One year in, Yale-NUS develops identity

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Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

When the Yale Corporation met on the second floor of Woodbridge Hall last week, it turned its attention to an institution on the other side of the world: Yale-NUS College.

The leadership team of Yale-NUS — the liberal arts college established by Yale and the National University of Singapore — had traveled to New Haven for the weekend to update the 15 Corporation members on one of the most ambitious projects to come out of former President Richard Levin’s tenure, and one that will continue to define Yale’s efforts to internationalize.

“What most impressed me was [the Yale-NUS leadership’s] seriousness of purpose when it comes especially to curricular matters and their commitment to providing a new kind of educational experience to the 150 freshmen who have started at Yale-NUS College this year,” University President Peter Salovey said.

Ever since the Yale Corporation approved the creation of Yale-NUS College, students and faculty alike have questioned the extent to which the Singaporean liberal arts college, now in its first academic year, can or should resemble Yale. Though Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said he does not communicate frequently with his Yale counterpart outside of the Yale-NUS board meetings, administrators interviewed said many of Yale-NUS’s decisions regarding student life and administrative structures are informed by the way Yale operates. Nevertheless, the Singaporean liberal arts college has departed from its parent institutions’ traditions on several fronts.

“I don’t think any of us are deliberately imitating our counterparts at Yale or NUS,” said Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn. “But since much of the Yale-NUS leadership have emerged from careers at our parent institutions, I suppose it’s natural that we have some things in common.”

PRESIDENT TO PRESIDENT

One might expect the respective presidents of Yale and Yale-NUS — Salovey and former Yale English professor Pericles Lewis — to be in close communication. They both stand at the helm of institutions deeply tied together, as it was a Yale Corporation decision that allowed for the creation of Yale-NUS.

They are also both new to the job, and leading institutions in transition. While Salovey is entering his ninth month as University President, Lewis is overseeing Yale-NUS’s first academic year.

For Salovey, the construction of two new residential colleges, the subsequent first major expansion of the student body in decades and the reshaping of faculty governance provide challenges. For Lewis, the goal is to establish a lasting institution from the ground up.

But according to both Salovey and Lewis, there is no regularly scheduled communication between the two presidents beyond the Yale-NUS board meetings.

Salovey said the primary conduit of communication between him and Lewis is Salovey’s position on the Yale-NUS board, which brings him to Singapore twice a year.

Still, Salovey said he would never hesitate to email Lewis if he felt the need to. The two presidents know each other well from their time on the Yale faculty, he said.

“It’s been instructive to watch President Lewis build a team from scratch and create an organizational culture,” Salovey said. “I’m very interested in those kinds of issues as a social psychologist, but they also have some bearing on ideas I have about evolving the leadership team at Yale.”

According to Lewis, Salovey will next be in Singapore over spring break, when the Yale-NUS board will hold its next meeting.

Other notable Yale figures also hold spots on the Yale-NUS board, including former President Richard Levin, University Vice President for Strategic and Global Initiatives Linda Lorimer, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Dean Peter Crane and former Yale Corporation fellow Roland Betts.

Lorimer, however, communicates more often with Lewis. They email once or twice a week and have a scheduled call once a month, Lorimer said.

“As a former liberal arts college president myself, I have also tried to be a sounding board for Pericles to try out some of his ideas about policies and programs,” she said.

ADAPTATION, NOT IMITATION

While Yale-NUS does not make decisions with the intention to copy Yale or NUS, there are bound to be some similarities between the three schools, Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn said.

In forming the roles of deans at Yale-NUS, for example, Lewis said the Yale-NUS administration benefited from advice from Yale administrators and faculty. Similarly, Yale-NUS’s Centre For International and Professional Experience has been modeled after Yale’s Center for International and Professional Experience, Lewis said.

