in Singapore,” the statement said. “These are known considerations that MOE highlighted in its 2008 report.”
A premature decision: “Destroying crops before they are ready to harvest”
The alumni statement then questioned the decision to close down Yale-NUS College, given the unique value proposition of a LAC education that the college provides.
The statement read: “If Yale-NUS is a ‘great success,’ as NUS President Tan Eng Chye wrote, it remains unclear why NUS senior management did not simply continue Yale-NUS, without the Yale name, and adjust the institution as necessary.”
The statement also questioned the financial explanation behind the closure of the college, arguing that most liberal arts colleges take “decades” to build strong alumni networks, which contribute to the endowment funding. Top liberal arts colleges in the United States took more than 200 years to build an endowment of more than US$1 billion, the statement said.
“For Yale-NUS to be shut down pre-emptively when most of its first batch of graduates have barely hit the age of 30 is equivalent to destroying crops before they are ready to harvest,” the statement said. “As the last few weeks have shown, our growing alumni network is actively dedicated to maintaining ties with Yale-NUS and ensuring the continued growth of the community.”
“There has also been insufficient information about the projected annual savings from the proposed merger to justify the closure of Yale-NUS.”
The statement then said that the “high-handed” manner in which the decision was made was indicative of an “administrative environment that is hostile to collaboration, growth, and stability across Singapore’s higher education sector.”
The statement continued: “It signals that senior administrators of Singapore’s institutions for higher education are not and may not be willing to provide the stable and collaborative environment that is essential for students, alumni, staff, and faculty to pursue their studies and build their careers.”
Gratitude and Support
The alumni concluded their statement by reaffirming their support for the Yale-NUS community and taking stock of what would be lost with the school’s closure.
The alumni said they were “forever thankful” for the efforts to build up the college by Yale-NUS’s current and former faculty and staff. They also pledged to continue to support current students, and to continue to use their education “productively and passionately, both for [their] own flourishing and in the service of others.”
The statement said: “The loss of Yale-NUS represents the loss of yet another diverse community in Singapore; one where students of varied socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and educational backgrounds lived, studied, and learnt together. More than a decade’s worth of hard work by students, alumni, parents, educators, and staff, not to mention the significant public monies invested, will be lost.”
Xie Yihao, an alumnus from the Class of 2017, said: “It has been almost a month since the announcement and we still don’t have any clear answers, even honest attempts from the top NUS leadership to explain the rationale and decision making process.”
“They instead appear to play divide and conquer, and want to wear out our patience. It is disrespectful and disappointing to say the least.”
Story | Siddharth Mohan Roy (he/him), Contributing Reporter Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
All the Week 7 projects this semester, slated to start tomorrow, have been canceled, Beth Uding, Associate Director for Experiential Learning for Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE), announced in an email to the Class of 2025 yesterday. The Week 7 graduation requirement will also be waived for all first-year students.
Uding said the “difficult decision” was made to comply with the heightened Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore announced by the Ministry of Health this Friday (Sept. 24). Taking effect from tomorrow (Sept. 27) until Oct. 24, group sizes for social gathering were cut from five to two. In addition, groups of up to two will be allowed to dine in at regular food and beverage establishments if both diners are fully vaccinated.
Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries (LABs) are faculty-led co-curricular projects designed by CIPE to allow faculty to share their scholarship with first-year students outside of the classroom and create an opportunity for students to explore the curriculum in broader, real-world contexts. Earlier Week 7 programs saw students going to places such as Bali, Switzerland, and India.
Usually held in the first semester of the academic year, CIPE postponed the previous iteration of Week 7 to Semester 2 due to prevailing COVID-19 restrictions in the first semester.
According to CIPE, the new restrictions made it unfeasible to continue with their original Week 7 plans. They had considered alternatives, but did not have enough time to rework the projects to transition to a classroom or virtual setting, given the timing of the announcement.
Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students, told The Octant that Yale-NUS’s official vaccination rate is at 80%. The actual rate is likely to be higher, he said, because some fully vaccinated students who were vaccinated overseas have not uploaded their vaccination certificates into uNivUS.
In a separate email sent exactly a month ago (August 25) to international students from the Class of 2025 who were studying virtually, CIPE announced that students who were unable to enter Singapore to participate in Week 7 programs would also receive a waiver for the Week 7 graduation requirement.
On August 30, in response to queries on whether Week 7 projects could be postponed instead of canceled, CIPE explained in another email to e-learners from the Class of 2025 that the uncertainty surrounding the New College meant that a postponement to the next academic year “[did] not make sense,” and that a waiver was the best solution at the time. Uding did not mention the possibility of postponing the program to the next semester.
Several students on campus expressed their frustrations toward the cancellation.
Koh Hekang ‘25was disappointed by the cancellation of Week 7 projects. “It’s bad timing and pure bad luck,” he lamented. “I really hope that we can still get to do our Week 7 in Semester 2. Hopefully by then, the international students who weren’t able to fly to Singapore will be able to join us, and we’d all be able to experience Week 7 together.”
Daniel Thomas ’25 said while he understood that the College has to comply with the existing regulations, his “real disappointment comes with the government outside.”
Theo Young, a freshman from Canada, had been looking forward to learning more about Singaporean society through Week 7. He said: “I feel cheated out of the true Yale-NUS experience yet again. First with COVID restrictions, then the merger, and now the Week 7 cancellation. I am sad to say that my college experience has not been fully what I dreamed it to be yet.”
“However,” he added, “I think that ‘yet’ is important. These challenges that we have been facing are only setbacks, not earthquakes. Making this year great is still very much possible, and I look forward to playing as big a part in doing that for others as much as I can.”
Story | Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editor Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)
Two Covid-19 cases have been confirmed on campus. Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students announced the first in an email to students on the morning of Sept. 26. The following day, Stanfield confirmed another case. The second case, he explained, was a suitemate of the first. These are the college’s second and third cases on campus respectively since the start of the pandemic, after a Covid case was discovered in late April.
The first student, an Elm College resident, is symptomatic and stayed at the college during recess week, Dr. Stanfield explained in his email. It is expected that they will be transferred to a medical facility soon, though exactly when is unknown. The case’s close contacts were contacted, and likely received a government-mandated Quarantine Order, which lasts for 10 days after the latest interaction with the infected person.
Under an NUS-wide policy, Yale-NUS students and NUS students residing on campus who are vaccinated were previously expected to self-administer antigen rapid tests on a monthly basis. Unvaccinated students were required to administer the tests weekly. The email did not mention the student’s vaccination status.
However, in an email from NUS sent to students on Sept. 30, it was announced that all vaccinated hostel residents will now have to self-test on a weekly basis, with tests to be taken every Sunday. For unvaccinated residents, this requirement will be twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays.
In recent communication with The Octant, Stanfield said that the college’s official vaccination rate was 80%. Despite this, he explained that some students were vaccinated abroad, and have yet to upload their vaccination certificates to uNivUS, NUS’s proprietary student management application. For this reason, Stanfield suspects that the actual rate is slightly higher.
When last year’s case was uncovered in Cendana Tower A, the case’s close contacts were taken to NUS’s Prince George’s Park Residences to serve their government-sanctioned quarantine order. In addition, the entire tower where the student had been residing, Cendana Tower A, was quarantined for a 7-day period to ensure that there had been no linked infections.
In an email to students, Stanfield explained that “The protocols for Covid-19 case management have evolved since our last suspected case several months ago. We do not anticipate needing to place the Elm tower on LOA as of now unless the situation evolves, and the authorities decide otherwise.”
Nevertheless, the locations visited by either of the contacts have been closed since the cases were discovered, awaiting deep cleaning before they can be used. These areas include Elm’s buttery and outdoor seating area, the fitness centre, and the multi-purpose hall.
“In the meantime,” Stanfield wrote, “we urge all students to stay calm, monitor your health closely and be attentive to further updates from the College. Please practice social responsibility and see a doctor immediately if you are unwell to prevent further spread.”
