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.