Lewis added that the Yale-NUS administration is now in the process of recruiting leaders for its residential colleges, which will open in 2015 once Yale-NUS’s new campus — currently under construction — is complete. Known as “rectors” and “vice rectors,” these positions will be equivalent to those of masters and deans at Yale, he said. Yale-NUS has been in close contact with masters and deans at Yale to receive advice about formulating and recruiting for these roles, he said.

“Yale’s residential college model is an inspiration for our work in Singapore and it is helpful to talk to my colleagues that are imbedded in that system,” said Yale-NUS Dean of Students Kyle Farley.

Farley said he speaks to the deans of residential colleges and cultural houses at Yale to ask them for recommendations about the creation of Yale-NUS’s residential colleges. Specifically, he said, he asks Yale deans for references for Dean’s Fellows — university graduates who serve as mentors and counselors to Yale-NUS students for one year.

Still, administrators emphasized that Yale-NUS and Yale are not the same school. Lewis said that because Yale-NUS is much smaller and does not have graduate or professional schools, its administrative structures cannot be the same as Yale’s.

“We mostly look at how small liberal arts colleges are organized,” Lewis said. “Yale is much larger and has a graduate school — we didn’t just want to imitate [them].”

The two institutions also use different methods to fill the ranks of their faculties, despite the fact that three Yale professors are playing major roles in Yale-NUS faculty searches.

According to Bailyn, Yale faculty members — including political science professor Steve Wilkinson, economics professor Joe Altonji and art history professor Robert Nelson — sit on the Yale-NUS faculty search committee. Wilkinson said the group meets over Skype every couple of weeks.

“What’s different is that Yale-NUS is looking for the type of candidates that would be competitive at a top [liberal arts college] in the USA, which is a somewhat different type of candidate than would normally be hired here at Yale,” Wilkinson said. “There’s a bit more emphasis for instance on teaching and a commitment to a residential learning environment at the initial hiring stage.”

Wilkinson added that unlike at Yale, there are no firm department slots at Yale-NUS, meaning that hiring is done in an interdisciplinary manner. Still, Wilkinson said, the procedure for actually hiring tenured faculty is similar at both institutions.

Unlike Yale, Yale-NUS also maintains a common curriculum for all its students. Yale-NUS students in their first year all take the same four classes, and are able to choose one elective in their second semester. Faculty and administrators have said that this curriculum is designed to give students a strong base in different fundamental disciplines.

FACULTY TO FACULTY

As Yale-NUS’s first academic year nears completion and the school becomes more independent, administrators interviewed said the relationship between Yale and Yale-NUS will be mostly faculty-driven.

“Several Yale faculty are actively collaborating with Yale-NUS faculty on both research and pedagogical matters,” according to psychology professor Marvin Chun, chair of the University’s Yale-NUS advisory committee, a faculty group that provides advice to Yale on Yale-NUS.

Next semester, a few Yale professors will be traveling to Singapore to teach temporarily.

Tina Lu, who teaches East Asian languages and literatures at Yale, will be exploring different pedagogical methods with Yale-NUS students, Lewis said. He added that he hopes Lu might be able to learn something in Singapore that could be useful to her in New Haven. Frank Slack, professor of molecular and cellular biology, and Carol Bascom-Slack, a lecturer in the same department, will help teach the integrated science course at Yale-NUS.

Lewis said he hopes to increase the number of faculty visits between the two institutions. Still, he said he does not expect any long term exchanges, especially on the part of Yale-NUS.

Though Yale-NUS faculty may visit Yale while they are on leave, they are occupied with their own research and will likely not do any full time teaching in the United States, Lewis said.

“If someone at Yale invited someone at Yale-NUS to come and teach, then we could work that out, but that’s not part of the general plan,” he said.

Lewis also said he hopes to increase more faculty research collaboration between Yale and Yale-NUS.

“I would think that there would be some areas where faculty at Yale would like to make research with faculty at Yale-NUS,” he said.

Faculty on the Yale-NUS advisory committee also plan to visit Singapore this month over spring break, according to Chun.

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