When University President Richard Levin announced Yale’s plans to collaborate on a liberal arts college with the National University of Singapore, he said Yale’s commitment would not be finalized without faculty consultation. With that process now underway, so far professors have expressed little concern with the ambitious plan.
Levin and Provost Peter Salovey held a meeting Wednesday for faculty to ask questions and voice doubts about the venture. Of the more than 2,000 professors who received an e-mail invitation, roughly 25 attended the event, which was closed to the press, and several of those were on Yale-NUS planning committees. Eleven of the 17 professors contacted about the proposed college said they had not read much of the University’s literature about it, did not know enough to comment or did not have reservations about the plans.
“We worked very hard on [the Sept. 12 memo announcing the project], and tried to make it persuasive while being forthcoming and honest,” Levin said. “It’s always best to take things head-on and not sweep complex questions under the rug — to anticipate and share concerns.”
In the memo, sent to all ladder faculty, Levin said administrators had worried at the outset of the project about academic freedom, since the Singaporean government does not guarantee free speech for all its citizens. Though the memo says Yale and NUS have worked out terms that would allow professors to teach and publish freely, one professor still expressed worries about freedom in Singapore at Wednesday’s meeting, citing a book that is banned from libraries in the country. Levin said administrators will take the information back to their collaborators and “follow up.”
According to Levin, professors at the meeting also asked for details about how administrators plan to recruit high-quality students to the school and ensure that its standards are befitting of an institution that bears the Yale name. Some professors also wanted to discuss the possibility that the school could draw valuable faculty away from New Haven and distract administrators, Levin said.
“There are question marks on all these subjects,” Levin said. “There are pros and cons. [The administration’s] view is that the balance of positives makes it worth going forward, and almost all the people at the meeting came away thinking that.”
Levin said very few faculty have contacted him about the school, though most of those have been excited about the plan, he said. A greater number of alumni — several hundred — have been in touch the University, he said, adding that the alumni response has been roughly 85 percent positive.
All the 17 professors interviewed said they support the venture, though most said they are waiting to see how it progresses before making a final judgment.
One history professor, who asked that his name not be used because he has not had much time to think about the implications of the new school, said he understands why administrators would rather start a new project than let Yale stagnate. But he said he sees potential downsides.
“I wonder whether the logic of growth is always such a good thing,” he said. “This project could set a precedent, and make it much more difficult to say no to other such opportunities.”
Two professors said that in this case, at least, they think Yale’s international endeavor will succeed because the University has chosen a good partner.
Molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor Anna Pyle said she has colleagues at NUS and has worked with students who previously went to school there.
“The scientific work coming out of NUS is outstanding and competitive with any really good American university,” she said. “We have shared standards with them. I think that’s really important.”
Eight of the professors interviewed said they think Yale’s goal of spreading the liberal arts model is intrinsically valuable, and fits into the University’s overall mission.
The proposed Yale-NUS College, set to open in 2013, would have roughly 1,000 students who would live in residential colleges and who, like students at Yale, would be required to take classes in the humanities, social sciences and sciences. The college’s governing board would be evenly composed of Yale and NUS appointees, and NUS, not Yale, would grant degrees.