Recently, there has been a significant rise in cases in Singapore, with the country reporting 1,443 cases on Sept. 25. Restrictions are also being tightened, with a return to an in-person dining cap of two vaccinated people effective from Sept. 27, as the government warns cases could more than double to 3,200 per day by next week.
The information in this article was last updated on 30th September.
Story | Michael Sagna (he/him), Managing Editor Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
Last Saturday (Sept. 18), The Octant received an unofficial statement from some members of the Yale-NUS faculty condemning the college’s closure. The 20-page document expresses concern about the college’s closure and the proposed new college, incorporating a two-and-a-half-page list of “[o]utstanding questions” about the merger. The faculty responsible for its writing hope that the paper will serve as an open letter to the Ministry of Education, the NUS Board of Trustees, and Yale-NUS’s own governing board.
The statement was authored through what faculty described as “an informal sharing process,” and is, as a result, only representative of a group of concerned faculty, rather than the college’s faculty in its entirety. Nevertheless, the document represents the first public statement by members of faculty since the announcement of the merger on August 27.
The Value of Yale-NUS College
The piece places an emphasis on the value of Yale-NUS College, situating it as the only liberal arts college in the Singaporean educational landscape.
“Continuing Yale-NUS College,” the faculty write, “would preserve this successful, well-established model for interdisciplinary undergraduate education, enhance the Singaporean tertiary education system, and maintain the range of options for local students with diverse interests and academic trajectories.”
NUS President Tan Eng Chye has written the proposed “New College” will seek to “amplify, not diminish, the Yale-NUS story.”
By outlining the four key characteristics of a liberal arts college (see table 1) the faculty compares the educational offerings of Yale-NUS, NUS’s College of Humanities and Sciences, the University Scholars Programme, and the New College’s proposed model.
In doing so, they argue that Yale-NUS’ offering is unique, meaning that “merging Yale-NUS into a two year Honours College program will eliminate a thriving and home-grown small liberal arts college from the Singaporean higher educational landscape.”
The faculty further cite higher median starting salaries for Yale-NUS graduates relative to their NUS peers as an indicator of the college’s success, while also commenting on the diverse range of fields alumni work in, like social impact, nonprofits, and NGOs, in addition to sectors like the public sector and consulting.
Yale-NUS Bachelor of Arts graduates have a median starting salary of $3,890, as compared to $3,500 for NUS Bachelor of Social Sciences and Bachelor of Arts graduates. This difference is more pronounced in the case of Yale-NUS’s Bachelor of Science graduates, who average $5,350, as compared to NUS Bachelor of Computing graduates at $5,243 and Bachelor of Science graduates at $3,528.
The faculty write: “Yale-NUS graduates earn a high starting salary upon graduation and have a high rate of employment within six months, some at top international firms such as Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Oliver Wyman, and in local companies, and many have joined the Singapore public service…”
Likewise, they list a series of prestigious postgraduate education programs that Yale-NUS students have been admitted to in the college’s short history as a means of demonstrating the college’s educational prowess.
The statement criticizes the lack of consultation in the decision-making process, before expressing confusion that “the leadership of Yale and NUS also offered conflicting explanations.” They reference NUS President Tan’s Straits Times opinion piece which centers on finances, contradicting Yale’s account that financing was not the primary reason for the closure.
Furthermore, the statement directly addresses two objectives for higher education, outlined by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament, namely: 1) That students are “global in their perspective, much more able to apply interdisciplinary approach [sic] to problem solving,” and 2) That the “whole experience in our universities is much more inclusive, much more affordable…”
“Yale-NUS already provides an innovative, outstanding interdisciplinary undergraduate education custom-designed for Singapore with a global perspective by a diverse faculty,” the statement reads.
“Its commitment to financial aid and thoughtful holistic admissions have created an exceptionally diverse student body where a global mindset is fostered through daily interactions in residential life, in its wide range of study abroad opportunities, high profile international visitors, and its ambitious, community-minded alumni all over the world.”
Impact on Students, Community, and Faculty
The statement concludes by outlining the impacts of the closure on three key stakeholders, namely students, community, and faculty.
For the community at large, the statement argues that the decision has “imposed unprecedented emotional and mental burdens on all members of our community.”
Faculty address the impact on the integrity of the Yale-NUS experience on students, writing that “there will be an unprecedented amount of uncertainty about basic aspects of their education.” They also discuss possible professional implications, before arguing that “the years of hard work that our students put into building the College have been rendered meaningless” by the closure.
According to the statement, faculty at the college will also be impacted. Despite NUS promising to honor all contracts, the statement emphasizes the different academic cultures, arguing that “faculty are being moved to an entirely different kind of institution after a decision that came without any stakeholder consultation.”
In addition, faculty write about the uncertainty they face regarding tenure, which, for the 60% of professors at Yale-NUS who are not currently tenured, is a major concern. Tenure will be difficult to achieve for some considering that their departments do not even exist at NUS. For those who do wish to pursue tenure, despite assurances from NUS that the tenure process will remain the same to 2025, faculty worry that they might be evaluated with an eye on future redistribution to NUS departments.
Story | Toh Hong Jin (he/him), Guest Reporter Photo | Toh Hong Jin (he/him) and JW (he/him)
“I found out while sitting on the toilet bowl, then my junior from JC texted me a Mothership article and said, ‘Are you affected by this?’ And halfway through the Mothership article, then I was informed via email,” said K, a deferred matriculant who has less than three months left until the end of his National Service (NS).
The morning of August 27 was a fateful one, not just for current Yale-NUS students, but also for the many deferred matriculants who had already committed themselves to the liberal arts college. Many of the deferred matriculants who spoke with The Octant did not hear about the closure of their prospective college through the 9 AM town hall that Friday.
Reception from the deferred matriculants toward the news was largely negative. Dylan, a deferred matriculant who was originally due to matriculate in 2022 due to NS obligations, summed up his feelings in a single word: “cheated.”
A deferred matriculant who preferred to be known as Shawn remarked: “I’m just quite regretful that I’ll never be able to experience it firsthand.” Shawn had learned of the news amid a busy day serving his NS.
Nicole, a deferred matriculant who had taken a gap year and was originally slated to matriculate in 2022, said: “How do I feel about the ‘merger’? It was extremely disappointing, like very demoralizing, because just in the way that it was delivered to us…? Like the [manner] in which it was revealed to the public, I would say it is somewhat careless.”
Prior to the upsetting revelation, these deferred matriculants were much like anyone would be after they had found out about their acceptance into Yale-NUS—anticipating, imagining, excited, hopeful—even if it would be some time before they could join the community proper. They each had clear reasons for their decision. That conscious decision came with dreams and much planning for the path ahead.
There was a consensus that it was the unique model of a small liberal arts college in Asia that drew them to Yale-NUS, with the top factors being small class sizes, in-house majors (and flexibility of said majors), a unique, interdisciplinary Common Curriculum that insisted on covering material from around the world, a fully residential program, and a highly diverse yet close-knit community.
JW is a deferred matriculant due to complete his NS in January 2022. “I really liked the vibe and campus experience,” he reminisced. JW had attended the college’s “Kingfisher for a Day” program, where students from local pre-university institutions could experience a typical day in the life of a Yale-NUS student. If he had had his way, JW would have majored in history with a minor in philosophy (specifically Asian philosophy) at Yale-NUS.
He further remarked on the potential for deep rapport between faculty and students here, saying, “The professors who teach [you] the Common Curriculum can also see your four-year progress.” Outside of academics, JW expressed his passion for international chess, and was keen to join the ranks of GAMBIT, the Yale-NUS Chess Club.
Axel, a deferred matriculant serving NS, has spent 17 years living and studying in Malaysia. He had originally set his sights on the Global Affairs or Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) major, with a strong desire to pursue the Concurrent Degree Programme and Master’s program pathway with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).
