As a Singaporean graduate of Yale College based in Singapore, I want to touch on several issues regarding Yale-NUS. These include the following: Poor communication by Yale about what Yale-NUS is; the attractiveness of Yale among students in Singapore being reduced by Yale-NUS; and most importantly, the ill-conceived idea to let Yale-NUS graduates be non-voting members of AYA.
Yale has failed to fully inform both the media and the public of its relationship with Yale-NUS. Because of this lack of information, misreporting has occurred and misinformation has spread.
For example, on August 2, Bloomberg published an article titled “Yale Commences With Singapore Wielding Subsidy as Rivals Depart.” For one thing, this title incorrectly suggests that Yale is footing the bill for Yale-NUS. The article also quotes Yale alumnus Ben Wildavsky saying “Yale” in a quote about funding, when presumably what he really means is Yale-NUS. In another quote, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York in Albany, Jason Lane, seems to imply that Yale-NUS is a “branch campus” of Yale. The article makes no attempt to mention or correct these errors in perception, thus allowing the reader to accept them as facts — not identify them as the misperceptions they are. Yale should be more proactive about correcting these errors in the public eye.
Another issue is that the presence of Yale-NUS seems to be reducing the value of a Yale education in Singaporean public opinion. Both alumni and current Yalies from Singapore who I have spoken to tell me this is true. More than one person has expressed that if they knew that Yale was going to work on Yale-NUS, they would not have chosen Yale when they were entering college. In January, I and a few other alumni in Singapore had a chance to spend some time with senior Yale faculty who were serving as an Advisory Council to then-President Levin on Yale-NUS. Even within that group there was a struggle to come up with an analogy to describe the relationship between Yale and Yale-NUS. It was obviously not assuring given that Yale-NUS was about to start its first year.
Additionally, it is an ill-conceived idea to let Yale-NUS graduates become non-voting members of the Association of Yale Alumni. Did whoever considered this idea give serious thought to how this will affect the Yale Club of Singapore?
The inaugural size of the Yale-NUS student body numbers approximately 150 people. Four years from now, any graduate who remains in Singapore after graduation may join the Yale Club of Singapore. Assume all 150 do so. Currently, there are currently about 300 people on the email list for the Yale Club of Singapore. The massive influx of Yale-NUS students would be equivalent to the Yale Club of New York being inundated with graduates of Columbia and NYU.
The good thing is that Yale Club of Singapore has its own constitution, and thus does not have to accept Yale-NUS graduates as members on the basis of their NUS degrees. The typical Yale Club of Singapore event has a turnout of 20 to 30 Yalies, and it will quite simply be impossible for us to maintain our identity with a large group of Yale-NUS graduates joining us for core events.
Someone from AYA once made a ridiculous suggestion to the Yale Club of Singapore: invite NUS alumni to participate in Yale Day of Service. That person either lacked a basic understanding of NUS, or lacked common sense all together. NUS had over 37,000 students this past academic year; just think how large its alumni body is. Yale-NUS graduates will have a large network they can plug into already through NUS. So why should Yale-NUS graduates even be allowed membership in the AYA, which would falsely imply to every casual observer that they are Yale alumni?
Current students of Yale College, take heed. You will be impacted more than anyone else. The ramifications of Yale-NUS will most certainly not be limited to Singapore or Asia.
Sarah Ong is a 2011 graduate of Berkeley College.
Editor’s note: Sept. 16
The preceding column is an expansion of a letter written to the Yale Alumni Magazine that was subsequently published in their September/October issue.