Lewis talks Yale-NUS

Yale-NUS College is doing well so far, according to Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis and Yale-NUS Dean of Students Kyle Farley.

Two months after Yale-NUS — a new liberal arts college in Singapore jointly run by Yale and the National University of Singapore — opened its doors to its inaugural class this August, Farley and Lewis presented an update on the inaugural year of Yale-NUS to around 15 Yale students on Monday in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Though Lewis and Farley said they are optimistic that Yale-NUS will be a model for higher education in Asia, they said not everything has gone smoothly since the academic year began.

“We had to make mid-semester adjustments when courses did not work out,” Farley said. “We had a situation in which students were stressed and staying up all night after two weeks because the professors were trying to get into a variety of materials.”

Because many students felt overwhelmed by the amount of work, Farley said he and Yale-NUS professors decided to change the course curriculums slightly to readjust the demand on students.

Some aspects of student life are also still undergoing transition.

Though students are allowed to informally start student organizations, official student groups are not allowed until next semester, Farley said.

Farley said every student wants a different type of student organization, but six forms of student government or 13 different styles of debate do not make sense for a college with only 157 students.

The first semester will give students time to collaborate and decide which student organizations will best fit the needs of the college, Farley said. In a few weeks, Farley said there will be an extracurricular fair in which students can present their ideas to each other and determine whether there is enough support to formally establish that kind of organization.

Since the student body size is so small, Farley said Yale-NUS also wants to encourage interaction with students at the National University of Singapore. Students with specific talents would not necessarily be able to find similarly accomplished peers within the college, he said.

Farley cited one Yale-NUS student, who is a chess Grandmaster, as an example. The student would not be able to start a competitive team within Yale-NUS, so he would have to seek fellow chess players at the National University of Singapore, Farley said. Similarly, another Yale-NUS student is an accomplished Indian dancer, and she may have a greater chance of finding other Indian dancers at the main National University of Singapore campus, he added.

“The idea is to help bridge ties between Yale-NUS and National University of Singapore,” Farley said. “We felt that if we let students start clubs [immediately], they wouldn’t be thinking the other campus exists.”

Students are already helping shape the identity of Yale-NUS, Lewis said. Since students are all required to take the same four “core classes,” they have a common foundation to build upon.

After reading works by Plato in their classes, students renamed a common room “Plato’s Cave,” he said.

Lewis said that the common curriculum at Yale-NUS is very similar to Directed Studies at Yale. Though grades are assigned, Lewis said a grade-point average is not calculated during the first term — a policy intended to increase collaboration and facilitate student discussions inside and outside the classroom. Students are free to take higher-level courses from the National University of Singapore in their later years of study if they choose to, he added.

“We wanted them to have shared intellectual experience with the core group of courses,” Lewis said. “The fact that students are taking the same courses means that we can take a week off to explore things that students are really passionate about.”

For its inaugural year, Yale-NUS attracted over 3,000 faculty applicants from which around 50 professors from various universities around the world were eventually selected. Students had similar level of competition, with SAT scores comparable to those of the Ivy League. The inaugural class of 157 students is mostly Singaporean, followed by American, British and other nationalities.

One audience member — Jane Edwards, dean of international and professional experience and Yale College senior associate dean — said she met the inaugural group of Yale-NUS students this summer when they were attending orientation in New Haven. Edwards said the students seemed enthusiastic and outgoing and added that she thought Lewis and Farley’s presentation had reflected those qualities.

Several students who attended the talk declined to be interviewed and added that they were intending to seek a job, an internship or a fellowship at Yale-NUS in the near future.

Yale-NUS plans to eventually increase its student body to 1,000.

Correction: Oct. 15

The headline of a previous version of this article misstated the name of the school as simply “NUS.” In addition, a quotation and paraphrase were mistakenly
attributed to Kyle Farley when they should have been attributed to Pericles Lewis.

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