He said: “I was proud to be Singaporean, but still greatly appreciated outside perspectives and structures, and the idea of having the best of both worlds meet in Yale-NUS felt like a dream to me, it felt like I found the place I truly belonged in.”
Shawn, who was involved in community service and football before NS, expressed his excitement for the college community. “I wanted to step outside my comfort zone as I’ve all along been growing up under the Singaporean education system. I felt that by coming to Yale-NUS, I could challenge some long-held normative beliefs and expose myself to more diverse perspectives.”
Many of the deferred matriculants also cited financial reasons for committing to the college. Nicole, an international deferred matriculant who has spent her whole life in Asia, stated that the option of heading to the United States for a liberal arts education would have been “far and very expensive,” and that it was much more affordable to attend Yale-NUS. She was also very fond of the college’s location in Asia.
Arthur, a deferred matriculant serving NS who was interested in the PPE major and Global Antiquity minor, highlighted that the Ministry of Education (MOE) Tuition Fee Loan scheme has allowed many Singaporean students like him to gain unprecedented access to a liberal arts education. Schemes like this often supplement the college’s generous financial aid. The need-blind admission policy for local students also allows lower-income students the same chance of being admitted as full-fee paying students.
The Yale-NUS College and New College Switcheroo
For these deferred matriculants, who had in mind a very specific kind of university experience and who had already committed their futures to Yale-NUS, the “merger” dampened their hopes of ever seeing these dreams come to pass.
“I was able to genuinely look forward to something in NS, and now that feeling of expectance has been taken away,” said Dylan.
Shawn said: “I’ve served my National Service—or am about to finish National Service—and I’ve served with a lot of pride and enthusiasm. But now that I look back on it, you look at it a bit regretfully—you missed an opportunity there because of those two years spent when your batchmates moved on and managed to secure the education experience you had wanted.”
For Axel, the probable loss of the myriad opportunities and experiences offered by Yale-NUS hit hard. “It heartbreakingly crushes all the hard work and aspirations we put behind applying to YNC, and all the joy and ecstasy we got after opening that offer letter.”
JW added: “It feels like you lost a college that you had a best fit for, and you’re not too sure if this New College will be the same level of fit that you had.”
Nicole, who took a gap year to focus on volunteer work and try out new things that had piqued her interest, did not regret her decision because it was always something she had wanted to do before coming to Yale-NUS.
“But if they had thought to tell people who were admitted in 2025 about this decision… I’m just thinking about all the people whom they would have affected, the people who would choose not to go Yale-NUS at all, or [who would have] taken up offers elsewhere, people who made different choices like me… because if they told me this, I know I would have definitely gone [to Yale-NUS] this year, not because it’s worth more than a gap year to me, but just ‘cause there would be no more Yale-NUS to go to,” she added.
Instead, the deferred matriculants are now offered automatic admission into the New College, an imitation of what they were promised, and one that has yet to be concretely conceptualized or structured. It is as though they were expected to believe that the New College could qualify as a replacement for what they had worked (and are still working) towards.
A virtual town hall for the Yale-NUS deferred matriculants was convened on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 4, to provide more information to the deferred matriculants about the kind of education and experience they may expect from the New College and NUS. The Octant understands that a group of deferred matriculants had met the night prior to the town hall and filed a few main questions and concerns in an email to the administration. However, the situation remains shrouded in uncertainty.
“They kept saying they wanted to ‘honor their promises to us’ since we had accepted an offer at Yale-NUS College. The thing about New College is, we still don’t know so much about it,” said Nicole.
“I’m not sure if these promises will be carried over,” said JW. “It’s quite scary that they’re still working on the details.”
Some of the main concerns that deferred matriculants felt insufficiently addressed include academics. Shawn, who had intended to pursue Urban Studies at Yale-NUS, noted that there were attempts to tackle the translatability of such interdisciplinary majors at NUS during the town hall, but they did not seem well thought out. Notably, the administrators present at the town hall had suggested the single-degree program of Real Estate as an alternative to Urban Studies, despite the stark difference between these two fields. He is thus baffled at the prospect of having to now review his academic plans in a mere few months.
Meanwhile, for K, losing the breadth of international experiences was the main cause for concern. He said: “I don’t have any doubts about the academic rigor at NUS and the quality of the teaching. I’m sure it’ll be fine. What’s crucial is that you don’t get to live with 45% international students, and you don’t get to have 12 AM chats with them about the classes you took together.”
“The environment will change. And fundamentally it’s not a liberal arts college anymore, it’s an honors college which maybe took some aspects of Yale-NUS, but definitely not the parts a lot of us hold dear that actually have a lot of tangible, pragmatic value.”
He elaborated that Yale-NUS had been highly accessible for Singaporean students financially, especially for those from a lower-income background. “And I think that’s unique in this boat. Where else are we really making such education so equitable for everyone, so accessible for everyone? That’s what education should be, right?”
K also commented on the reported motivation behind the “merger” decision. “When we talk about expanding the scale, we are really levelling down what was originally there. And I think that’s dangerous. I don’t think that’s what we should be doing in this country.”
Arthur echoed K’s sentiments. “What is the price for this increased scale? Is this actually worth the sacrifice? Are we sacrificing too much for this scale?” he questioned.
The Top-Down Approach
Unsurprisingly, the top-down nature of the “merger” decision was deeply disappointing and troubling for the deferred matriculants. A few of the deferred matriculants also noted that both the NUS President and Yale-NUS President were absent during their town hall meeting, which rubbed salt into an open wound. They feel a certain amount of frustration at how deferred matriculants are being treated differently from current matriculants, even if they do understand that it is inevitable.
JW expressed bitterly, “the town hall wasn’t a consultative process; it was just the YNC and NUS admin relaying decisions that are already made.”
These deferred matriculants will be the inaugural class or the New College if it proceeds as planned, but they feel sidelined and excluded from the very start. “They tried comparing us to the [Yale-NUS] Class of 2017, but there was more consultation [done] in the past. I’m not sure if we will have the same level of influence or say,” JW added.
Shawn lamented: “These decision makers failed to consider those who are left behind because of military service. It feels like there was a lack of consideration for these issues on the ground, when I felt like they should’ve been more empathetic to this situation. We didn’t determine when we would serve NS.”
On the special arrangements made by the administration to honor their promises to Yale-NUS deferred matriculants, K remarked in a resigned tone: “The feeling I got was that they were trying to pacify the students because there’s a certain acknowledgment on their end that what happened wasn’t right. The only reason you’re offering that deal, I would say, is because we know that fundamentally something is wrong here when you change the offer. I mean the admissions letter said, ‘Welcome to the Class of 2026,’ and now—and now that’s gone.”
Nonetheless, the deferred matriculants recognized and appreciated the efforts of the administrators who were present at the town hall, especially those of Professor Roberts and Dean Severin.
“I can understand that they’re doing their best—Laura and Joanne—in understanding our concerns,” said Arthur. “We were quite surprised—pleasantly—that at the start of the town hall, they acknowledged and addressed the queries that we had sent them beforehand. They showed us that they were doing their best to look out for our concerns.”
Axel said: “These could be viewed as being the bare minimum from some, but I guess I’m just glad that we weren’t completely forgotten and tossed aside by NUS.”
“They were very honest that we won’t be able to get the exact YNC experience, but they’ll try,” said Dylan.
A deferred matriculant who wished to remain anonymous added: “The town hall may not have addressed all my concerns as many of the answers were a hope rather than a promise, but it provided me security that there is a team working towards a best possible New College.”
However, the deferred matriculant pointed to the lack of consultation with key personnel such as these admissions officers, and said: “I felt that an extended time before the announcement should minimally be given to them to work on the details of the New College.”
The Road Ahead
The clock ticks on mercilessly in the thick of grief and broken dreams. While there has yet to be an acceptance deadline announced at the time of writing, the offer of automatic admission into New College and a single-degree program of their choice is hovering just above the horizon.
