The Yale-NUS or is it NUS-Yale Saga

It is not the college’s job, or mine, to tell Singaporeans what direction to move their society…in,” said Professor Pericles Lewis, the new and first president of the Yale-NUS college. Nobody should tell anybody what to think, well except maybe bend that rule and be pedantic about readers of Stomp, Temasek Review and Temasek Times.

The purpose of an education is to tell people how to think, not what to think. So how do we start thinking about this Yale-NUS adventure. The Yale community was against it  in a resolution 100 to 69 about Singapore’s lack of freedom real or otherwise, thumping their chest about their liberal arts heritage and that Singapore is not befitting of a partner.

Stranger is that Singapore is fully funding this experiment in the liberal arts education market for Singapore and more strategically, the region. Yale is dictating the ground rules and even the name of the college is Yale-NUS, not NUS-Yale despite Singapore footing the bill. How much I wonder. Singapore is still in the mindset that we should be a money-spinning hub for transport, banking, services and also education. However, not all ventures and adventures with UK or US education brands have been successful, regardless much support or money fellow taxpayers unknowingly more or less are ready to pump into them. Warwick did not take off in 2005, and Tisch is here but in troubled times. Still, there were quiet specialised and smaller successes – Duke-NUS, so the formula on using a brand name as an education franchise has its merits.

The question for us taxpayers is why Singapore bothers to court snob brands like Yale and spend money on them while they are unappreciative and even scornful, if a global brand is what we want. It is one thing for us to criticise ourselves but for outsiders to take our money and criticise us at the same time, it is insulting. There are other Ivy League ilk that can be alternatives to Yale. Unless Yale was actually the most receptive among the likes of Princeton, Brown etc. Some government agency and relevant minister is not getting it right.


Yale’s Singapore Joint Venture Taps a President
Wall Street Journal, May 30 2012
A high-profile joint venture between Yale University and the National University of Singapore named a president and vice-president, moving closer to a launch planned for fall 2013 despite lingering debate over the merits of the new college.

Pericles Lewis, a professor of English and comparative literature at Yale, was tapped Wednesday to head Yale-NUS as president, while a professor from the National University of Singapore, Lai Choy Heng, was named vice president. Both appointments will take effect July 1.

The venture—which benefits from Yale’s pedigree and complete funding from the Singapore government—will create Singapore’s first liberal-arts college, testing whether American-style liberal-arts education can take root in parts of Asia where critics complain about limitations on free expression. It will also test Yale’s ambition to extend its brand beyond the U.S. at a time when American universities are competing to attract talent from Asia.

The college will employ teachers from both Yale and NUS and has started taking applications for admission next fall—receiving more than 800 in its first administration round and accepting more than 50 so far. Construction on the college has started, though it’s not expected to be completed until 2014.

Yale-NUS, part of a wider effort by Singapore to position itself as an educational hub for Asia, has generated heated debate since its launch last year. Many Yale professors and alumni feel that Singapore—with a longstanding reputation for limiting speech and heavily regulating behavior, such as with its famous chewing-gum ban—is not the right fit for a college bearing the institution’s name. Freedom House, a Washington-based advocacy group, recently ranked Singapore 150th in the world in press freedom, behind Liberia and Central African Republic.

Last month, Yale’s faculty passed a resolution expressing “concern” over Singapore’s “history of lack of respect for civil and political rights.” A number of professors have written op-ed pieces—both for the Yale Daily News and other U.S. media outlets—expressing reservations about Yale’s operating within Singapore’s social and political environment.

But many other Yale professors are keen to teach at the new college, Yale University President Richard Levin said at a press conference on Wednesday, saying that there’s still a lot of enthusiasm about the joint venture back in New Haven, Conn., Yale’s home base. Mr. Lewis, the newly-appointed Yale-NUS president, said he took the role with “no hesitation at all,” calling Singapore a “perfect environment” for Yale’s vision.

Singaporeans have accused critics of the project of high-handedness and of overlooking changes in the city-state in recent years that have encouraged public debate, including the emergence of a thriving blog culture. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a speech at Yale-NUS’s launch last year, labeled the collaboration a “complicated project” because of “differences in social and political contexts” but said the city-state is constantly seeking to change and evolve.

Responding to the Yale faculty resolution, Singapore’s Minister of EducationHeng Swee Keat said earlier this month that the government shares “the disappointment expressed by NUS and many Singaporeans” over the vote, but that it was “essentially an internal issue to Yale.”

But some academics in Singapore do continue to question the venture.

“What remains to be seen is whether Lewis is up to exerting influence in the alien administrative context of Singapore and NUS,” said Michael Montesano, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and a Yale alumnus.

For himself, Mr. Lewis said he is “confident of researchers’ ability to pursue their scholarship freely” in Singapore, and that he was given assurances from both the government and NUS regarding academic freedom. In a speech on Wednesday, he gave the government credit for its “strong support and commitment,” calling it essential for the new college.

The new Yale-NUS campus is expected to comprise three residential colleges with about 330 students each. They will graduate with four-year bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees awarded by the NUS.


One response

  1. Gerald Heng Sr

    Greetings Its really exciting and globally challenging to have a Yale/NUS nexus environment in the Liberal Arts Education that’s the Bench Mark of Free Societies where no political or religiously correct Doctrines are forced fed into young minds !Harvard College in its early founding as a Saint Peter’s House of Old England Cambridge University was a Rebellion College where quite a number of American Independence Rebels took their spiritual education !The world globally has changed since those days over 400 years ago.the Teaching remains much the same for Inquiring and Curious minds the subject-matters and their contents are of course upgraded ! Universal Principles of Free Minds in the pursuit of Truths everlasting remain solidly unchanging like Freedom of Thoughts of Speech of Religious Faith of Association and Freedom of the Media etc. In the nature, nurture and extent that the Yale Principles are accepted ,advocated and parleyed into the Learning and Teaching Process they can only mean onwards and forwards the Mission of Globalization of Liberal Arts Education in Singapore no less being now a First Nation City State ! In state of criticism such Principles should be applauded as the Life Forces of Progress ! Majullah Singapura ! There is no need for a Million Dollar Pay to say and advocate what’s so obviously a Bench Mark for the future of Singaporeans and International Scholars !

    Gerald Heng Sr.Metrowest Boston,MA. USA
    A Stray Dog Quitter after Breakup of Merger .

    June 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm

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