Yale’s decision to venture into Singapore with Yale-NUS hasn’t been received very well on campus, to say the least. Last April, the faculty passed a resolution demanding the upholding of nondiscrimination and civil liberties on the NUS campus as ideals of a true liberal arts education. Students spoke out against the college, on the pages of the News and via other avenues. Political science lecturer Jim Sleeper and other Yale-NUS opponents wrote scathing critiques of the Yale Corporation and the limited freedoms of Singapore. The general consensus became that Yale-NUS was bad news.

So why would over 9,200 applicants to the Yale College class of 2017 — that’s around one-third of the total applicants — choose to share their application with Yale-NUS? The answer is simple — because Yale made it way too easy to do so.

To send their Common Application to NUS, all prospective Yalies needed to do was check an additional box on the Yale College supplement. No additional essay questions or separate forms were required.

New York University, which also has campuses abroad, requires applicants to write an explanation of why they’d like to forward their application to admissions offices in Abu Dhabi or Shanghai. The university recognizes that NYU proper and NYU abroad are separate institutions that applicants should have separate reasons for wanting to attend. Yale, however, seems to think that any reasons you could articulate on your application for wanting to attend college in New Haven (Harold Bloom, Toad’s, etc.) must apply to Singapore as well.

Applicants who checked the box to apply to Yale-NUS didn’t need to research the college to craft a perfect 500-character answer in response to a question like, “Why Yale-NUS?” It is very well possible that many of them have no idea about the level of controversy surrounding the institution. The NUS option is a blatant continuation of the trend across university admissions practices of falsely creating the allure of a low admission rate. More NUS applications mean more rejections, and we seem to associate that figure with the quality of an education.

Despite the Admissions Office’s assurances, applicants may have felt that their decision of whether or not to check the NUS box might affect their chances of admission at Yale in New Haven. Or, the Yale-NUS option on the application may have simply served as way of convincing applicants that they were improving their chances of receiving a diploma with the name “Yale” on it. It’s deceiving and it’s wrong.

Ideally, Yale-NUS would have an entirely separate application process from Yale College, meaning that applicants to Yale College would only be able to apply to NUS in addition by filling out an NUS-only application. The Yale-NUS College Charter begins: “The National University of Singapore (‘NUS’) and Yale University (‘Yale’) have established the Yale-NUS College (the ‘College’) as an autonomous college of NUS.” If the college is truly autonomous, it deserves its own application process.

At the very least, by virtue of being a separate institution from Yale (not to mention located in a different country with horrible policies on homosexuality and lots of other things Yalies love), there should be some additional essay questions or a supplement involved in forwarding an application there. It has become clear over the past year that Yale and Yale-NUS will provide very different educations for their students – it is unfair and misleading to allow applicants to believe otherwise.

  • Eli2008

    I’m not sure that “a general consensus” on Yale-NUS yet exists.

    Yes, the Yale faculty passed a resolution urging the new college to uphold civil and political liberties. The vote was 100-69–but, then again, the Yale faculty consists of 900 faculty members (several hundred of whom apparently didn’t have sufficiently strong views either way to show up for the vote). Moreover, at least some of those who voted for the resolution are also active supporters of the college and have been working with its faculty this year in New Haven. (See http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-in-a-Name-For-Yale-in/131794/ and http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/04/06/faculty-approve-yale-nus-resolution/. )

    Yes, Jim Sleeper and others have written pieces critical of the college–but, then again, Stephen Darwall, Howard Bloch and others have written in favor of the project. As far as I can tell, that Yale-NUS’s critics have been loud (and have exposure in fora such as the Huffington Post) does not by itself reveal any “general consensus.”

    Finally, the results of this student poll seem fairly split: http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/10/18/students-divided-over-yale-nus-ycc-survey-says/.

    In short, I suspect that a determinate consensus about Yale-NUS will emerge only once the college finally opens this year–and has a chance to prove either its critics or supporters right.

    PS: Many students who have applied to, and have accepted, Yale-NUS’s offers of admission blog here (http://yalenusblog.com/). As their writings make clear, they are fully aware of controversies about the college. But they are heading to Yale-NUS on the view that the college promises both to constitute, and help bring about, positive change in Singapore’s educational, intellectual, and political environment.

