Yale-NUS and Yale-New Haven

We often tell ourselves that no email is really private; nevertheless, it was a surprise to discover that a small portion of an email I had sent to some of my colleagues about Yale-NUS was published in the News (“Yale Takes Brand to Singapore,” March 27). These are informal exchanges not intended for public distribution. And what the News published was out of context. Like some of my colleagues, I emailed President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey six months ago to express my concerns about the Yale-NUS initiative — worried it would require significant time and energy. I was also worried about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns — to paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

At this point, the University as a whole is faced with a fait accompli. So far there have been no huge, unexpected challenges to the Yale-NUS effort, but it does seem to have become a distraction. Simply put, all is not well with the Yale-New Haven campus.

Some of the best people — people we have worked with closely for years — left in the recent, abrupt reorganization of Information Technology Services. Shared services is, from the perspective of many if not most faculty, a brutal and inappropriate effort to apply a corporate model to an academic institution. One thing Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King may not have realized is that tenured faculty cannot be fired the way staff can. Moreover, one hears numerous complaints about the kinds of directives and leadership coming out of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Running Yale is more than a full-time job, and one wonders if these problems — or some of them — would have been avoided if the top levels of the administration had kept their full attention closer to home.

It is important to remember that Richard Levin has been an outstanding president. Anyone who remembers our pre-Levin University knows just how lucky we have been. (This is perhaps the main reason why it has taken so long for the faculty to shed their complacency in the face of a series of interlocking setbacks that cannot be simply linked to the budgetary crisis.)

Although Yale-NUS may be an unwanted distraction, it seems possible and finally important for faculty to engage Levin’s efforts in a constructive manner. This was the impetus for my email, which is offered here in a slightly refined, shortened version:

Colleagues — I too find the use of the Yale name to be somewhat unnerving. If Yale-NUS is really an autonomous institution, Yale’s name should not be associated with it indefinitely. If it is going to be something like a sister campus, the Yale name will remain and we (the faculty) need to be much more involved. What would we expect and find appropriate — and what would students and the world expect from a campus halfway around with the Yale name on it?

1) All students at Yale-NUS should be able to do a semester abroad at Yale-New Haven.

2) Yale-NUS students can come to Yale-New Haven to take our summer classes (not independent Yale-NUS summer classes).

4) A certain number of transfer students each year seems inevitable and even appropriate.

5) Yale’s name on the degree itself.

Is Yale (or rather Yale-New Haven) going to be ready for that kind of substantial commitment? Are the faculty? The students?

I think we need a forceful resolution like the one Seyla Benhabib proposed at the last faculty meeting and another resolution calling for a future vote by the faculty — in six to 10 years — whereby we will determine whether we believe Yale’s name should be on the BA degree that students receive at Yale-NUS or Yale be removed from the university’s name in a way that will signal its maturity as an independent institution.

At present, we are told that the Yale name can be taken off Yale-NUS if something goes wrong — but what about if something goes right? What if Yale-NUS eventually became known as the Independent College of Singapore and was on its own? Or what if we discover that having a half-sister campus in Singapore is a boon?

The assumption has been that we are generously bestowing our knowledge and educational wisdom on Singapore, but it seems more important (and more likely) that a truly successful outcome would result if our students and faculty members were learning from the dynamic exchanges generated by a properly reciprocal relationship. But is this what is envisioned? And what we want? How much would it change college life to have so many students rotating through? Who would not be attending Yale-New Haven if we are busy meeting our responsibilities to Yale-NUS?

Charles Musser

April 3

The writer is Professor of American Studies, Film Studies and Theater Studies and a 1973 graduate of Berkeley College.

Judge Yale-NUS for academic opportunity, not politics

Last fall, faculty at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies considered opportunities for graduate study by students of the planned Yale-NUS College. The one-year master’s program that emerged is based on the successful model developed to serve Yale College students. The F&ES faculty considered the proposed program, the new College, as well as its situation within Singapore. Many issues raised in both formal and informal discussions mirror those occurring in advance of another vote planned at the Yale College faculty meeting taking place today.

Why did a diverse group of Yale faculty vote unanimously to strengthen Yale’s interactions with the new college? The motivations are both specific and general. The opportunity to work with students from a region where questions of the environment are of global significance is certainly important. It is equally clear that the environmental studies major at Yale-NUS is of great interest. Yale-NUS is probably the first place on the planet where an EVST major is being designed from the ground up, not as the product of an interdepartmental melee for representation.

But more critically, our faculty often work internationally. The scale of the problems they focus on and the contexts within which they carry out their research are tremendously diverse and challenging. Nevertheless, we can make a difference. Suggesting that we wouldn’t engage with Singapore to create a new college because we don’t completely agree with their government’s policies misses the point.

David Skelly

April 4

The writer is Professor and Associate Dean at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.