Yale, Singapore plan new liberal arts college

A dorm at the National University of Singapore, next to which a campus will be built for a liberal arts college that may bear Yale’s name.
A dorm at the National University of Singapore, next to which a campus will be built for a liberal arts college that may bear Yale’s name. Photo by Nora Caplan-Bricker.

One of the first liberal arts colleges in Asia will likely bear Yale’s name.

If all goes according to plan, Yale and the National University of Singapore will jointly open a school, located adjacent to the NUS campus, in 2013. It will be named Yale-NUS College, and its governing board will be evenly composed of Yale and NUS appointees — but NUS, not Yale, will grant the students’ degrees.

Representatives from both schools met in New Haven on Friday to sign a non-binding agreement to continue planning the college, and University President Richard Levin announced the news to faculty in an e-mail Sunday night.

Yale and Singapore
Yale and Singapore

“The liberal arts model is not the norm in most of the rest of the world, but there’s an increasing feeling in Asia that it’s giving the United States an edge in educating creative leaders,” Levin said in an interview. “This college in Singapore could provide a way to influence all of Asia.”

NUS approached Yale in June 2009 for advice about opening an undergraduate college in the American model, and Levin told the News last October that Yale was considering expanding its role in the endeavor from consultant to partner.

In the current plan, NUS will pay for the new college down to the last cent, University administrators said; Singapore’s government, which funds NUS, has already proposed a tentative operating budget and endowment that would provide for teachers’ salaries and other expenses comparable to those at Yale, Levin said. NUS will also reimburse Yale for the salaries of any Yale professors who take time away from their jobs in New Haven to teach in Singapore, he added, allowing Yale to hire replacements without sapping department funds.

Levin said University administrators are still waiting to hear about the construction budget for the campus and will not move forward with the project if they do not think the sum is sufficient to create a campus of the quality they envision. He added that Yale will not finalize its commitment to the project until he has consulted with Yale’s faculty and NUS has presented the construction budget, which he said could happen as early as December.


The National University of Singapore, funded by the government, the nation’s largest university.
The National University of Singapore, funded by the government, the nation’s largest university.

Levin said Yale-NUS College graduates will not receive Yale degrees because administrators cannot ensure that the education on the Singapore campus will meet the standards upheld in New Haven.

But he said the school will draw more competitive international students if it has the Yale name, and if the school succeeds, Yale’s international reputation will also benefit.

“We have a chance to influence the world,” Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said. “And if we are identified as a shaper, better students will apply here.”

Lorimer added that she hopes the school will ultimately serve as a model for establishing other liberal arts colleges across Asia.

She acknowledged that some faculty and alumni might worry that the University is reducing the value of a Yale education by putting its name on another school, but she disagrees.

“We think of it not as brand dilution but as brand accretion,” she said.

Under the agreement, if Yale ever feels that the partnership is not going as desired, or that the standards are slipping, the University can take its name off the school and end its involvement at any time, Levin said.

In contrast, Yale considered founding an arts institute in Abu Dhabi but canceled the plans in 2008 — in large part because the institute would have had to confer Yale degrees. Meanwhile, New York University built a liberal arts college there, and its first freshman class entered this fall. Lorimer said NYU Abu Dhabi and Yale-NUS College are fundamentally different because the NYU campus is a stand-alone college, whereas the Yale project will be attached to a larger university with an existing reputation and infrastructure.

Yale-NUS College will have roughly 1,000 students in its early years, though it may expand over time, administrators said. In contrast to the small college, NUS — which, as the 31st-ranked university in the world and the third-ranked in Asia, is Singapore’s largest university — has roughly 23,000 undergraduate students and 6,000 graduate students. Although the new college will be governed autonomously, administrators said the large neighboring campus will be a boon since it already has a world-class library, science laboratories and gym, which Yale-NUS students will be able to use. Students performing advanced research in the sciences could do so alongside graduate students at NUS, for example, Lorimer said.

Yale-NUS planners are talking about how to translate Yale’s best characteristics into an Asian context, and one of the most important, Lorimer said, is the residential college system. Like Yalies, students at the new school will live in suites within colleges, each of which will have its own common spaces and facilities, as well as a “rector” and “vice-rector” who will fill the same roles as Yale’s masters and deans.

Lorimer said Yale administrators tried to pinpoint the most important parts of residential college life in discussions with NUS officials. They saw conversations over meals as an essential factor, she said, and insisted that each of the three proposed colleges have its own dining hall. The Singaporean colleges will also play intramural sports to foster unity, Levin said — though dragonboat racing may outrank soccer and basketball as the most popular activity.

Lorimer said Yale is also using the NUS residential colleges to improve on the Yale model. NUS’ colleges will have more faculty in residence than at Yale’s colleges, as well as more classrooms in each complex, which she said will help to create opportunities for students to get close to their professors and integrate their academic pursuits into their daily lives.


When it comes to academics, Levin said Asian educators are increasingly focused on two things their schools lack, both of which are built into the liberal arts model: breadth of study, as opposed to early pre-professional focus, and an emphasis on critical thinking and discussion, as opposed to recitation and memorization.

NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan said during a Friday press conference at Yale that his university hopes to encourage students to think as individuals.

“We want to create and nurture people with different skills and approaches, who can see connections across disciplines,” he said.

But William Summers, a radiology and history of medicine professor at Yale and member of the Council on East Asian Studies, said he thinks it will be difficult to win Singapore’s general population over to the idea of a liberal arts education.

“Singapore is already very ‘credential oriented,’ ” Summers said in an e-mail. “That mentality may make education for its own sake a difficult cultural hurdle.”

Still, Singaporeans may try to employ critical thinking skills as pragmatically as they would pre-professional skills, said Joseph Errington, former chairman of Yale’s Southeast Asian Studies Council. If this seems to benefit their society, the liberal arts model could catch on, he said.

Charles Bailyn ’81, who will serve as dean of faculty through Yale-NUS’ first year of operation if it is completed, said he has spent his life searching for ties between the sciences and the humanities; he is the director of undergraduate studies in astronomy and a professor of physics, as well as a fellow of the Whitney Humanities Center. Trying to strike a balance between the disciplines in Singapore could help Yale in its effort to do the same thing at home, Bailyn said.

“One of the challenges in educating scientists now is making sure they have a grounding in the human and social contexts of what they do,” Bailyn said.

To that effect, Yale-NUS students will have to complete requirements in humanities, science and social science, administrators said, and all freshmen in the college will participate in a modified version of the Directed Studies program, in which professors will assign iconic texts from both the western and eastern traditions. Unlike DS, this program might not run chronologically and instead might focus on juxtaposing texts about similar ideas, said Haun Saussy, a professor of comparative literature and East Asian languages and literatures, who co-chaired a committee of Yale professors convened to discuss the possible curriculum at Yale-NUS.

“For example, we might talk about what makes a wise king,” Saussy said. “This was a dominant obsession of thinkers in early China and India — and also of Plato.”

After this curriculum is put in place at Yale-NUS College, it is possible a version of it might be offered at Yale, Levin added.

Because the Yale-NUS faculty will be small at the beginning, the college will only offer three interdisciplinary majors, in humanities, science and social science, though students will be able to focus on a specific area within their discipline. As at Yale, students will be able to declare in their sophomore year — unlike students at other Asian universities, who declare before entering as freshmen — and will complete senior research projects.

If Yale and NUS decide to finalize their partnership this winter, they will embark on a global search for roughly 100 new professors. Bailyn said he plans to try to hire professors during the 2011-’12 academic year so that the new group can spend a year on Yale’s campus learning about the University’s culture and standards before trying to use them overseas. Some Yale-NUS classes will be taught by visiting Yale faculty, though administrators said it is unlikely that more than a handful of Yale professors at a time will leave New Haven for Singapore. Yale professors will also have the option of teaching two-week intensive classes in May and August, so they can go to Singapore without missing a semester at home.

According to Levin’s e-mail to faculty, administrators will hold two discussions later this month for ladder faculty at Yale who wish to learn more about the collaboration.


Despite the academic opportunities administrators hope Yale-NUS College will offer, they said they think some faculty will have reservations about restrictions on free speech in Singapore.

When the University began seriously contemplating a partnership, administrators were concerned about a lack of academic freedom in Singapore. The island country is not a democracy, and its government does not grant the freedoms of speech and press that the United States constitution ensures.

But Levin said administrators were able to negotiate terms under which professors could teach and publish as freely as they can at Yale.

The biggest differences, Levin said, are that Singaporeans do not have what Americans would call “freedom of assembly” and cannot stage rallies, and that no one in Singapore can directly criticize the government, though they can critique its policies.

Errington said academics are free to publish for other academics in Singapore but cannot address the general public as openly.

Several other leading American universities have joint programs with NUS, and have worked out similar deals with the government regarding freedom of speech and publication. All three of these collaborations — one with the Duke University School of Medicine, one with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s graduate engineering program and one with the New York University School of Law — grant degrees from their own schools to graduates of their NUS programs. Richard Revesz LAW ’83, dean of the New York University School of Law, said his faculty has not experienced any problems, even though they teach about human rights, and that many hold views that are not in line with those of the government. He added that he thinks the quality of the program in Singapore is up to the standards of an NYU education in New York.

Levin said Singapore was a natural choice for a partnership because it envisions itself as a hub of education in Asia and puts a high premium on intellectual growth. Revesz said he was struck by the same thing when NYU was negotiating with NUS.

“I was impressed that Singapore wanted to use education to make its mark,” he said.

Lorimer said Singapore is a better choice for the college than China or India would have been, since it is a smaller country and therefore will be able to serve its own population while also leaving spots for students form other Asian countries. Singapore is also a hub for multi-national people and corporations, she said.

She added that more and more people in Asia are pursuing a university-level education, making this an ideal time to found a college in the world’s most-populated continent.

“We want to attract the best in the region, who can then go back and become leaders in their own societies,” she said.


  • wtf

    I’d prefer they give us brunch at 11.

