SINGAPORE — Yale-NUS named history professor and executive vice president for academic affairs Tan Tai Yong as its new president at a meeting of its governing board Tuesday, culminating a seven-month global search that ultimately saw the college promote from within.
Tan replaces founding president Pericles Lewis, who will be returning to New Haven in the fall of 2017 as Yale’s vice president for global strategy and deputy provost for international affairs. The new president will take office on July 1.
“Every member of the governing board is delighted by this appointment,” board chair Kay Kuok Oon Kwong said in a press release announcing the decision. “Tan is a seasoned and respected academic leader with almost two decades in senior administrative positions; he has been a major architect of Yale-NUS College since its earliest planning days; and he has been an indispensable contributor to building the culture and curriculum of the college in the two and a half years he has admirably served as the college’s executive vice president.”
A graduate of the National University of Singapore and Cambridge University, Tan specializes in South and Southeast Asian history. In the 25 years since he began teaching at NUS, Tan has served in a number of administrative roles, including a three-year stint as head of the History Department and six years as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He is a two-time recipient of the university’s Annual Teaching Excellence Awards.
Tan has been closely involved with Yale-NUS since its inception in 2011, co-chairing the committee that hired the college’s inaugural faculty members and helping shape the common curriculum. As executive vice president since October 2014, he has reported directly to Lewis on the academic and co-curricular aspects of the Yale-NUS experience, and has overseen a near-doubling in the size of the Yale-NUS faculty.
“It is the greatest privilege to be appointed to lead this innovative institution that has been reinventing education in the liberal arts and sciences for this century,” Tan said in the release. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance the college in the coming years as we equip this generation of outstanding students for leadership in every sector of society.”
A self-described fan of kung fu movies, Tan has been actively involved in Singaporean civil society. His 11 current appointments include the honorary chairmanship of the National Museum of Singapore, membership on two separate committees convened by the Ministry of Education and a presence on the boards of both the Young Sikh Association as well as the Catholic Junior College School Management Committee.
Tan has been recognized for his service by the Singaporean government, and was awarded the silver Public Administration Medal for “outstanding efficiency, competence and industry” in 2009.
In 2014, he was appointed to a two-and-a-half-year term as a Nominated Member of Parliament, a nonpartisan role designed to bring more independent voices into the Singaporean legislature. In this capacity, Tan asked for reviews of the provision of sexuality education, and enquired about strategies being adopted to strengthen the appreciation of Singaporean history in public schools. He also called for a more aggressive welfare distribution regime.
“We considered many outstanding candidates, but in the end, we concluded that the best candidate was right here,” said search committee co-chair and former Yale University President Richard Levin at the announcement of the board’s decision. “Those of us on the search committee were impressed with how dedicated he is and how tenaciously he will fight to ensure that nothing dilutes the programs that set this college apart, and make it distinctive and more consequential than other liberal arts colleges today.”
Lewis’ departure marks the complete replacement of Yale-NUS’ inaugural senior leadership team. As president, Lewis oversaw the enrollment of more than 700 students and the construction of the college’s permanent campus. He has also served as a prominent advocate for the college and for liberal arts education in Singapore in the face of criticism over academic freedom in the city-state.
At the press conference announcing his appointment, Tan expressed his gratitude to Lewis, noting that he has “placed the college on an upward trajectory.”
“He may leave the college, but the college will not leave him,” Tan said. “In this new capacity as the inaugural vice president for global strategy and deputy provost for international affairs, I am sure we can count on him to advocate for, and support, the development of this very special college.”
University President Peter Salovey, who sits on Yale-NUS’ governing board, was also present at the announcement of Tan’s appointment. In a speech, Salovey said he is “delighted” with Tan’s appointment, and spoke of the importance of Yale-NUS as one of Yale’s most significant international initiatives.
Salovey noted that Yale has committed to increasing the number of slots available for Yale-NUS students to study at Yale College and make the New Haven campus available to Yale-NUS faculty members for a one-semester or one-year sabbatical. He also acknowledged a need for more support to secure Yale-NUS’ long-term financial health.
“We have said since the opening of Yale-NUS [that] it is a community of learning, founded by two great universities, in Asia, for the world,” Salovey said. “It seems right that we have the first two presidents coming from our founding universities.”