Yale-NUS must uphold “brand” standards

As Yale prepares to open a jointly run liberal arts college with the National University of Singapore — the first Yale collaboration of its kind — administrators are considering how to preserve the quality of a Yale education overseas.

Yale and NUS formalized plans for the Singapore-based college last week, paving the way for administrators to begin hiring faculty and recruiting students. Although critics of the project have questioned the University’s ability to protect its affiliates’ academic freedom in Singapore, Charles Bailyn, the inaugural dean of the faculty for Yale-NUS, said he thinks the possibility of building a school of inferior quality to Yale is a more legitimate concern that would endanger the University’s reputation and “brand.”

“One of the things that worries me about all the discussion of politics is that it takes minds off the [educational] quality,” Bailyn said. “If the quality of the academic program isn’t great, that’s a problem.”

Bailyn added that administrators are confident that issues of academic freedom will not impact the quality of the education at the college.

To ensure the school has a strong program, Bailyn said, administrators will focus on attracting talented students from both Singapore and other countries. Yale’s Office of Admissions will help the liberal arts college establish its own admissions process, which will reflect Yale’s holistic criteria instead of the test-based standards NUS uses, he said.

Yale-NUS aims to create a student population similar to Yale’s student body by considering applicants’ leadership abilities and extracurricular talents in addition to their academic records, Bailyn said.

Though education in Asia tends to emphasize the importance of test scores and grades over well-rounded résumés, Bailyn said Yale has already been able to admit “extremely good” applicants from Singapore and Southeast Asia to its New Haven campus, and will seek similar candidates for the new college.

It is too soon to predict the makeup of the Yale-NUS student body, Bailyn said, adding that the mix will be different from the one in New Haven, with most of the students coming from an Asian educational background. Still, the student population will more closely resemble Yale’s than that of NUS, he said.

“We’re going to get students who benefit from liberal arts education and contribute to it,” Bailyn said. “One of the things we’re going to have to be figuring out is how we do this in the other context [of Asia].”

As a university, NUS currently draws 20 percent of its students from overseas, NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan said in an interview last week. But Bailyn said Yale-NUS will not be tied to this number, and the official agreement between Yale, NUS and the Singaporean government allows for a student body that is up to 50 percent international. When it reaches full enrollment in the 2016-’17 academic year, Yale-NUS will have 1,000 students.

“Everything will depend on the quality of the applicants, of course,” University President Richard Levin said. “We are prepared to go to a substantially higher percentage [of international students] in the college than in the university.”

But before Yale-NUS recruits its student body, administrators must assemble the college’s faculty. They plan to have roughly 35 professors in place by the school’s inaugural academic year of 2013-’14, and to hire a total of about 100 faculty members by 2016-’17.

Yale-NUS will employ a range of academics, from recent Ph.D. graduates to senior professors, Levin said.

“The key issue in making sure that the quality of the educational experience in Singapore is outstanding is to hire fabulous faculty members, with a particular focus on both their scholarship and teaching ability,” Provost Peter Salovey said in a Tuesday email.

Bailyn said he will lead the faculty hiring process, adding that Yale faculty will serve as chairmen of the search committees. To ensure that Yale is satisfied with the quality of the professors who are offered permanent positions at the new college, Yale-NUS will also have a full tenure process overseen by the provosts of both universities, Bailyn added.

At a time when the job market remains tough as the nation continues to recover from the recession that hit in 2008, Levin said Yale should be able to find plenty of strong candidates to fill posts at Yale-NUS.

“The condition of the academic job market in the United States today is that there are immensely talented people — particularly young faculty — that either can’t get jobs or are getting jobs at qualities much lower than they deserve,” Levin said last week. “The market is full of strong candidates. I actually think we’ll do very well hiring faculty.”

As an additional check on the school’s quality, the college will also have a governing board akin to the Yale Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — half of which will be appointed by Yale’s president, Bailyn said.

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