  • YaleMom

    This makes me so upset I can’t hardly stand it. My daughter Ashley had to sit through a concert of disgusting rap (or should I say *rape*) lyrics, people are getting murdered all over the place… and now the university decides to spend its money on Singapores who don’t even go to Yale?

  • DHGabriel

    To YaleMom,

    If the proposed college in Singapore goes ahead (and note that this has not been decided) there will be no financial burden on Yale whatsoever – the investment would be made by the Singaporean government, who would repay any expenses incurred by Yale University itself.

  • vitalism

    Exactly, Yale has to bear no financial burden under this arrangement. Sounds like a good deal to me.

  • Prof3

    The administration has a whole new campus to deal with already — West Campus. Department chairs cannot get answers to pressing questions as things are. Clearly the administration has too much on its hands already. The only way to deal with yet another huge project would be to hire another 10 vice presidents. And we cannot afford that.

    On the other hand, if we could ship Linda Lorimer off to Singapore and make her promise to stay there…

  • YaleMomsDaughter

    MOM!!! STOP EMBARRASSING ME!!!! I like that music!

  • SingaporeDad

    I have a beautiful daughter, and I hope when she grows up, she gets to go to Yale-NUS.

    It is hard for me to define what is the American idea, but Yale has “Lux et Veritas” and I suppose if that is the motto for the new school, that will be a start of an idea.

    A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.
    John F. Kennedy

    And from your movie : “What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. ”

    Singapore is build by a man and his team by his idea that they are incorruptible and so we should trust him.

    And here is Singapore paying for all the expense for Yale, an institution that educate leaders a chance to debate its ideas in Singapore and for Asia …

    So by your light and not by your guns that blackens truth shall you spread your ideals.

    To me this is a no brainer decision for Yale.

    But don’t bring your “rape” music, Justin Bieber is enough.

    Auspicium Melioris Aevi

  • robertsky

    May I query the validity of the statement:

    “The island country is not a democracy”

    Not that I am supporting, or lack of it, the government, but I am just curious as to how did you arrive at this conclusion.

  • Fujack

    My humble understanding,as an extremly simple China man who unfortunately is not so well educated from the East is that there are different type of democracies.

    If democracy means one man one vote,then yes Singapore is without doubt,a 100% democracy.

    But if democracy means more than just one man one vote which humbly I think it is,such as the requirement of freedom of speech,independent institutions,checks and balance,etc,then unfortunately I believe it is not,not yet,it may be there in due course,but as what people say,it is the direction which is critical,people also say,in the long term,we are all dead.

    Those who are interested to read about this topic can perhaps start from Professor Christopher Lingle’s personal experience.

    Singapore and Authoritarian CapitalismNonetheless, executive control over the judiciary and the legislature means that … Dr Christopher Lingle is an economist and Visiting Associate Professor, …


  • Fujack

    I am surprised at this proposal,as I have no prior knowledge about Yale except that it is IVY legue and that it is to be admired.

    But then I read about all the setups that Yale has made globally,I decided to switch off from my intented comment,but still decided to write this,as it is to be a LIBERAL arts college!

    I would not write at all if it were to be a medical school,a business school,etc

    Anyway,a little piece of explanation,our supreme leader,used to be phobic when he heard the word:Liberal(as from Liberal democracy),it may has changed now as he has stated in a September interview with New York Times before his 87 yesrs birth day ,he chants Ma-r-na-tha nightly while paying attention his sick wife of 61 years..He is a non believer.

    If I were running an IVY legue university,the idea place in Asia for a LIBERAL(special emphasis intended) arts college is Hong Kong,SAR,PRC(Communist China),of course it is a known among quite a few Asians that SAR government does not have a world class propanganda machine as what Singapore monopolistic ruling party has.

    But this is the view of a simple China man who does not have the benefit of an IVY legue education regrettably.

  • ExSingaporean

    We left Singapore because there was a total lack of democracy and freedom of expression. Opposition politicians were arrested and locked up for years without trial. Others were sued to bankruptcy. A permit is needed to speak in public.
    It now amazes, in fact shocks me that a univeristy of such repute would even consider of associating with a dictatorship.

  • SingaporeResident

    There is an open letter to Prof Mark Oppenheimer from Singapore’s socio-political blog, the Temasek Review which strongly advocates a NO to the proposed Yale and NUS tie-up.


  • COICAlaw
  • NUS

    I’ve worked at NUS for 3 years and I’ve met lots of professors of NUS. In fact, LIBERAL is highly repressed in the whole country, how can it become liberal by partnering with YALE? It is like using YALE to cheat on innocent students and parents.

  • nudelman

    Duke is being recognized for Medicine, MIT for engineering, and NYU for Law. These are substantial fields, readily translatable to a country like Singapore. But liberal arts? Really? Do Singaporeans really need Yale to teach them liberal arts? Why not just supply them with vidoes of our excellent lecturers, and sell them YALE paraphernalia at exhorbitant costs? That would provide Yale with new revenue source, enhance the “Yale brand” in Asia, and be less controversial.

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