Lewis to lead in Singapore

Pericles_Lewis-crop
Photo by Yale University.

After a yearlong international search, the Yale-NUS Board of Governors announced Wednesday that Pericles Lewis, a professor of English and comparative literature, will be the college’s inaugural president.

Lewis served on the Yale-NUS curriculum development committee and also chaired the school’s humanities faculty search committee. At Yale, Lewis chaired the committee on Yale College majors and led searches for the University librarian and the librarian of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. University President Richard Levin said these experiences made Lewis stand out in a pool of accomplished candidates.

“In my 19-year career as President of Yale, I have mentored several colleagues who have gone on to lead major universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, MIT, Duke and Carnegie-Mellon,” Levin said Wednesday in a speech at NUS’s University Hall. “Pericles Lewis stands out, even in this distinguished group, for his ability to cut to the heart of the matter, to articulate solutions clearly and simply and to inspire others.”

Though the search for the Yale-NUS president included presidents of leading liberal arts colleges and senior administrators at major research universities, Levin said Lewis became a clear choice given his involvement with the project.

Lewis said he has helped with the planning of Yale-NUS for the past two years, though he only began working full-time on the project a year ago. He added he first considered joining the Yale-NUS faculty in the early months of his full-time involvement.

“I realized that I would like to be part of the founding faculty, so I approached President Levin about leadership possibilities,” Lewis said in a Wednesday email. “It just seemed like a great opportunity to be involved in shaping a distinctive educational venture from the ground up.”

As president of Yale-NUS, Lewis said his first goal will be to continue hiring faculty and administrators. The college has hired only 30 of an eventual 100 faculty members and still needs to select an inaugural dean of students.

Lewis will take office at a time when the Yale-NUS project has faced heavy criticism from the Yale College faculty, which passed a resolution in April expressing concern over a “history of lack of respect for civil and political rights” in Singapore. Lewis said the college would be sure to protect the freedoms guaranteed in the Yale-NUS agreement, adding his job to “create a culture of liberal education.”

“All parties involved in the development of the college have heard the Yale faculty resolution loud and clear, and we intend to proceed, as we have from the beginning, with due regard for academic freedom, non-discrimination and other rights,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he will split time between New Haven and Singapore during the 2012-’13 academic year, continuing to supervise the dissertations of his three current graduate students. He will not teach courses in New Haven next year, but said he hopes to resume teaching in Singapore once Yale-NUS opens in fall 2013.

NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan said Lewis’ “deep knowledge and understanding of Yale” and its liberal arts teaching would be a valuable asset to him as president of Yale-NUS.

“The College aims to draw on the best elements of liberal arts education in Yale and to bring these into dialogue with the intellectual traditions and the cultures of Asia,” Tan told the News. “Being very familiar with Yale, and increasingly so now with NUS, Prof Pericles would be well-placed to lead and facilitate these.”

Levin said administrators had not predetermined that the president of Yale-NUS would come from Yale, though he added that administrators wanted a Singaporean on the college’s senior leadership team.

The Board of Governors also announced Wednesday that Lai Choy Heng, NUS vice provost for academic personnel,would become Yale-NUS’s executive vice president for academic affairs, a position administrators have compared to the Yale provost. Tan described Lai as an “accomplished researcher and teacher” who has held senior administrative positions at NUS, including dean of the faculty of science and chair of the promotion and tenure committee.

“Prof Lai studied as an undergraduate then graduate student in University of Chicago, so he has first-hand experience of an excellent liberal arts education,” Tan added.

The trustee board that appointed Lewis and Lai is made up of ten representatives, with Yale and NUS each nominating five members. Current governors include Levin, Vice President Linda Lorimer and former Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68.

Lewis will serve as president for a five-year term with the possibility of renewal and no term limit, Levin said. Lewis and Lai will officially assume their posts on July 1.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    It is a good sign that a scholar devoted to language and its power to inspire will lead a university which may have to confront a government seeking to chill that inspiration.

    We will watch with interest.

    Paul D. Keane, M. Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • tedards

    I am sure Prof. Lewis is a fine scholar in his field, and it is certainly quite possible that he and his collaborators have designed a wonderful, innovative curriculum for Yale-NUS.
    However, while wishing him the best on this new endeavor, I cannot help but highlight that the real challenges lie ahead. His moral fiber will be revealed when his students and faculty, both Singaporean and international, run afoul of Singapore’s rigid restrictions on freedom of expression (what Singaporeans call the “OB markers,” the unseen red lines of what offends the powers that be). And make no mistake, such incidents will occur soon enough, unless everyone is fastidiously practicing self-censorship.
    I sincerely hope that, when that time comes, Prof. Lewis will do the right thing and stand up firmly for the basic values that are a prerequisite for liberal education. Only through consistent, principled actions from its leaders can Yale-NUS gradually realize its potential as an oasis of intellectual liberty (especially for the Singaporean members of the community). On the other hand, failure to do so will unfortunately confirm the suspicions that Yale-NUS is merely an elaborate corporate p.r. exercise (on both sides).

  • Yokel

    Yale, Inc…too big to fail???