Come the fall of 2013, Yale’s campus will likely look very different. The new School of Management complex will be completed, and hopefully construction on the 13th and 14th residential colleges will be underway. But, by then, this may not be the only continent with a campus bearing Yale’s name. Across the world, in Singapore, Yale-NUS College could be welcoming students to a new type of Asian college. Yale officials have been advising National University of Singapore administrators, who are creating a liberal arts college — the first in the country and one of few in Asia — for over a year. Now, Yale is considering becoming a partner with NUS in this pursuit.
To paraphrase Vice President Biden, this is a big deal.
Yale has never before operated, even in partnership, a full-fledged overseas campus with its name on it. Even though half the seats on the board of directors of the new college will be Yale appointees, and even though Yale will have say in the admissions criteria for students, faculty searches, tenure appointments and institutional assessments, it will be difficult to ensure the quality of the day-to-day education on a campus nearly 10,000 miles away. It also will be very difficult to ensure that academic freedoms are maintained in a country where public demonstrations and chewing gum are banned.
But Yale officials, led by President Levin and Linda Lorimer, have done a remarkable job negotiating favorable terms with Singaporean officials. Unlike New York University’s new campus in Abu Dhabi, where an NYU degree is granted to graduating seniors, no Yale degrees will be awarded in Singapore. Yale will not have to foot any of the cost of the campus. And Singapore has agreed to include language that should put to rest some of those concerns about academic freedom.
Still, the fundamental question is whether Yale should share in the new college’s name. This is ultimately a question of what Yale actually is. Is Yale a school rooted in its New England home, defined by its place and architecture in New Haven — a school that can and should only exist here? Or is Yale about education, wherever that may occur, whether in a classroom on Old Campus or on a computer screen in Turkey or at a liberal arts college in Singapore?
We don’t claim to know the answers to those questions. We don’t claim to know whether this new college will cheapen Yale’s brand or strengthen it by affiliating the University with an exciting initiative that could transform Asian education.
What we do know is that this is something worth talking about. The University has already scheduled town-hall meetings for ladder faculty. But Yale should go further and invite students and alumni and the entire Yale community to comment on this proposal. We should have more discussions — and, unlike the meetings held to consider the new residential colleges, people should show up — and there should be a real sense that this is a decision for all of us to make.
By any measure, it is great news that Singapore is interested in creating a new model for Asian education. The question of whether such a college should bear Yale’s name is more complicated.
Let’s talk about it.