    • Michael Montesano

      Eli2008: Perhaps you could tell us more about how you know that so many applicants to Yale-NUS have this “view” about change in Singapore. I’d be fascinated to know. Calling critics “loud” rather than addressing their arguments is an awfully odd way to change minds. And I hope that you will understand that reports of the “success” of Yale-NUS after it opens may well not have much bearing on the arguments that critics of this venture have advanced. For, first, Yale-NUS has already, with the help of its PR firm, proved terribly focused on spinning the truth, and there will thus be much reason not to trust anything that one reads about it. And, second, the way in which President Levin and his gang have gone about this venture has, even before one knows how the venture pans out, left it fatally compromised. Just one datum: why has Yale been unwilling to share the text of its agreement or agreements with the Singapore government? In the absence of access to that text, why should anyone believe that this so called college is a sound endeavor?
      Diana Rosen’s column is outstanding. The practice of universities’ inflating applicant numbers in order to boast of exclusivity is a terribly serious problem. It is sad to know that it will now spread from the US to Southeast Asia.
      And another small point. Many Yale alumni interview applicants to Yale College. But those alumni have to date received no guidance from the admissions office about how to handle questions from applicants that related to this so called Yale-NUS college, even as that office has busied itself setting up the admissions office for Yale-NUS. Odd, no?

      • Eli2008

        1. I thank Michael Montesano for his response to my post. I note, however, that my post only addresses Diana Rosen’s claim that there was a “general consensus” about Yale-NUS and that this “general consensus” was that Yale-NUS was “bad news.” I listed reasons for doubting this claim. I suggested, instead, that a consensus about Yale-NUS would probably emerge only after the opening of the college. The point of my post was not to address the various arguments of Yale-NUS’s opponents (or its supporters). To criticize my post for not doing what it does not set out to do doesn’t strike me as particularly fair.

        I do describe the opponents of Yale-NUS as loud (i.e., vocal, and with
        national exposure via online fora). That’s a factual report, not an evaluative
        assessment. Incidentally, on the matter of “addressing arguments,” I do not see Rosen’s column addressing the arguments of Yale-NUS’s supporters.
        Nor, for that matter, do I see that Montesano’s response to my post itself addresses my arguments for being skeptical about the existence of a “general consensus” concerning Yale-NUS.

        2. Since Montesano urges me to address arguments, I’ll do what I can in
        the compressed space of this comments section. Briefly: the positive reasons
        for Yale’s collaboration on Yale-NUS—as spelled out in the 2010 Yale-NUS
        prospectus, and in pieces by Darwall, Bloch, and others—are, in my view, strong
        ones. At the same time, opponents of Yale-NUS have raised valid concerns about the Yale administration’s manner of going about opening the college and about academic freedom in Singapore. Still, I don’t think that those concerns show that Yale-NUS is not worth Yale’s pursuing. On the whole, the proposed college—a small liberal arts college in Southeast Asia with strong faculty, an intercultural, interdisciplinary curriculum, and a great books orientation—holds great promise. Whether it lives up to that promise will depend principally on its
        eventual curriculum, faculty, students, and alumni. We’ll have to see how it goes. If the college lives up to its promise, Yale should be proud of the result. If
        not, there are provisions for Yale to pull out.

        On the Yale administration’s launch of the college: I agree with Montesano
        that the Yale administration should have made—and should continue to make–a
        stronger effort to explain the value of, and to build support for, the college
        among Yale’s various stakeholders. I agree that the Yale faculty should have had
        more say about whether to proceed with the college. I agree that transparency
        (e.g., about the administration’s dealings with the Singaporean government) is
        always a good thing in these kinds of ventures. These concerns, however, do not
        undermine the various strong reasons for opening the college, and they do not
        undermine Yale-NUS’s promise. For, ultimately, Yale-NUS is not, and will not
        be, reducible to Richard Levin, the Yale Corporation, the Singaporean Ministry
        of Education, and/or their negotiations to open the college—any more than Yale
        University is itself reducible to Richard Levin, the Yale Corporation, its founders,
        and their activities. Once more, the college should ultimately be assessed primarily on the basis of its curriculum, faculty, students, and alumni. (Should Yale ideally release the full terms of Yale’s agreement with Singapore—even if it is
        not legally required to do so? Sure. Does Yale’s not releasing these full terms
        “fatally compromise” the value of Yale-NUS as an educational institution? I’m
        not convinced.)