The majority of the deferred matriculants who spoke to The Octant remain in a dilemma. For Nicole, the ideals behind the decision to make a liberal arts education more accessible and inclusive are admirable, but the removal of the legacies that USP and Yale-NUS have built over time makes her doubtful whether she will take up the offer. She said, “You’re entering this kind of institution where decisions like this can happen at a moment’s notice. It makes you cautious.”
“What’s on paper is almost always not necessarily what translates into real life. A community takes time, a sense of belonging—it has to be cultivated,” she added.
Dylan appears more inclined towards rejecting his offer. The “deal breakers,” in his words, are that one could no longer expect to receive the vibrant, international perspective characteristic of Yale-NUS, and that the New College will not be a liberal arts institution anymore. He added: “You can try to replicate the college in structure, but you can’t replace the people, the intangible, and the unique.”
While they understand that they are not in an advantageous position to bargain, a few deferred matriculants are still hoping that they can recover pieces of their dreams and attain some semblance of the experience which they had been promised.
“After the town hall, many of us were talking and we feel like there’s still so much more that Yale-NUS and NUS could do together to find a way to honor their commitment to us, rather than just trying to sell the idea of CHS and the New College to us,” said Shawn. “[But] I’m open to seeing what it can offer to us and whether or not it can suit what we wanted from the Yale-NUS education that we signed up for.”
“Following this merger, those of us to whom the option of an overseas liberal arts education is closed off because of costs do not have that many options left,” said Arthur. “Perhaps [the loss of] an authentic liberal arts education will be the price we have to pay for New College. It remains to be seen which ‘best elements of YNC and USP’ will be retained at the New College, and whether these can actually be retained.”
Axel remarked that it is likely he will end up in the New College. He said: “It is still the closest thing to Yale-NUS that Singapore has to offer, even if it’s a far, far cry from what it’s replacing. I don’t have the luxury of affording similar liberal arts institutions overseas, and honestly the Yale-NUS application process and journey was both physically and emotionally draining for me, and I don’t want to go through that again with another university.”
Speaking about the special academic arrangements made for the deferred matriculants, Axel also hopes that NUS could continue offering the special Concurrent Degree Programme and Master’s program pathway with the LKYSPP in some form.
K, who fears that the New College will be “a step backwards” for the education landscape in Singapore, nevertheless hopes that it will provide more autonomy and breathing room to different groups to organize their activities. He also hopes that the New College can somehow offer an international exposure that is truly built into the system (and not just as a side activity), so that they can develop a more outward view and a more global perspective.
In terms of administration and teaching, K said, “I hope that there can be a culture of open communication. I hope that we’ll be given the tools to reach our own conclusions rather than having answers prescribed to us, and we can challenge each other’s conclusions, and really learn from them.”
Still, JW feels that the New College may not necessarily turn out badly. “The more say students have in their education experience, the better the experience will be,” he said.
Story | Toh Hong Jin (he/him), Guest Reporter Photo | Darren Ang (he/him)
A virtual town hall for Yale-NUS College deferred matriculants was convened on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 4, to provide them with more information about the New College and how the recent “merger” between Yale-NUS and the University Scholars Programme (USP) affects them.
The town hall was hosted by Joanne Roberts, Yale-NUS Executive Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Laura Severin, Yale-NUS Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Kang Hway Chuan, Director of the University Scholars Programme, and Goh Say Song, Dean of Admissions at NUS.
The panel clarified that on top of automatic admission into the New College, deferred matriculants may now choose single-degree programs from all NUS faculties except Medicine, Dentistry, Law, and Music. A few programs, namely Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Industrial Design, and Nursing, will require a further test or interview for entry.
Deferred matriculants who had been accepted for the Double Degree Programme (DDP) in Law and Liberal Arts were offered three additional options for consideration: admission into the NUS Law single-degree program, admission into other existing NUS DDPs with Law such as Business Administration and Law, or the deferred matriculant can propose other combinations of DDP with Law (subject to feasibility), which is usually not allowed for NUS students.
The options received mixed responses from deferred matriculants. A deferred matriculant who preferred to be identified as Shawn said: “My preference was to take Urban Studies as my major, and I was quite set on taking it and throughout my NS I researched more about it. But with this offer, there is no more of this. There isn’t Urban Studies available anymore.”
During the town hall’s Q&A, participants questioned whether interdisciplinary majors from Yale-NUS like Urban Studies could still be pursued in NUS. Shawn elaborated, “The NUS administrator that answered, I think he has good intentions at heart. But it felt like they didn’t spare any concern for the loss of these specific majors in YNC when they transferred us immediately, as they suggested Real Estate as an alternative to Urban Studies even though they’re very different subjects.”
Meanwhile, JW, a deferred matriculant who had wished to major in History at Yale-NUS, remarked: “NUS History is quite strong. And I can say this because I know many of my teachers were from there, so I’m not that worried about the academic rigor.”
In terms of residential life, the panel revealed that deferred matriculants will be granted a full four-year residency at the New College, an exception from the limited two-year residency guaranteed for other future students.
Arthur, a deferred matriculant originally due to matriculate in 2022, felt that the town hall did address some of the concerns about whether deferred matriculants could attain an experience close to that of Yale-NUS, which was what they had all signed up for. “But I think some of us hope that they could go a bit further, for example in allowing us to stay at one of Yale-NUS’s residential colleges of our choosing, because this was what we were envisioning,” he said.
Tuition fees will be charged according to the deferred matriculants’ degree program of choice. Meanwhile, fees for room and board at the New College have not been determined, though they are projected to be somewhere between $7,000 and $9,050, the amounts currently charged by USP and Yale-NUS respectively.
Deferred matriculants who had previously been assessed for financial aid by the Yale-NUS Admissions and Financial Aid Team will have to reapply for financial aid from NUS. The Team will follow up with separate, more individualized consultation sessions for these deferred matriculants on financial aid matters. They may also apply for NUS scholarships from February 2022.
The above arrangements were made by the Yale-NUS administration to honor their promises to the Yale-NUS deferred matriculants. Should they accept the offer, deferred matriculants will graduate with an NUS degree from their respective faculties and a certificate from the New College.
The Admissions and Financial Aid Team will be sharing more information with deferred matriculants in the coming weeks.
At the August 27 town hall where it was announced that Yale-NUS College would be closing, Madam Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, Chair of the Yale-NUS Governing Board, declared that life at Yale-NUS would be “business as usual” going forward. In the wake of the grief and anger following the announcement, students and staff alike couldn’t fathom how this would be.
Apart from canceled classes on the 27th, school did resume. This article reflects on how the members of the Yale-NUS community dealt with this.
A safe, reflective space
Suffice to say, academic life at Yale-NUS was not business as usual for the most part in the week after the announcement. Many class loads were reduced, students took time off lessons, and some professors spent lessons reflecting on the announcement rather than pressing on with academic content.
That Monday, May-yi Shaw, Assistant Dean of Cendana College, emailed students to say that while many professors still hoped to hold their classes as usual, they would also treat it as a “safe and reflective space” to “talk and process things together.”
Max Pasakorn ‘24 was grateful that this was the case in some of his classes. “Thankfully, some professors gave us the space and time to process our thoughts and emotions. They spoke to us about how they felt about the college, and about our futures.”
The Octant also spoke to four students who missed classes to recuperate from the impact of the news. They affirmed that they were able to take time off without being penalized, either by receiving AD notes or speaking to professors directly.
Several classes also reduced or modified the curriculum to support students, particularly for Common Curriculum classes. The Scientific Inquiry teaching team reduced homework and readings for sophomores by half for two weeks after the announcement, while the Comparative Social Inquiry teaching team removed one topic from the syllabus to reduce first-year students’ academic load.
However, some professors pushed on with classes, shifting content that was meant to be covered on Friday’s canceled classes to the next lesson. To some, this provided stability but also posed a significant challenge. “I was thankful to my prof for pressing on with the lesson because it gave me some semblance of normalcy. But it was also very difficult to move on,” said Eileen Chua ‘24.
