On Thursday night, Yale-NUS administrators officially announced the school’s inaugural faculty — a group of 38 professors from around the globe who say they are eager to introduce the liberal arts to Singapore.
Seven faculty members of the new college, a joint venture between Yale and the National University of Singapore, have previously worked at NUS, and three have served as Yale faculty. Roughly half of the professors are American, just under a quarter are Singaporean or maintain permanent residence in the country, and the rest hail from other parts of the world.
“This is a group of people with very interesting cross-cultural experiences,” Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn said. “They’re a group of people who also have demonstrated an ability to work across disciplines.”
Yale-NUS professors said they are excited to be at the forefront of the liberal arts in a country where undergraduate education has traditionally focused on professional, specialized degrees.
Andrew Hui, who was appointed as an assistant professor of humanities at Yale-NUS after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University from 2009-’12, said in a Thursday email that he was not particularly interested in Southeast Asian schools when looking for jobs last year, but the concept of Yale-NUS “immediately intrigued” him. Hui called the project “a bit of a paradox: an old American institution partnering with a young Asian college on entrepreneurial enterprise.”
“It’s not every century that Yale decides to start a college, and for me this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build something from the ground up,” Hui said.
But for Andrew Bailey, assistant professor of humanities, concerns over freedom of expression in Singapore did initially deter him from joining Yale-NUS, “though obviously not with any finality.” Since the college was announced in September 2010, some students and faculty in New Haven have criticized Yale-NUS due to concerns over an alleged lack of political freedoms in Singapore. Yale-NUS professors said they do not think these claims reflect realities in the country, and discussions with administrators at Yale and Yale-NUS as well as with their colleagues have made them confident that all members of the college’s community will have academic freedoms.
“One thing that helped assuage my worries was actually visiting Singapore and talking with local students and faculty about the academic climate there,” Bailey said in a Thursday email. “It’s much more free and open than the critics will admit.”
Social science professor George Bishop GRD ’76, who has taught at NUS for 21 years and will maintain a concurrent appointment there, said he finds the criticisms leveled at Yale-NUS “somewhat overblown.” While political freedoms have been restricted in the past, Singapore is “changing rapidly,” Bishop said, adding that he as well as his guest speakers have been able to criticize government policies.
Bailyn said the new faculty attended a two-week intensive workshop in New Haven during July and another in Singapore during August to discuss plans for the new college and develop its core interdisciplinary curriculum, which will incorporate both Western and Asian traditions. Though Yale-NUS will offer about 16 majors, Bailyn said faculty members at the college do not belong to traditional academic departments but are rather divided between three divisions: the sciences, social sciences and humanities. He said the structure is intended to “encourage interdisciplinary thinking” and to avoid “departmental turf wars.”
Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said the administration will release a general outline of the curriculum next month.