Without Levin, Yale-NUS leadership evolves

With Yale-NUS College set to open next fall, working on the school’s day-to-day operations will be less of a role for the next University president.
With Yale-NUS College set to open next fall, working on the school’s day-to-day operations will be less of a role for the next University president. Photo by Ava Kofman.

When Yale-NUS College has faced criticism in the last two years, University President Richard Levin has been the first to come to its defense. But with Levin’s departure set for June 30, 2013, administrators at both Yale and the National University of Singapore say the new college’s administration is prepared to lead on its own — and overcome any challenges it may encounter along the way.

Even after he steps down, Levin will retain an advisory role as a member of the Yale-NUS Board of Governors for at least three years. Levin told the News Aug. 30, the day he announced his planned departure, that Yale-NUS is ready to begin its first academic year without him. It has a senior administrative team in place, roughly 40 faculty hired and an admissions process well underway.

Levin also said he expects his successor to be less involved with the college than he was.

“My involvement came at a time when there wasn’t a Yale-NUS president,” he said. “There’s always been the intention between [NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan] and me to back off when the new president was appointed and let the person carry on the project.”

In the past, administrators of the Singaporean liberal arts college — a joint venture between the two universities — often deferred to Levin on questions about the planning of Yale-NUS and freedom of expression in Singapore. This August, for example, Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said Levin would be better able to address the question of who will enforce a ban on political parties and protest at Yale-NUS: the college itself or the Singaporean government.

Still, Lewis said Tuesday that as the Yale-NUS administration grows more independent, he does not think Yale’s next president is “going to be in a position of constantly defending the project.”

“By the time the successor takes office a year from now, we’ll be just about to open the college, and the true impact of our educational mission will become quite apparent,” Lewis said. “That will also mitigate … some of the political criticisms, because people will see there is a broad political discourse on the campus.”

Lewis said he expects Levin’s successor to be someone familiar with “existing Yale policy and endeavours” and “very involved” with Yale-NUS, though he said the college will require less day-to-day attention from the next Yale president. Sociology professor Deborah Davis, who was chair of the social sciences faculty search committee for Yale-NUS, said she anticipates Levin’s successor to be significantly less involved.

“What is the next president supposed to do? I don’t think there’s any ongoing project or issue for the president to assume,” Davis said. “It’s not Yale’s college; it’s not a Yale branch. It’s a stand-alone Singaporean institution, and they’re really capable of moving it.”

NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan said the college is working with Levin to see if he can teach classes to the school’s first cohort. Levin, a former chair of Yale’s Economics Department, said he has no other activities planned for his sabbatical besides writing on the economy and higher education.

All 10 members on the Yale-NUS Board of Governors serve for three-year terms.

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