In the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts (DDP), on the other hand, students did not experience reduced workloads. A DDP student from the class of 2024 who requested to remain anonymous said: “Law school isn’t as forgiving as Yale-NUS. When the news broke, we asked our professor for an extension of the assignment which was due the next day, but unfortunately, they couldn’t grant it to us.”
“The sky is falling and I’m expected to do readings”
For many, Friday’s announcement was a profoundly destabilizing one, triggering such intense emotions of anxiety, anger, and grief that returning to academic studies felt impossible. Dain Kim ’24 said: “I mean, the sky is falling, and I’m expected to do readings and go to class like the sky is still there? I don’t know how to describe it other than everything being overwhelming and impossible.”
Benjamin Goh ’22 further described the impossibility of returning to normal life after the town hall, saying: “Our lives were upended in an hour and I was told my alma mater would basically disappear in the span of four years. Yet, I had to do my readings. I had to do my assignments. I really couldn’t summon the strength to do anything or to read anything.”
Shaw echoed the despair faced by students in the wake of the announcement. In an email to The Octant, she reflected on students’ reactions to a water play event organized by Cendana College on September 1, writing: “Those who participated seemed to have so much fun that I bet to any outside visitor, it would have appeared as if life had gone on as usual … But the reality is, the facade of our students coming together to talk, play, hold events, or initiate projects together in such spontaneous and creative ways over this past week perhaps reflects a deep layer of despair and sense of powerlessness, as they didn’t know what else they could do to mend the hurt.”
She continued: “The angrier they [were] at this feeling of having their own agency stripped away, the more they resorted to temporary outlets, such as in the form of the water play. To me, it was far from being a moment of fun; it was perhaps more of a chilling moment of catharsis (and a sad, agonizing one), regardless of how it appeared to be.”
Post-announcement, students have struggled with finding the motivation to continue with academic work. An international student studying remotely, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “Staying motivated is already hard enough when you are remote.” After the announcement, they felt no motivation to go to class.
More severely, a growing sense of the pointlessness of following the academic program was echoed by some students.
Odette Yiu ‘24 said: “Learning determined and allocated by an institution whose rules, schedule and fancies you need to abide by feels pointless indeed. Any previous sense I had of academic overwork being arbitrary has now been validated.”
Kim further said: “If normal ever meant anything, it meant nothing now… my old schedule and classes seemed nothing more than a farce”.
This deeper sense of alienation and meaninglessness impaired students from being able to engage in school activities the week of the announcement and could impact the mood of the school going forward. It remains to be seen, though, whether such sentiments will last and if they will spur any changes in the school.
Amidst the pain, many have found hope in advocacy against the merger. In the week following the announcement, T-shirts bearing the “I made it, thanks.” slogan were printed in solidarity, referencing the comments made by Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS, on the decision to close Yale-NUS. A website memorializing community reactions to the merger was also launched, while the #NoMoreTopDown petition calling for greater accountability from NUS garnered over 14,500 signatures at press time. These efforts have brought genuine hope to students that the merger will be reversed.
Many students shared that they did not consider the decision final and felt that it was time to fight, not grieve. As Yiu put it, rather than “mourn as if things are absolutely final, I choose to be angry.” They continued: “The #NoMoreTopDown [movement] has brought me a lot of hope.”
Chloe Ang ’24 expressed gratitude for the various solidarity efforts. They reflected that in Singapore, many are socialized to believe that if higher-ups make decisions, you simply have to follow. “This is the first place I found I could mobilize and demand more,” they said.
You’re hurting, I’m hurting; how can I support you?
Many have also found solace in solidarity with the community. Through the shared experience of pain, there has been an outpouring of mutual support and stronger unity within the school. Many members of the Yale-NUS community shared that strangers, students, friends, and faculty alike checked in on each other regularly and offered support.
Petrina Loh, Senior Manager of the Student Affairs Office, shared: “When I walked around campus, so many students stopped to ask me how I was doing… So many students whom I know are in pain were also the ones checking in, which is so beautiful. It’s such a reflection of our community… I got so many emails from alumni and current students asking: ‘How are you doing? I know how much effort you put into the school. You’re hurting, I’m hurting; how can I support you?’ It’s just really beautiful.”
This sense of community was also displayed and furthered by how student organizations and even individual students organized events that promoted the school spirit of their own accord. On the day of the announcement, a durian festival was held by the Yale-NUS Southeast Asian Society. In the next few weeks, other ground-up initiatives such as the Visual Arts Society’s urban sketching and art therapy sessions emerged. Residential Colleges also organized solidarity events, with Elm and Cendana holding a candlelight ceremony, Cendana holding a water play event, and Saga holding a solidarity picnic.
Daniel Lee ‘24, President of the Southeast Asian Society, reflected on their decision to go ahead with the durian festival the day of the announcement. “We could have canceled the event, but the prevailing thought in my mind was that this was the time to show what the Yale-NUS community is all about.”
Story | Daniel Ng & Daryl Yang (he/him), Guest Writers Photo | Joshua Vargas (he/him)
In our previous article, we discussed whether the Yale-NUS experiment succeeded as a liberal arts college in Singapore and the importance of equal participation of students. Since our article, this principle of equal participation was echoed by a journalist, who noted that it is “this aspect of community building that stands out for [her] when it comes to Yale-NUS College.” NUS President Tan Eng Chye also affirmed that he “consider[s] Yale-NUS a great success” in The Straits Times while Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing observed in Parliament that Yale-NUS is “seen as a paragon of academic freedom” despite doubts about a liberal arts college in Singapore at its inception.
In this piece, we address Chan’s claim that the academic freedoms enjoyed at Yale-NUS “were created by taking reference from NUS’ practices, and that these practices have remained unchanged since then.” This claim may not be entirely accurate and may have to do with Chan’s narrow definition of academic freedom as referring only to research and classroom teaching. We first trace how Yale-NUS became what Chan calls the “paragon of academic freedom in Singapore” and how it conceived of academic freedom more broadly as also comprising learning outside the classroom as well as student life. We then make three recommendations on how the New College can continue to be a paragon of academic freedom and free inquiry which will allow the liberal arts to thrive.
How did Yale-NUS become a Paragon of Academic Freedom?
Since the college’s inception, skeptics of its pedagogical experiment in Singapore have questioned whether a liberal arts college can survive and thrive in a country where the freedoms of speech and assembly are limited. For instance, the American Association of University Professors charged that “one needs to give serious consideration to whether academic freedom, and the personal freedoms that are a necessary prerequisite to its exercise, can in fact be sustained on a campus within what is a substantially authoritarian regime.”
However, as Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing noted during the recent September 2021 parliamentary sitting: “Few believed [10 years ago] that Yale-NUS would live up to its ambition… It is perhaps ironic and a testimony to National University of Singapore (NUS) and Yale-NUS’ efforts all these years, that Yale-NUS is now seen as a paragon of academic freedom in Singapore.”
In his parliamentary speech, Chan claimed that Yale-NUS’s policies on academic freedom were created by taking reference from NUS’s practices. However, it is not clear what these NUS practices are. As Sina Westa observed, the phrase “academic freedom” is not mentioned anywhere in NUS’s statutes or regulations. In Westa’s words, “academic freedom is [not] a talked about issue in Singapore [or] in the National University of Singapore.”
Notably, in 1986, when Member of Parliament J.B. Jeyaretnam asked about the Government’s policy towards academic freedom, then Minister for Education Tony Tan did not explicitly address the concept except to say that NUS “expects its academic staff to ensure that what they publish is carefully researched, accurate and of high academic standard.” He also noted that “when staff members, especially expatriates, express opinions on areas likely to generate domestic political controversy, they do so on their own personal behalf and not that of the department or faculty they teach in.”