        On concerns about academic freedom in Singapore: One can accept that these
        concerns are valid without exaggerating them. On this score, I assume that Kris
        Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison) probably offers a more nuanced and
        informed picture about the current state of academic freedom in Singapore than most of Yale-NUS’s critics in New Haven. While Montesano should be familiar with Olds’s work (on academic globalization and the Singaporean “global schoolhouse” initiative), others may not be. I would refer them to this piece:
        http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/deterritorializing-academic-freedom-reflections-inspired-yale-nus-college-and#ixzz2KoppvjCN

        Olds–who, as far as I know, is neither an opponent nor a supporter of
        Yale-NUS–is explicit about the political environment in Singapore. He is
        explicit about the potential pitfalls that await the unwary. Yale should be on
        guard against these pitfalls, and Yale-NUS’s opponents have played (and
        continue to play) an important role in calling attention to them. Yet Olds
        makes a point that I believe that Yale-NUS’s opponents should also keep in
        mind: “I personally believe that the practice of academic freedom is alive and
        well in Singapore for the most part, and that critics of (for example) the
        Yale-NUS venture would be fools to assume this is a Southeast Asian Soviet-era
        Czechoslovakia: Singapore is far more sophisticated, advanced, and complex than this.” Olds goes on to support that claim on the basis of his previous teaching experience at NUS.

        I am curious to hear Montesano’s own views on Olds’s assessment of academic
        freedom in Singapore. If, on the basis of his own experience, he thinks that
        Olds’s evaluation is overall mistaken, I would welcome knowing why. If he
        thinks that Olds’s evaluation is overall correct, I would welcome his pointing
        out any published criticisms of Yale-NUS that portray current conditions of
        academic freedom in Singapore in anything like the fashion that Olds does. In
        my view, if the Yale administration can be criticized for any coarse-grained
        remarks about “Asia,” so too some (actually, most) opponents of Yale-NUS can be criticized for portraying the current conditions of academic freedom in
        Singapore in the most negative, apocalyptic light possible. Hence, I am wary
        about their “spinning the truth” as well.

        Incidentally, if Montesano is skeptical of any future (administration)
        claims for the college’s “success,” there are independent measures. Top liberal
        arts colleges in the U.S., for instance, take pride in how a disproportionate
        percentage of their students go on to receive Ph.D.’s. (http://www.reed.edu/ir/phd.html.) If Yale-NUS fails to show comparable results, I’d say there will be reason to think that Yale-NUS is failing. I wonder what Montesano thinks. If a comparable percentage of Yale-NUS students go on to pursue and receive the Ph.D., will Montesano accept that as evidence that the college is succeeding?

        3. Just as Yale applicants have all kinds of reasons for applying to Yale
        (some good, some bad), the same is no doubt true for Yale-NUS applicants. The
        link that I included my post includes informal blog posts by Yale-NUS
        admittees. For posts that refer to Yale-NUS’s potentially positive political,
        intellectual, and educational contributions to the Singapore scene, see, e.g.:

        http://yalenusblog.com/2012/09/19/a-college-to-change-it-all/

        http://yalenusblog.com/2013/01/31/reflecting-on-experience-yale-nus-weekend

        http://yalenusblog.com/2012/08/30/tour-guides-school-pride-and-bridging-the-great-divide-reflections-on-the-yale-nus-faculty-incubation-in-singapore-from-kevin-low-yale-nus-college-17/

        Aside from addressing the political angle (as Jared Yeo’s piece does), these
        students highlight (a) the college’s proposed curriculum and (b) the access to faculty that a small liberal arts college can provide as reasons for their interest in Yale-NUS. For some reason, I can’t recall ever seeing Yale-NUS’s opponents mention these factors as playing any role in explaining why potential Yale-NUS students might apply to the college. I find that odd.

        4. If Yale thinks that Yale-NUS is a worthy educational venture, I do not see a problem with Yale admission’s building awareness about the college and making it easy for Yale applicants also to apply to it. Should Yale alumni interviewers, however, have more information about Yale-NUS? Absolutely.

      • Rayner Teo

        Michael, this should be made known–especially the fact that Yale alumni interviewers haven’t been told anything about handling Yale applicants who’re interested in Yale-NUS. The numbers are significant enough. Please write a letter, or even an op-ed!

        Also, given that the agreement signed between Rick Levin and Dr Ng Eng Hen is likely to be another one of those meaningless self-celebratory platitudes that Singaporean bureaucrats love to produce, I doubt it even said anything meaningful or surprising about Singapore law, academic freedom, or the finances of the college. And its release would remove one of the thorniest sticking points in this whole debate. I don’t see any harm in releasing it either.