University President Richard Levin will leave behind a legacy of outward expansion. Not only did he begin an expansion of online education, but he also launched the University’s partnership with the National University of Singapore to create one of Asia’s first liberal arts colleges.
Because of these efforts, President-elect Peter Salovey will inherit a Yale with boundaries more fluid than ever. But as our University’s scope broadens, we cannot lose sight of what the Yale diploma means — an experience that can only be realized on this campus.
The piece of paper we receive at commencement, inscribed with Latin and emblazoned with our names, means far more than our 36 credits. The Yale diploma represents our involvement in our colleges and New Haven communities — where we often learn more from our out-of-classroom experiences than from our courses. These things, in their entirety, are the Yale experience.
Their exported versions, whether online or abroad, will combine to form a new educational environment. These students must receive a new, and therefore different, diploma.
Our Singaporean venture will only offer a degree granted by NUS to its first class this fall. But in three to six years, Yale-NUS will be officially evaluated by the Yale Corporation, and the pressure may grow for Yale to offer a joint degree, or even its own degree abroad. In fact, other universities have found themselves awarding degrees abroad despite only initially offering a diploma from NUS.
At Duke University, administrators initially committed to a partnership with NUS in which a Duke degree would not be given to the program’s graduates. The Duke Board of Trustees eventually voted to approve a joint degree program bearing both universities’ names. And in 2004, MIT students were surprised to learn that after a “test of concept,” the MIT-Singapore Alliance, which once enabled students to gain a “certificate of completion” from MIT alongside their NUS degree, would grant MIT graduate diplomas.
Administrators, such as NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan, have said that the Yale-NUS degree “may evolve over time,” and none have been willing to guarantee that a Yale degree will not be available one day in Singapore. In the distant future, the Corporation could allow the Yale-NUS degree to “evolve” in a method similar to the path taken by Duke and MIT. But to earn a Yale degree away from New Haven fails to capture what our diploma truly means.
We do not endorse isolationism; we commend resources like Open Yale Courses. Yet our desire to share Yale’s privileges should not allow us to succumb to the rat race of academic globalization: a slippery slope that may only lead us to establishing satellite campuses.
Yale seems to understand this reality — that unchecked growth could compromise the Yale experience — when a recent University report urged Yale not to offer online degrees at this time. This philosophy must be sustained throughout the Salovey administration, and it should guide our thinking on the future of Yale-NUS.
We believe that the values of a Yale education must transcend borders. But we hope that when someone says they graduated from Yale, we will always be able to ask them which college they were in.