Chan’s assertion also runs contrary to the former Yale University President Richard C. Levin’s Presidential Statement in 2012 where he noted that Yale had entered the partnership to set up Yale-NUS “in full awareness that national laws concerning freedom of expression would place constraints on the civic and political behavior of students and faculty.” In this context, he explained, “[w]e negotiated language protecting academic freedom and open inquiry on the Yale-NUS campus, as well as the freedom to publish the results of scholarly inquiry in the academic literature” (emphasis added).
The language that Levin was referring to is enshrined in Yale-NUS’s policies on academic freedom and non-discrimination. In addition, the Faculty Statement on the Freedom of Expression states that the college is “firmly committed to the free expression of ideas in all forms—a central tenet of liberal arts education. There are no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated. This principle is a cornerstone of our institution.”
This explicit affirmation of academic freedom at Yale-NUS allowed students to explore their academic interests not only in the classroom but also outside of it through talks, workshops, and student activities which allow them to explore their academic interests not just through reading and research but also through community engagement. Immediately after the inaugural class was formed, students came together to set up the first LGBTQ+ student group in Singapore, The G Spot, to examine issues around gender and sexuality. In 2015, the now defunct Yale-NUS International Relations and Political Association (YIRPA) organized the Policies Not Platitudes forum and invited representatives from nine political parties running in the 2015 General Elections to speak and debate on their parties’ policy proposals. Subsequently, a group of Yale-NUS students founded the Community for Advocacy & Political Education (CAPE) in 2017 together with some NUS students to increase political literacy among young Singaporeans. Since then, Yale-NUS students have gone on to help organize the Singapore Climate Rally and contribute to legislative debates on the controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods & Manipulation Act as well as public discourse on important issues through publications such as Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene, which presents alternative viewpoints for thinking about Singapore’s developmental story.
Of course, there were instances where the contours of academic freedom and free inquiry at Yale-NUS came into question. After all, academic freedom is not synonymous with free speech and does not exempt the Yale-NUS campus or community from Singapore law. As an experiment looking to adapt Yale’s liberal arts model to Singapore and Asia, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested, these episodes are to be expected—and even embraced as part of the experiment.
Indeed, the first time that the contours of academic freedom appear to have been explicitly addressed by the Government was in 2019, after a Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries module titled “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore” by playwright Alfian Sa’at was canceled two weeks before it was to commence. Despite findings by the Yale Faculty Advisory Committee on the cancellation which reassured Yale President Peter Salovey of Yale-NUS’s “strong commitment to academic freedom,” many wondered if the cancellation of the Week 7 program was politically motivated.
Among those concerned were several Members of Parliament who fielded multiple parliamentary questions on the cancellation, including Nominated Member of Parliament Assoc Prof Walter Theseira who asked how the Government intends to assure university students and faculty that they “continue to have the academic freedom to responsibly and critically examine social and political issues in Singapore.”
In response, Ong Ye Kung, then Minister for Education, affirmed that the Government “values academic freedom” which allows universities to “create new knowledge, innovate and contribute to scientific, technological, economic and social progress.” He then set out four principles in determining what activities are permitted on university campuses: first, compliance with Singapore law; second, adherence to the mission of advancing education and maintaining high academic standards; third, protection of universities from misuse as platforms for partisan politics; and finally, sensitivity to Singapore’s cultural and social context.
These principles would be familiar to the Yale-NUS community, which has been navigating and negotiating the “gray space” that the college occupies. This “gray space” exists because of the explicit guarantees of academic freedom and free inquiry that the founding members of the Yale-NUS community secured in 2012. Because of this “gray space,” Yale-NUS could become a “paragon of academic freedom,” as Chan called it, as students, staff, and faculty pushed the boundaries of learning both inside and outside the classroom.
This does not mean that such freedoms are unlimited; rather, as former Rector of Elm College and Professor of Philosophy Amber Carpenter noted, “Being located in Singapore requires us to be more thoughtful and reflective about what public discourse is, what the various kinds of freedom are and what good they might be.” Yale-NUS’s experience thus far is instructive and New College should foster an environment that sustains these reflections and negotiations.
Protecting Academic Freedom and Free Inquiry at the New College
It is currently unclear whether the New College will also enjoy this “gray space” given that there is no explicit guarantee of academic freedom and free inquiry on NUS’s website or in its constitutional documents. The NUS administration and the Education Minister have also not provided any reassurances that these principles will be part of the “best of… the Yale-NUS foundation” to be retained at New College.
Notably, a recent survey conducted by AcademiaSG suggests that this ambiguity has raised concerns about the existence and strength of academic freedom in Singapore. The survey found that more than three-quarters (77.5%) of around 200 Singapore-based academics and researchers believed that universities in Singapore only exercise “some” institutional autonomy or less. Around one-third of male academics (33.1%) and more than half (50.9%) of female academics did not feel that they could freely invite guest speakers.
To avoid any misunderstanding, this is not to say that academics in institutions other than Yale-NUS have not enjoyed any academic freedom at all; instead, as Assoc Prof Daniel Goh helpfully points out, academics at NUS have often been able to conduct research on and teach difficult and controversial subjects long before Yale-NUS’s establishment. Nevertheless, if the New College is to succeed, we believe that it must take seriously the critical importance of academic freedom and free inquiry in the liberal arts and its extension beyond the sphere of academic research to the sphere of learning outside the classroom as well.
To quell any potential fears or uncertainty about the experience that future students at New College will enjoy, the NUS administration should actively take steps to guarantee that it will uphold the principles of academic freedom and free inquiry at New College, just as they were upheld at Yale-NUS for all involved parties. A straightforward way to do so is to directly adopt the Yale-NUS Statement on Freedom of Expression and recognize the principle of free inquiry as a cornerstone of the New College.
Students should also feel supported in exploring their interests both inside and outside the classroom. They should be able to flourish in a pedagogical space where they are allowed to raise difficult, uncomfortable, and controversial questions that interrogate and sometimes challenge power and the status quo. On this, the New College administration should ensure that students can organize activities and events that contribute to a diversity of perspectives and experiences beyond the classroom. We recommend that the current relationship between student organizations and the Dean of Students (DOS) office be retained at New College, where the administration plays an administrative and advisory role rather than gatekeeping when it comes to student activities and events. This is set out in the Yale-NUS Events Policy, where 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 (6) weeks prior to the start of any event for approval.
Finally, to make clear the New College’s and NUS’s commitment to these cardinal principles, the administration should establish an independent academic freedom ombudsman office which will investigate and monitor academic freedom issues that may arise. A similar proposal was recently made last year in the United Kingdom by education think tank Policy Exchange for British universities. The ombudsman office should comprise both local and foreign academics from outside of NUS, who will be able to provide independent assessment and scrutiny of the developments at New College. Its role will be similar to that of Founding Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis, who conducted a fact-finding mission and published a report on the cancellation of the Week 7 program “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore.” The operation of the ombudsman office should subsequently be studied and further expanded to serve the larger NUS community and similar offices should eventually be set up across other Singapore universities.
As we have earlier argued, the liberal arts can and did flourish in Singapore over the past decade since Yale-NUS College was established. The principles of equal participation as well as academic freedom and free inquiry were key in ensuring that Yale-NUS and its diverse and engaged students flourished. With policies and safeguards in place to ensure the same open environment at New College, we look forward to seeing this new institution thrive just like Yale-NUS College did and continue to cultivate new generations of leaders and thinkers to guide Singapore and the world through an uncertain future.
Daniel Ng 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. He furthered his studies at Tsinghua University as a Schwarzman Scholar, and is now a practicing lawyer.
Daryl Yang 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. He is currently pursuing a Master of Laws at Berkeley Law School as a Fulbright scholar.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: email@example.com
Various senior management members of Yale-NUS, USP, and NUS helmed the town hall, including Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS; Ho Teck Hua, Senior Deputy President and Provost of NUS; Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS; Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS; and Kang Hway Chuan, Director of USP.
