FAS meeting stirs Yale-NUS debate

Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis sought to address faculty concerns with the Singaporean college at a Thursday meeting.
Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis sought to address faculty concerns with the Singaporean college at a Thursday meeting. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Roughly 20 professors discussed Yale’s venture in Singapore during a closed-door meeting hosted by the Faculty Advisory Committee on Yale-NUS on Thursday afternoon.

Most faculty interviewed said the meeting did not adequately address their major concerns about Yale’s partnership with the National University of Singapore, which they said included the impact of Yale-NUS on Yale. Though 11 faculty members involved with the Singaporean college went to the meeting, attendees said they were dissatisfied with the number of Yale administrators and Faculty Advisory Committee members present. Out of the 10-person Yale-NUS Faculty Advisory Committee, only four members came to the meeting — a number that several professors said was insufficient, especially because committee chair Marvin Chun did not explain his fellow committee members’ absence.

“There was a lot of dissemination of information, but I am not sure it was fully processed because some respondents who are involved with the college talked a lot about their personal experiences and relationship with Yale-NUS — their responses were anecdotal,” said Yale College Dean Mary Miller, the only Yale administrator who attended the meeting. “And to a certain degree, I would not say I would make policy based on individual responses to the project.”

Computer science professor Michael Fischer said he thinks Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis anticipated that the main concern of attendees would be academic freedom in Singapore, as Lewis had prepared slides addressing the issue. But many of the faculty’s concerns were unrelated to Singapore, Fischer said, and instead focused on the way Yale faculty who choose also to teach at Yale-NUS will balance their commitments to both schools. Whether Yale will be able to maintain the strength of its academic programs while granting course releases to professors who take on visiting positions at Yale-NUS was the question on most attendees’ minds, Fisher said.

Earlier this month, Yale-NUS administrators announced that Yale faculty will have the ongoing option of applying for temporary teaching positions at Yale-NUS. The visiting faculty will have the opportunity to teach two-week or semester-long courses at the Singaporean liberal arts college on a regular basis, and Lewis told the News that administrators have not set a cap on the number of Yale faculty who will take positions in Singapore. Some Yale faculty have also undertaken consulting professorships at Yale-NUS: Alongside having the option of teaching at the school, they will be involved in developing Yale-NUS’s curriculum.

Lewis said he expects the total number of course releases granted to professors who go to Yale-NUS to range from five to 16 per year. Given that 200 members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are on leave from Yale at any one time, Lewis said the relatively small number of professors who will leave to teach at Yale-NUS will not prove a burden on Yale’s academics. Lewis said he thinks he adequately responded to the faculty’s concerns, but added that some of their questions were better suited for Yale President Richard Levin, President-elect Peter Salovey or members of the FAS Steering Committee, which will work with the Provost’s Office to grant course releases to Yale faculty who want to teach at Yale-NUS.

Chun said all professors wishing to teach in Singapore will need the approval of their department chairs and the FAS Steering Committee, adding that the Yale administration will actively review the impact of professors’ departures on Yale’s academic life.

Most professors interviewed said they were disappointed that Levin, Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak, as well as relevant steering committee members did not attend the meeting. French and African-American studies professor Christopher Miller, a noted opponent of the Singaporean college, called the meeting a “sham” in part because Chun and Lewis deferred a lot of questions to the absent Yale administrators.

Chun said in a Thursday email that Thursday’s meeting was announced as a discussion with Lewis, adding that there was no suggestion that Levin, Salovey or Polak would attend. Lewis said faculty can have their lingering questions answered by Polak during an FAS faculty forum in April and by Levin during a May faculty meeting.

Professors said Chun announced at the meeting that Yale-NUS faculty and administrators are preparing a report about Yale-NUS that they will present during the Yale College faculty meeting in May, but some added that they were not given a clear description of the report’s contents. As a result, Mary Miller said she thinks faculty members interested in knowing more about the demands placed on Yale-NUS visiting faculty have high expectations for the amount of new information that will be discussed during the May meeting.

Chun said the report will reflect the opinion of all members of the Yale-NUS advisory committee.

“We want to prepare an objective and balanced report that covers what is exciting and going well at Yale-NUS College, and that articulates areas of concern about Yale-NUS College or the college’s impact on Yale,” Chun said.

Frank Slack, a biology professor who will be a visiting professor at Yale-NUS, said a significant part of the 90-minute meeting focused on the Yale-NUS faculty hiring process, adding that he thinks it should have lasted longer.

French senior lector Ruth Koizim said the general impression she got from the meeting was that faculty need more detailed information about the new college and more transparency on the part of its leadership, adding that she expected the meeting to be more “meaty.” She said she was not satisfied with the content of the meeting.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with anything, as there was no indication of the administration’s take on our concerns,” Fischer said.

Lewis said he thinks attendees included a group of faculty who were skeptical about the project, an equally large group of Yale-NUS supporters and faculty members who were there to learn about the college. Chun said attending faculty expressed views ranging from supportive to critical.

The Yale-NUS Faculty Advisory Committee’s task is to inform Yale faculty about the progress of Yale-NUS and to advise Levin and others at Yale on how to approach issues of concern.

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