Yale-NUS releases curriculum report

In a 90-page report released Thursday, the Yale-NUS Curriculum Committee unveiled the specific details of the Singaporean college’s curriculum and outlined the process of creating a liberal arts education from scratch.

Committee members said the report, which Yale-NUS faculty have been working on since December 2012 and which is the first comprehensive review of the college’s curriculum, aims to address the challenges that faculty have faced while drafting the curriculum’s current version, such as offering a core curriculum as well as individual majors and balancing general and specialized education. Committee Chair Bryan Garsten and committee member Charles Bailyn, who is also the Yale-NUS dean of faculty, said they hope the report will serve as a point of reference to others looking to experiment with the liberal arts in Asia and also spark conversations about curricular innovation in the United States and elsewhere.

“I am sure some scholars will disagree strongly with parts of the report, but I absolutely hope that people will consider some of these curricular innovations in the Yale context,” Bailyn said. “I don’t expect that Yale will adopt some of the more significant innovations — nor it necessarily should — and some people might hate the report and some people might like it, but some of our pedagogical initiatives can certainly prove useful for colleagues here.”

The report stresses the importance of preserving the traditional liberal arts model in a world where knowledge can be disseminated more easily than it could when liberal arts colleges first emerged. Garsten said an extensive explanation of Yale-NUS’s general approach to the liberal arts was crucial to understanding the logic behind its curriculum and the motives behind building the college itself.

“In one way it is a strange thing to build a new college at the very moment when journalists of higher education are proclaiming the end of the residential four-year college,” Garsten said. “So alongside outlining the details of the curriculum, we wanted to answer the question: Why would we build a new brick and mortar college in Singapore today?”

The report provides details about Yale-NUS’s common curriculum, a set of 12 core courses that all students must take throughout their four years. Students will also take classes for their majors — each major cannot consist of more than 10 courses — but will not be required to fulfill any distributional requirements after completing the common curriculum. Garsten added that the cap placed on the number of courses within each major serves to give students the freedom to experiment with their course choices after completing the core requirements.

While well-established institutions such as Yale tend to be resistant to change, Yale-NUS faculty have received “a blank slate,” Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said. Yale-NUS has the option to incorporate only the most effective elements of existing educational models and its faculty will be free to experiment with new teaching and learning methods, Bailyn said, which will be reviewed on a regular basis.

Though the Yale-NUS community is shaping the new college from scratch, the report said, the Singaporean college is learning from other educational partnerships in Asia — both successful and unsuccessful ones. Garsten said some Yale-NUS faculty are in contact with representatives from successful peer institutions such as Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, and several faculty members have been tasked with researching unsuccessful branches of universities’ campuses in Singapore such as New York University’s Tisch Asia School of the Arts, which in November 2012 announced  that it would not be admitting new students.

Academic freedom is a fundamental cornerstone of the new college, which aims to prepare its students to listen and read critically “as civil society in Singapore and elsewhere continues to grow more vibrant online and on the ground,” the report said.

“I don’t think there is going to be any trouble with the fact that students will take what they learn at Yale-NUS and use it to ask questions about all kinds of matters including justice and political systems in Singapore,” Lewis said. “I think Singapore is eager for that kind of robust conversation, and that it has already started such conversations.”

Former Dean of Yale Law School and Sterling professor of law Anthony Kronman, who served as co-chair of the initial Curriculum Committee on Yale-NUS and has reviewed the report, said he thinks it takes a first step toward explaining how a liberal arts education model can be implemented in a 21st century multicultural society. Kronman said he hopes the report will spark debate about curricular innovation in New Haven, adding that he thinks many observers will track the progress of the new college.

“For better or worse, we will be able to watch what happens from a distance,” he said.

Yale-NUS will offer 14 majors.

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