Since the “merger” was made public on August 27, there has been little clarity on the deliberations behind the heavy-handed decision. Yesterday’s town hall came after more than 260 parents of Yale-NUS College students demanded a meeting with Prof. Tan Eng Chye to discuss the reasons for the college’s closure.
The meeting was scheduled exactly three weeks after the shock announcement. It was revealed that the decision to close Yale-NUS was accelerated by NUS President Tan while the school was in a “position of strength,” before its finances diminished. Several other important details were revealed, particularly in relation to the timing of the decision, statistics on financial issues, and transition plans, in response to many concerned parents’ questions.
Timeliness: “merger would not have made sense” last year
NUS President Tan explained that the decision was part of a wider goal to introduce “general education” and a “common curriculum” for NUS students. He added that the decision was timely in light of recent developments across NUS, such as the formation of the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) late last year and the College of Design and Engineering, announced concurrently with the New College. He claimed that these moves were part of a broader change in NUS toward a system “similar to Yale-NUS.”
CHS, a collaboration between the Faculty of Science (FOS) and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), was an attempt to scale up interdisciplinary education by adding a common curriculum, similar to that of Yale-NUS, to the existing modules.
Referring to the “merger” between Yale-NUS and USP, NUS President Tan then explained: “Last year, a merger would not make sense, because there will be incompatibilities between Yale-NUS and USP (sic).”
NUS President Tan said NUS has since changed four of its major faculties to adopt a framework that is similar to Yale-NUS. He continued: “Because of that, USP also has to change to adapt to a framework that is similar to Yale-NUS. That makes a merger possible.”
The two colleges share many common features, including smaller group teaching, a common curriculum, and residential living and learning, as acknowledged by Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament this Monday (Sept 13). There are also significant differences. For example, Yale-NUS students select from a range of 14 majors specifically designed for the college at the end of the second year, whereas USP students are attached to a major faculty at NUS upon matriculation. Moreover, while Yale-NUS has a four-year residential program, USP only requires students to live on campus for two years.
NUS President Tan did not elaborate on the incompatibilities between Yale-NUS and USP, the similarities between the merged colleges and Yale-NUS’s educational framework, or how NUS’s previous steps in the broader interdisciplinary roadmap now make the “merger” between Yale-NUS and USP possible.
The New College, Tan said, will be an honors college. Amidst concerns that the decision was a de facto closure of a liberal arts college, Prof. Ho Teck Hua said that while the New College is not strictly a liberal arts college by the U.S. definition, it would still consist of the “fine elements of liberal education.”
According to Ho, some hallmarks of a liberal education include immersive learning, small class sizes, residential learning, and critical thinking.
Financials: “I have basically accelerated the closure.”
NUS President Tan also reiterated that although financial sustainability was not the main consideration in the decision to close Yale-NUS, it was a major factor. However, during the town hall, he repeatedly responded by pointing to finances when answering parents’ questions on the actual motivations behind the closure.
In response to a parent’s question on the aspects of American liberal arts colleges that are incompatible with NUS’s or Singapore’s educational goals, Tan explained that liberal arts colleges in the U.S. are primarily funded through either an endowment or tuition fees. In order to provide accessible and affordable education, Tan said it was important to keep tuition fees low and maintain a high endowment.
Yale-NUS’s endowment target was more than $1 billion. However, despite strong financial support from the Ministry of Education (MOE), only $87 million was raised towards the endowment target.
Addressing the financial support provided by MOE, Tan explained: “Singapore has an advantage in that the government provides very strong matching. In the last 10 years, to build this endowment, the government had a seed funding. On top of the seed funding, the first $50 million gets 3:1 matching, like in most institutions. Then, for subsequent donations, you get 1.5 matching.”
Tan added that NUS helped to raise 72% of the $87 million, while Yale-NUS raised the remaining 28%. The Octant has reached out to NUS President Tan to clarify the timeline of the endowment target and fundraising efforts.
“We worked hard, but we were actually very far away from the target. Because we took away the tuition fee consideration, we can only look at endowment funding,” Tan said. “We haven’t got the right model.”
Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education, said in Parliament on Monday (September 13) that MOE provided $48 million to Yale-NUS in the Financial Year 2020. This was more than double the amount provided to other NUS faculties, such as FASS and FOS.
According to Tan, this $48 million “premium funding” would revert to “normal funding” in March 2022, and the gap between normal and premium funding amounted to “at least $24 million.” The gap would increase every year due to the total income contribution component, which Tan did not elaborate on.
“Because of this, you would have to trim the benefits. You would not be able to have the eight-students-to-one-faculty ratio, and you may not even be able to provide the generous financial aid that Yale-NUS is now providing,” Tan continued.
Yale-NUS switched to a need-aware admissions policy for the 2021 admission cycle. Jasmine Seah, Director of Admissions, said that 39% of students in the Class of 2025 are receiving financial aid or merit-based scholarships, compared to 57% of students in the Class of 2024.
Tan said: “I did not have to do the merger. And if I didn’t do the merger, the status quo for Yale-NUS could not stay. Yale-NUS would be diluted as we go along. And perhaps five years down the road, Yale-NUS would still have to face closure.”
“We feel that this is the best time, because we are combining [Yale-NUS and USP] in a position of strength, rather than allowing Yale-NUS to dilute and possibly disappear. I have basically accelerated the closure. There is no need to actually do that, but [because] my entire system in NUS has changed to be similar to Yale-NUS, such a merger makes sense.”
Tan added that MOE, after learning of the decision to close Yale-NUS in 2025, was willing to continue the “premium funding” for the next four years, until Yale-NUS’s last class of students graduates.
Addressing a question on what other options were considered in lieu of the closure, Tan assured that the NUS management had considered “many other options,” before ultimately deciding that “combining” Yale-NUS and USP was the best way forward. He did not elaborate on what the other options considered were.
Stakeholders: “All the appropriate consultations” were made
A key concern among parents and students was the lack of consultation with faculty, staff, and students while the closure of Yale-NUS was being deliberated by NUS senior leadership.
In response to this, NUS President Tan claimed that he has made “all the appropriate consultations,” including with the NUS Board of Trustees, the Yale administration, and MOE. In early August, the 21 members on the NUS Board of Trustees then endorsed the decision in a unanimous vote.
“We cannot have more wider consultations,” he said, “because it is actually a sensitive discussion between NUS and Yale University on matters which focus on strategies as well as finance.”
More details about his behind-the-scenes discussions with Yale University in July were also revealed. “I was actually anticipating that I may take six to nine months for this discussion,” Tan said, referring to his conversation with Peter Salovey, President of Yale University. In reality, it only took two weeks for Yale to “acknowledge” and note that it was NUS’s prerogative under an agreement between the two universities.
Tan said: “This is a very considered decision, one that is made in the interests of NUS as a public university. As a public university, one of our most important stakeholders is the MOE.”
After the decision was finalized, the Yale and NUS senior managements moved quickly to announce the closure of the two colleges before the admissions cycle began in September to ensure that no new applicants would be misled, Tan explained.
When questioned by a parent during the live Q&A segment on the ability of the NUS Board of Trustees and the Yale-NUS Governing Board to exercise their fiduciary duties, given that the decision was presented to both as faits accomplis, NUS President Tan responded with an assurance of the boards’ independence.
“Our Board of Trustees acted independently. Teck Hua is on the board, we have been on the board, and I’m sure many of you have been on boards before,” Tan said. “You would know very well: How can you force a board? That would be unheard of.”
Tan and another member of the NUS Board of Trustees, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, are also part of the Yale-NUS Governing Board.
Transition to the New College
There are no concrete plans for the New College curriculum at the moment. However, Tan pointed out that unlike Yale-NUS, the New College does not have to hire new faculty to build its curriculum completely from scratch.
Instead, Tan said that there were already talented faculty members from Yale-NUS, USP, and the wider NUS who would help to design the new curriculum. Ho added that this curriculum is expected to be developed within six to nine months.
