CHUN: Globalizing the academic 1 percent

As master of Berkeley College, I get to vicariously experience the kind of college life that I wish I had for myself. It is with the same motivation that I support the Yale-NUS College project.

Life at Yale cannot be described in words, but here are a few glimpses from the past week. Last Tuesday, I joined a group of about 50 Berkeley seniors to hear and discuss student presentations on topics ranging across Southern liberalism, a biography of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Pierson College master John Hersey, molecular mechanisms for cell maintenance and the history of the Titanic — all in two hours.

Later in the week, I met with a student who developed a likely publishable essay exploring the cognitive science of political corruption and another student planning a fund-raiser for the homeless. On Friday night, Berkeley College Council organized a blacklight dance party in our basement space that the council transformed into a glowing Pandora wonderland. On Saturday night, my family and I attended a Yale Symphony Orchestra concert that featured student soloists and conductors that I personally knew as musical directors of the Berkeley College Orchestra. Academic interests and extracurricular life span seamlessly across all activities and spaces — Yale synergizes the liberal arts and residential college experience more harmoniously than anyone.

I am from the academic 99 percent who had neither a liberal arts education nor a residential college experience. In South Korea, I dutifully studied 16 hours a day during high school to score above the national examination cutoff that gave me entry into an elite private university there. Required to choose a major before entering college, I took over half of my credits in psychology, memorizing the material in a way that perhaps qualified me to teach Introduction to Psychology now.

I passively learned, but I did not feel actively engaged or inspired. Imagine spending your college years never speaking up in class or receiving any feedback on the papers you submit. My study groups did not discuss ideas but focused on how to distribute the best student’s notes (not mine).

By the end of my stifling freshman year, I had enough and wanted out. I tried to transfer to any college in the States that would take me. However, scholarships were nonexistent, and when I asked my father to sign a financial support commitment, he declined, saying that he couldn’t afford it. Then I remember how he left to his room.

Disappointed at the time, I was more embarrassed and sorry to hear my father apologize for it many years later when he was dying from cancer. I assured him that things worked out okay for me. Any memory of my having wounded his parental esteem was buried along with him over 10 years ago.

However, while walking out of the Yale College faculty meeting last month, I was surprised to see this memory erupt from its psychoanalytic dormancy. Will Yale-NUS be denied to numerous students around the world like me who lack the hyper-talent or mega-resources needed to study abroad at a place like Yale?

All faculty and students unanimously support the premium importance of academic freedoms and equal human rights for all. These principles are not only fundamental to Yale-NUS, but Yale has an exit plan if they are not sustained. So is a faculty resolution necessary to state the obvious, when its motivation risks the perception that the Yale-NUS project is being held political hostage? I emphasize that I agree with most of my colleagues’ concerns and statements, as much as I know we all share an unwavering commitment to education. In fact, I am encouraged to see the open nature of the debate, well covered by the News and other outlets. Both critical and supportive op-ed statements, coupled with admirably balanced reporting, already demonstrate that Yale-NUS enjoys free and critical debate. We have exhibited the kind of diverse and scholarly dialogue here in New Haven that should exchange freely across to the Yale-NUS campus. Indeed, the visibility of this liberal arts partnership guarantees an international audience for all our voices.

Now that I’m a lucky member of the academic one percent — a beneficiary of several devoted and brilliant teaching scholars — I join many of our faculty and students in supporting Yale-NUS as an unprecedented opportunity to share our gifts and privileges. This commitment to others is what the “Y” symbolizes to me, and why I am proud to see Yale’s name on the new college with NUS.

Marvin Chun is a professor of psychology and the master of Berkeley College.

Comments

  • Goldsmith11

    > “I join many of our faculty and
    > students in supporting Yale-NUS as an
    > unprecedented opportunity to share our
    > gifts and privileges.”

    Is that really how you see this whole endeavor? Is this “one-percenter” notion of benevolence really how you envision Yale’s place in the world?

    It’s our responsibility to “spread liberal arts” education like Democracy a la Bush Administration foreign policy?

    You’re probably right! After all, if the quality and equality of public education in America, the state of Connecticut, and the shining beacon of the New Haven public school system are any indication, we’d be wasting our time by sharing our “gifts and privileges” with our own community.

    • inycepoo

      With all due respect, the blatant ignorance exemplified in this comment is dazzling. Above all, lay off on the dry sarcasm; you don’t respond to Master Chun like that.

      You obviously know nothing of the Asian education system to which Professor Chun is referring. As Chun points out, the entire Asian education system is based on memorization, regurgitation, and a stiff structure that gives no flexibility on a student’s professional future, or anything of the like. Therefore, Asian countries seem to perform way better than America objectively, but I know for a fact that Chun is not the only one who has succeeded in such an environment but has many dislikes about the system. Also, his point is not that we should be spreading the liberal arts like we do democracy, as was so gallantly challenged. In my view, Chun sees this as an “opportunity” (last paragraph) to do so, i.e., it isn’t the primary objective of Yale-NUS. As master of BK, it’s obvious that Chun sees Yale-NUS as a great way to start exposing Asian kids to a system that is currently unknown to them, and may very well prove to be superior. Again, he probably views this goal as a side benefit to having Yale-NUS.

      • River_Tam

        > Above all, lay off on the dry sarcasm; you don’t respond to Master Chun like that.

        You must be new to the internet.

        Stay, please. We have cookies.

      • ldffly

        “Above all, lay off on the dry sarcasm; you don’t respond to Master Chun like that.

        Who’s Master Chun? The Second Coming? I don’t know the man, but I suspect he wouldn’t claim that level of respect, either. One of the things I took away from my years at Yale is that in argument, everyone is equal. Everybody stands or falls on the quality of argument, master of a college or not.

        One other thing. I’ve never seen a college master referred to as ‘Master So and So’ in writing. When did that get started?

  • qwertyqazol

    Since when did sarcasm become a quality argument?

    Since when did Yale-NUS preclude opportunities for Yalie involvement in New Haven (and its school system)?

    • ldffly

      From “The Underground Guide to the College of Your Choice,” published 1971, page 139:

      “Yale abounds with an unhealthy number of wit pickers–sarcastic and indifferent types. Dinner is a daily chore, a mental fencing match. Memorize “Games People Play” for survival.”

      Sarcasm hasn’t become a quality argument. It’s just that sarcasm has always been part of argument at Yale.