Administrators try out ideas at Yale-NUS

In designing Yale-NUS’s curriculum, administrators hope to combine elements of both Eastern and Western intellectual traditions.
In designing Yale-NUS’s curriculum, administrators hope to combine elements of both Eastern and Western intellectual traditions. Photo by Yale-NUS College.

Administrators hope the new Yale-NUS College will provide them with a clean slate on which to redesign the liberal arts education.

As administrators draft plans for the academic curriculum of the college that Yale is building with the National University of Singapore, they are thinking about ways to reshape the University’s traditional pedagogy. The environment of the new school will be more conducive to innovation than that of an established institution like Yale, administrators said, adding that it will be easier to justify similar changes at Yale if they succeed in Singapore first.

“It’s an opportunity to think about all of this without the baggage and prejudices that hamper curricular reform and liberal education in the United States,” Sterling Professor of Law Anthony Kronman GRD ’72 LAW ’75, who has served as an advisor for the project, said in a March 31 interview. “We can draw on a relatively blank sheet the outlines of a program that would be Western, Asian, completely free and fresh.”

The redesigned curriculum will span all of the school’s disciplines. Administrators are still deciding how broad individual departments at the small college will be, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, adding that Yale-NUS may begin with “physical sciences” instead of separate departments of physics and chemistry.

Designers of the project have long said they hope to merge “Eastern” and “Western” intellectual traditions at the new college, for example, by creating a “Directed Studies for Asia” to balance Yale’s longstanding expertise in Western civilization. But the sciences could see as significant developments as the humanities, with non-science majors required to take something like a year-long course on science fundamentals.

“Everyone will take science — not just distribution, not just ‘rocks for jocks’ — but learning to do science at a higher level,” sociology professor and advisor to the project, Deborah Davis, said. “[Professors] are really excited about developing science courses for non-sciences majors.”

The college will prioritize inter-disciplinary coursework, urging professors and students to find the overlap between fields of study, administrators said. Davis said one of the ideas floating around is to require freshmen to take a two-week introductory seminar, called a “convocation,” when they first arrive at the school. The course would be organized thematically but draw from texts in both the humanities and the sciences, she said.

Administrators and academics involved with the project also hope that Yale-NUS students will tie their summer experiences to school-year coursework in an unprecedented degree. Bailyn said students at the new college will receive financial support for international summer experiences comparable to that offered at Yale, where each student on financial aid is guaranteed funding for one summer abroad. While studying abroad will not be mandatory, Bailyn said the goal is to integrate international study with academic-year courses.

Some examples of this pedagogical philosophy already exist at Yale. Bailyn pointed to chemistry professor Scott Strobel’s “Rain Forest Expedition and Laboratory” course as an example of what administrators hope to offer students across all disciplines at Yale-NUS. In Strobel’s course, the class travels to Ecuador over spring break to collect plant samples for laboratory research, which they then complete in New Haven during the summer.

When the two universities announced they would move forward with Yale-NUS on March 31, Provost Peter Salovey and Yale-NUS’s inaugural Dean of the Faculty Charles Bailyn, who is also an astronomy professor at Yale, said they foresaw a “feedback loop” forming between the New Haven and Singapore campuses.

“The way the feedback loop would work is we will invent some new things, try them out,” Bailyn said earlier this month. “Just the process of thinking them through will give people ideas.”

To facilitate a flow of initiatives between the campuses in New Haven and in Singapore, the Yale College Dean’s Office will likely use committees to survey the programs in Singapore and implement select ones in the U.S., Salovey said. Bailyn said he thinks Yale faculty who take a semester or a year to teach in Singapore will bring ideas for courses and teaching methods back home with them organically ­— after seeing ideas they like in Singapore, they will adapt them for use back at Yale.

For Yale College students, the benefits reaped from having a base in Singapore will extend beyond curricular reforms, Bailyn said. Given Singapore’s location and cultural background, Bailyn said current plans will enable Yale students — especially those interested in ecology, urban studies and Asian studies — to travel to Singapore for research or coursework.

Yale-NUS is scheduled to open in fall 2013.

Comments

  • dalet5770

    Someone had better tell the dining hall to start making chocolate Buddha’s for care packages :)

  • rr22

    I love the idea of founding a new liberal arts college in Singapore.

    But, um, what’s going on with the architecture?! Kieran Timberlake did a great job renovating various Yale residential colleges, but it seems that everything they construct from the ground up is just bland and, well, to be frank, rather ugly… this proposed NUS campus is even more ugly than the Yale sculpture building at Howe & Edgewood.

    Maybe we should try hiring some visionary contemporary architects.