FISCHER: Yale-NUS is not Yale

Yale-NUS, the new liberal arts college being created in Singapore under the guidance of Yale University and the National University of Singapore, raises two almost completely separate issues. Both are important but easily confused. First, is it possible and desirable to attempt to establish a Western-style liberal arts college in an environment whose social norms do not support freedom of expression? And second, what is the relationship between Yale and Yale-NUS?

Most of the discussion has centered around the first issue. I want to share my views on the second and say why I am troubled by what I am seeing.

Yale is a collegium of scholars dedicated to create, preserve and disseminate knowledge in an environment of mutual trust, tolerance and respect. Its goal is to bring light and truth to a world often confused by darkness and deceit. For over 300 years, the name Yale has stood for these values that the Yale community holds so dear. The current faculty are stewards for these ideals and have the responsibility to preserve and perpetuate them for future generations and for the benefit of society.

The new college, Yale-NUS, is being promoted as “an entirely new liberal arts college in Asia [that] would allow Yale to extend to other parts of the world its long tradition of leadership in shaping liberal education,” according to a September 12, 2010 email sent to the Yale faculty by President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey.

“Yale has never embarked on a joint project to create an overseas campus bearing its name, but this initiative to establish a Yale-NUS College has special appeal,” they say. But the Yale the administrators are talking about here is the Yale Corporation, not the real Yale — the collegium — which has never voted on this venture.

Despite the rhetoric, Yale-NUS is not a part of Yale. It is a new institution with its own governing board and funded by the Singaporean government. It will not teach Yale’s curriculum, nor will Yale approve Yale-NUS courses. Its faculty will not be subject to Yale’s rigorous appointment process. Its students will not receive Yale degrees.

Nevertheless, the publicity for the new college encourages one to believe that it is a part of Yale and that its degree will offer the same prestige as a real Yale degree. For example, the home page for Yale-NUS prominently displays a banner with the words “Yale-NUS College” against a Yale blue background, where “Yale” and “College” are in white, separated by the letters “NUS” in subdued orange.

Yes, Yale-NUS has ancillary ties to Yale. Yale President Richard Levin and Yale Vice-President and Secretary Linda Lorimer both serve on the Yale-NUS governing board. Yale-NUS Inaugural Dean of the Faculty Charles Bailyn is a Yale faculty member. Individual faculty and staff from Yale are playing roles in Yale-NUS faculty hiring and student admissions. But such dual service arrangements do not make Yale-NUS a part of Yale any more than does Levin’s service on the board of directors for American Express make American Express a part of Yale.

By conflating the two institutions under the banner of “Yale,” the meaning of the Yale brand changes to reflect a mixture of the values of the 300-year-old New Haven institution and the Yale-NUS experiment. The value of a Yale degree becomes diminished since it will be easily confused with the degree from a very different institution. Yale’s core values of freedom of expression and tolerance of diversity similarly become compromised. In the same 2010 email, Levin and Salovey admitted, “The limitations we would need to accept [on the scope of public discourse], given Singaporean tradition and law, have to be weighed against the opportunity we have to influence over time the curriculum and pedagogy in a major part of the world.”

Once freedom of expression is compromised at Yale-NUS, how comfortable can anyone feel that it will continue to be strenuously defended on the New Haven campus? Will Yale faculty feel uncomfortable about expressing views critical of the Singaporean government, perhaps out of fear of damage to our so-called colleagues at our satellite campus in Singapore, or perhaps out of fear of retribution from the Yale administration that has as-yet-undisclosed financial ties with the Singaporean government? Ethical standards cannot be compromised a little bit at a time and retain any force.

The new college may well meet an educational need within Singaporean society, but it is not Yale and must not bear the proud Yale name. Let us be transparent and honest and label it for what it is — a new college with an unproven track record in an environment that lacks many of the basic freedoms we take for granted.

I ask that the Yale name be removed from the new college, that the Yale administration make clear to all that Yale’s role in Yale-NUS is only as consultants and that the Yale collegium has no control, responsibility or affiliation with Yale-NUS.

Michael Fischer is a professor of computer science.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    **I suggest you simply add a couple of letters and an apostrophe to clear up professor Fischer’s valid concern: Yale’s Not US.
    Paul D. Keane
    M. Div. ’80, etc.**

  • ldffly

    I am sympathetic to your viewpoint. It appears to me that the Corporation is engaged in a form of franchising, to be justified with the patina of “over the long run, we can move Singaporean society and government in our direction.” With no danger of Yale itself being integrated into Singaporean principles? Good luck.

    I might pick one bone. You and others have expressed concern over criticism of the government by faculty being placed into jeopardy. It’s worth worrying about, of course, but one wonders whether jeopardy of direct criticism should not be the prime concern. From the first I heard of this project, I have worried about integrity of research and publication. No authoritarian government is going to allow university faculty within its borders to issue research that might be at odds with its interests or those of its corporate fellow travelers. In this country from time to time, faculty face corporate pressure after publishing peer reviewed research. They don’t always work perfectly, but we do have forms of contract in place to protect freedom of ideas. Those contracts are usually upheld and enforced. Can we be sure that this state of affairs will obtain in Singapore? Will elements of the Singaporean government never check the work of economists, medical researchers, chemists, et. al? Will faculty self censor to avoid conflict?

