Yale-NUS develops curriculum

While students at Yale College focus on fulfilling flexible distributional requirements before graduation, their peers at Yale-NUS will be required to complete an intensive core curriculum during their freshman and sophomore years.

The faculty search committees for the liberal arts college jointly operated by Yale and the National University of Singapore have narrowed their list of candidates to roughly 100 finalists from a field of about 1,500 applicants, Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn said, and will begin offering candidates positions in a few weeks. The roughly three dozen professors who are selected will start a yearlong process of finalizing the curriculum in July, Bailyn said, tasked with refining a course structure that was first presented in September 2011, following months of Yale and NUS faculty review.

“In order to identify what kinds of faculty you need and what your priorities are, you have to have a handle on the curriculum,” Bailyn said Wednesday. “Prospective faculty members will have an idea of how to further develop the curriculum.”

Finalists for faculty positions at Yale-NUS will attend evaluative workshops in either New Haven or Singapore over the next few months where they will discuss the college’s proposed curriculum with other candidates, Bailyn said, adding that two such workshops have already met — one at Yale in December and one at NUS earlier this month.

Pericles Lewis, a Yale English professor who is chairing the University’s humanities faculty search committee, said in November that most applicants had come from the United States, though a “substantial number” had either lived or worked in Asia. Bailyn said the hiring process has placed an unusually strong emphasis on how prospective faculty members engage with the proposed course structure.

“We’re specifically looking for faculty members who are excited by the possibility of starting fresh,” Bailyn said.

While Yale-NUS administrators said faculty will be responsible for establishing specifics of the curriculum, the core framework proposed last September will remain in place. All Yale-NUS students will be required to take three or four classes in three different areas of study — the “great works,” the “individual and society,” and the “natural sciences” — during their first two years before focusing on their selected major. Students will have space to take a total of six electives during their freshman and sophomore years.

Bailyn said a defined curriculum will help students form a coherent, well-rounded course of study — something that is not as significant a concern at Yale College, where students already recognize the value of a liberal arts program.

“One of the challenges of the distributional requirement system at Yale, which works well for a large and diverse university, is to some extent people take the distribution requirements, sometimes, just to fulfill a requirement,” said Pericles Lewis, a Yale English professor who is chairing the University’s humanities faculty search committee.

While administrators have previously said Yale-NUS could serve as a testing ground for new academic programs at Yale, University President Richard Levin said Tuesday that it was “very unlikely” that a core curriculum like the one at Yale-NUS would be implemented in New Haven. If anything, he said, some of the core classes taught in Singapore may be brought back to New Haven.

Faculty committees at Yale and NUS had already agreed on broad principles of the Yale-NUS curriculum when Levin and NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan formally announced the college in April 2011. Over last summer, faculty search committees developed those principles into the framework they released in September.

University Secretary Linda Lorimer said Yale and NUS invited professors from universities such as Princeton and Duke, along with liberal arts colleges in the Northeast and on the West Coast, to critique the curriculum. Based on feedback from these educators, Bailyn said administrators decided to reduce the number of courses Yale-NUS students will take each semester from five to four to allow students to study material in more depth.

Many of the core classes in the humanities and social sciences at Yale-NUS will incorporate both Asian and Western traditions, according to the proposed syllabus.

“Literature and Humanities I,” a class listed under the “great works” discipline in a sample syllabus, would study many of the same works as Yale’s Directed Studies, including Homer’s “Odyssey” and Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” But the class will also examine Eastern literature such as Lao Tzu’s “Dao De Jin” and the “Fire Sermon” of the Buddha.

Administrators plan to hire 50 faculty members by the time Yale-NUS opens in fall 2013.

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