Roberts also said that faculty would not be expected to do additional work with the New College on top of teaching the Yale-NUS load, in order not to overwhelm them.
When a parent asked during the live Q&A segment whether the New College could be delayed to ensure that a best-in-class curriculum could be built, the panelists did not respond.
During the transition period as Yale-NUS shuts down, Tan and Roberts assured that there were plans in place to bring in faculty from NUS should the need arise due to faculty turnover. Roberts added that Yale-NUS is still committed to offering the full range of majors and diverse classes, even as the Yale-NUS student population continues to shrink as the remaining batches graduate. She said that Yale-NUS classes will be opened up to New College students to maintain an appropriate class size and level of diversity.
Tan and Roberts also said that a small office would be set up within the New College to support students who will remain in Yale-NUS after 2025. This group of students includes those taking the Double Degree Programme with Law, as well as students who take a gap semester or year.
Prof. Kang Hway Chuan, meanwhile, expects a greater sense of continuity for USP students despite the earlier transition to the New College. Unlike Yale-NUS students, USP students will transition to the New College in the next academic year, together with the inaugural class of New College students.
Kang pointed out that the USP graduation requirements parallel those of the New College, as the major requirements for both programs are fulfilled in the various NUS faculties and schools.
He said: “It makes sense, in a way, for USP to join smoothly into the New College curriculum. In fact, USP faculty constantly come up with new modules, so each year there will be a greater choice of modules.”
“If you think of this as a disruption… you should think of it as a good disruption, because it increases your choices.”
With many parents continuing to ask questions about the decision toward the end of the two-hour-long town hall, Ho interrupted NUS President Tan in the middle of his response to a question toward the end of the live Q&A segment: “I would like everybody here to look ahead and look forward to the New College. We’ll get input from everybody, and I hope that we can create a New College that is truly outstanding: a world-class institution we can look back on 50 years from now.”
“I’m optimistic that the New College will do really well because, from day one, we consult everybody,” Ho said, pointing to the various members of the Yale-NUS and USP administrations’ involvement in the transition committees.
“I want everybody to go away from this town hall with a little kind of hope. I know it’s hard, I know it’s very difficult, but we’re not closing down or starting new things. This is a merger, and we do create a new entity called the New College. And we promise to combine the best of both USP and Yale-NUS. ”
The Octant has reached out to Prof. Tan Eng Chye for clarifications on some of his statements.
Story | Suman Padhi (she/her), Contributing Reporter Photo | The Academy for Teachers
Charles Bailyn is currently the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, and the inaugural head of the Benjamin Franklin College in Yale College. He was the inaugural Dean of Faculty for Yale-NUS College from 2011 to 2016. Prior to this, he was the Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Yale Astronomy Department.
The Octant contacted Prof. Bailyn via email to answer some questions and express his opinions on the closure of Yale-NUS, which has since evoked public outcry. He later replied with his responses at the beginning of this week.
Suman Padhi (SP): How did you feel when you first learned about the closure of Yale-NUS? How do you feel now?
Charles Bailyn (CB): I was very sad that the institution will not continue, but also proud of what we achieved in the time we were given. That feeling has persisted, and I expect I will feel that way for as long as I feel anything.
SP: The decision has been quite unpopular in the Yale-NUS community, and many are calling on the NUS management for more accountability and transparency.
What do you think about the decision-making process on NUS management’s side?
CB: I have no particular insight into the NUS decision-making process. I’m a long way away right now! The decision came as a complete surprise to me. I only heard the day before the Town Meeting that this was even being contemplated.
SP: What do you believe Yale should have done or should do to ensure more accountability from NUS in the decision making?
CB: There’s nothing Yale could have done. I imagine that the Yale representatives on the Board of Governors did what they could to promote a different outcome, but NUS had the right (as Yale did) to leave the partnership in 2025, and if they chose to exercise that right, then that’s that.
SP: What do you think the dissolution of Yale-NUS means for the future of liberal arts in Asia as a whole?
CB: My hope is that the surge of interest in liberal arts in Asia will continue even after the dissolution of Yale-NUS. It’s important to note that NUS management do want to continue with a strong liberal arts program, albeit in a different form. I hope that the basic model of liberal arts education, as well as many of the specific curricular and extra-curricular innovations that Yale-NUS introduced, will continue to expand both in Singapore and in the region.
SP: Why wasn’t Yale in favor of the dissolution of Yale-NUS, in your opinion?
CB: One of the particular features of Yale, which is highlighted by the differences over this decision, is that at Yale we build to last. That’s why the institution is still going strong over three centuries after its founding. I’m very conscious of this in my current role as the inaugural Head of College of Benjamin Franklin College (BF), a new residential college founded by Yale in 2017. Founding a residential college is not as grand an undertaking as a whole new institution! But I am absolutely confident that BF will outlast any of its founders, and still be in operation hundreds of years from now. You can see it in the architecture—you can see it in the attitudes of students, faculty, staff, and administrators.
So when Yale participated in the founding of Yale-NUS, there was the expectation that the new institution would outlast us all. I think that expectation in fact partly explains the vehemence of the opposition here—if you believe something isn’t good, and that if it starts it’ll keep on going indefinitely, then of course you will oppose its founding vigorously! But it’s not in Yale’s DNA to end something that has been generally successful—modifications and changes might be helpful or necessary, but shutting the thing down altogether simply isn’t what we do.
SP: When Yale-NUS was a mere idea, there was a lot of opposition to the idea of starting it in Singapore on the basis that liberal arts could not thrive here. What was your experience co-founding Yale-NUS like?
CB: The objections raised by the Yale faculty and others that a liberal arts approach could not thrive in Singapore proved not to be true.
I believe we created a legitimate liberal arts environment for the faculty and students of Yale-NUS. There were a few issues on the margins, which have received considerable publicity, but the Yale-NUS faculty statement from 2012, copied below, was generally upheld. I find it frustrating that some of the early opponents of Yale-NUS are now gloating over its demise, given that the difficulties they foresaw at the outset were not realized, and were not the cause of the end of the institution.
“We are firmly committed to the free expression of ideas in all forms—a central tenet of liberal arts education. There are no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated. This principle is a cornerstone of our institution.”
SP: Nine batches and more than 10 years later, to what extent would you say the liberal arts are successful here?
CB: The best people to answer that question are the students themselves. I believe we succeeded, but the proof of that success will come from the experiences and careers of the students. I think it is a shame that the College came to an end before the full career paths of the students could be known, as that is the metric by which the college should have been judged.
SP: To Yale Daily News, you had said that “I think this is a strategic mistake on their part,”—what exactly did you mean by this and could you expand on how you believe this decision may be detrimental to both Singapore and NUS?
CB: There has been an increasing tendency over the past years for Singapore to restrict access by international students to Singaporean higher education programs. While it is not for me to tell Singapore what to do, as an outside observer who has considerable respect for many aspects of Singaporean society, I think this is a long-term mistake. One sees xenophobic tendencies all over the world right now—in the UK in the form of Brexit, in the USA in the form of Trump’s restrictions on immigration. But both the US and the UK still welcome international students and scholars, recognizing the crucial enhancement such people represent to the overall society.
I would say that it’s not just that the first-rate university systems in the US and UK attract international scholars and students—it’s also that the international scholars and students are a crucial part of what makes those systems first-rate. Singapore too has a first-rate higher education system. But they are undermining that system by not welcoming more international students and scholars into the country.
And in the case of Singapore it goes further. As a tiny country with a small population, Singapore’s position in the world has always depended on its status as an entrepot, as a crossroads where many cultures mix. In the current world, this is potentially a source of great strength, sufficient to make Singapore a regional power in culture and education as it already is in shipping and commerce. There’s a particular opportunity right now, given the difficulties Hong Kong is currently experiencing. But that potential will not be realized unless the international talent that would like to be educated and conduct research in Singapore continues to be welcomed to do so.