    I could not concur more strongly with your concluding paragraph. However, like so many matters on Pres. Levin’s agenda, I expect this project to continue.

  • cbailyn

    (submitted as a letter to the YDN)

    Michael Fischer’s description of the relationship between Yale and
    Yale-NUS College is largely accurate. I believe the name “Yale-NUS
    College” appropriately signals that relationship.

    Yale-NUS College is a child with two parents. As such, it is quite
    different from any “branch campus”. It is still quite young, but already
    it displays its own individuality, while carrying the unmistakable
    influence of its parents. As with human beings, I doubt that this child
    will be confused with its parents, despite being similarly named. I have
    personal experience with this; my own father is a prominent academic, and
    while we share a surname, I do not recall a single incident in which his
    scholarly work was attributed to me or vice versa.

    Certainly the key participants are not confused about the relationship
    between Yale and Yale-NUS. Prospective students are aware that they are
    signing up for a different educational and social experience, and for a
    different degree from what they would recieve at Yale College; prospective
    faculty members are acutely aware that they will not have appointments at
    Yale University.

    Nevertheless, the influence of Yale on Yale-NUS College has been profound.
    Yale-NUS reflects Yale’s values and Yale’s concerns in a way that no
    college founded solely by NUS, or by any other institution in the world,
    could possibly do. Yale is deeply embedded in the DNA of Yale-NUS
    College, sufficiently so that it is appropriate that the new institution
    carry the Yale name, for the same reasons that individuals in all
    societies generally bear a name in part inherited from their parents.

    Charles Bailyn
    A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics, Yale University
    Inaugural Dean of the Faculty, Yale-NUS College

    33,0-1

    • concerned

      Hope that the school Registrar will get the individual’s name right when attendance verification is requested.

    • Bobbylin

      Consider this:

      The College shouldn’t be thinking about picking the best thoughts from the West and the East and put them as a solution. This is Logic thinking. It’s not enough. Creativity is needed. First we need to clear the obstruction to this project: The minds of the professors who continue to think that their own roots of thought (Western or Eastern) are perfectly fine.

      My solution: Point out both the weaknesses of the East and the West. When people finally realized these weaknesses, they will not adopt either of these thinking by themselves. Instead they will seek something which is beyond the West and the East.

      That’s my vision for the College, something beyond the West and the East.

      • Bobbylin

        Of course it requires much effort since most their thoughts are too ingrained in their minds. That’s why I say the college should ignore their criticisms if they cannot change their thoughts.

  • River_Tam

    I <3 Professor Fischer. Always have, always will.

  • basho

    this is incredibly boring

  • MikeConrad

    Thank you **Professor Fischer** for this valuable contribution to the discussion. It’s disheartening at best to see **President Levin** devalue the **YALE** name in this way. Our university’s good name is one of its most precious assets and should be guarded with a bit more care.

    • Bobbylin

      Why do people care about reputation so much? Because they are identified with the reputation. It hurts their Ego if their reputation are tarnished.

      • Yalie2015Branford

        It is incredibly ignorant to dismiss the importance of reputation. Reputation is not only important in academics, but in business and societal interactions as well. I agree that this college will affect Yale’s good name.

  • Bobbylin

    To whomever maybe concern:

    For centuries ago, the West and the East took separate paths. In the West, we can see the great minds like the scientists, logicians, philosophers, mathematicians. While in the East, we see the mystics and religious individuals.

    A few decades back, the Westerners have started to realize that the Eastern have known things which they have not known before or ‘forgotten’. People like Alan Watts have introduced some of the works from the Eastern Mysticism and Religion to the West. While the Eastern have been assimilating the sciences and technologies from the West. Humans have realized that what each side can offer to the other.

    So there’s no need for the Liberal Arts College to dominated by the Western or the Eastern thoughts. We can see the weaknesses of just adopting one of them. The West is rich outside but empty inside. The East was rich inside but poor outside. But right now the East is joining the West to become rich outside but empty inside.

    The College shouldn’t be thinking about picking the best thoughts from the West and the East and put them as a solution. This is Logic thinking. It’s not enough. Creativity is needed. First we need to clear the obstruction to this project: The minds of the professors who continue to think that their own roots of thought (Western or Eastern) are perfectly fine.

    My solution: Point out both the weaknesses of the East and the West. When people finally realized these weaknesses, they will not adopt either of these thinking by themselves. Instead they will seek something which is beyond the West and the East.

    That’s my vision for the College, something beyond the West and the East.

  • Yalie2015Branford

    No truer words. I absolutely agree. Yale should have NEVER taken a cent of the Singaporean government’s money.

    Yale-NUS is NOT Yale and should not be associated with the Yale name. It should be called “Liberal Arts College of NUS” or something. If the people who go to Yale-NUS don’t get Yale degrees, why incorporate the Yale name? Sounds incredibly deceptive to me.

    If one wants to go to Yale, then one has to apply to the extremely competitive applicants’ pool, get admitted and go to the USA.

    Speaking as someone from South East Asia, it is absolutely true that this is going to affect Yale’s prestige and unique status as an Ivy League, because these South East Asians will think Yale-NUS is actually a “branch” of Yale — thinking that it is the same as Yale, when it is clearly not.

    I’d be thoroughly surprised if the Yale administration never took this into account, but I guess they just didn’t care. What were they thinking?!