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.


  • OverEducated

    This ‘opinion’ piece is an embarrassment to those of us Yalies who live in Singapore. To respond to your most ridiculous argument first: you oppose Yale-NUS because you’re afraid that your private club of 20-30 people will be ‘inundated’ with 150 graduates come 2017? Did you ever consider the positive benefits that these 150 highly educated, talented, intelligent, and driven individuals could have for the Yale club in Singapore, or the fact that many, if not most, of them will end up either 1) leaving Singapore to pursue further studies or careers abroad or 2) advancing to positions of leadership within Singapore, strengthening the very networking circle that you seem so concerned about protecting?

    Second: you argue that Yale’s attractiveness is diminished by Yale-NUS. You cite circumstantial evidence–a few short conversations with people who no doubt share your parochial view of protecting the ‘elite’ Yalie social circle in Singapore–to support this claim, yet fail to understand that many of the students admitted to Yale-NUS were cross admitted to places like Yale, Stanford, and Harvard yet chose to attend a liberal arts college that is fundamentally different from the New Haven research university. Furthermore, many of the Singaporean students at Yale-NUS have chosen to remain in Singapore for a variety of extenuating reasons; for them, Yale and Yale-NUS were not in competition whatsoever. Finally, Yale-NUS has received a lot of good press in Singapore, despite whatever hush-hush conversations you have been having with your cabal. This will only improve Yale’s name recognition in Southeast Asia (and improving Yale’s name recognition, by the way, was a major component of our last President’s ‘foreign policy’).

    Third: as to the poor communication regarding Yale-NUS and its relationship to Yale: I agree to a degree. Unfortunately, many people (like, apparently, you) have been quick to assume that they understand the institution without properly considering the full implications of its founding. This is a problem that the new college must, and I believe will, solve going forward, and (to be honest) it is more of a problem back in the States than in Singapore. I hope that Yalies are, as you say, “more proactive” in fixing this problem going forward.

    Sadly, as I reread your words, they smack of the logic of the elite Singaporean student who has followed the ‘new wave’ of demand for American education, which has followed decades of the same demand for study in Great Britain. It is as if you now see your self-identified position of privilege under threat from the insidious growth of the educational opportunities that you (believe you) worked so much harder for than anyone else, and therefore deserve to take advantage of so much more than anyone else. Even more shocking for you must be that this growth is taking place in Singapore, with its small population and tiny pool of Yalies!

    As a fellow BK alum, I’d like to congratulate you on your accomplishments and intelligence–I trust that you are a truly impressive person to have attended and graduated from our shared alma mater (I truly hope you are — it makes my degree more valuable!). I must question, however, whether our college failed to instill within you the values and principles upon which it exists. What is more important to you: Maintaining the exclusivity of the Yale Club of Singapore, or developing a better educational system for the good of the world?

    • Thinker

      Seriously? Which rock did you just crawl out from under? The word on the street is that Yale NUS is pretty much despised by everyone who doesn’t actually work or study there. The threat is not that there will be more Yalies in Singapore. The threat is that Yale has become a complete joke to any Yalie who actually has a friggin brain. I highly doubt these Yale-NUS kids are the cream of the crop. Have you checked out the content of their debates? There’s really not a lot of cutting-edge debate going on there. Save your breathless indignation for a better cause because Sarah Ong wasn’t the one who decided to drag the Yale brand through the mud.

      • OverEducated

        The ‘rock’ I just ‘crawled out from under’ was Yale University. I don’t know to which street you are referring–once again, critics of Yale-NUS cite shadows and ghosts and the boogie man of the education space’s ‘silent majority’ to condemn the new institution. I have no problem with people challenging Yale-NUS to live up to its written and spoken commitments to free speech and fostering incisive, transformative dialogue; indeed, I think that this should be Yale’s largest role in developing the new institution. Yale should take ownership of its own principles of academic free speech (which, I might add, it often does not live up to itself), and I see no better opportunity to do this than in Singapore. I do have a major problem with people who are willing to throw big stones of empty words (to whit, “Yale has become a complete joke to any Yalie who actually has a friggin brain… there’s not really a lot of cutting-edge debate going on there… breathless indignation… drag the Yale brand through the mud”) to condemn an institution that they have not visited–breathless indignation, indeed. In the immortal words of ‘Flight of the Concords:’ be more constructive with your criticisms.

        Actually, I am very interested to know which debates you are referencing. If you are suggesting that a 1.5-month-old college’s academic achievements pale in comparison to a 312-year-old college, than you are both correct and amusingly unfair. If you are referencing Singapore’s national political process, I would suggest two things: that you think about how a place like Yale-NUS could change that process for whatever you consider the better, and that you consider how fair it is to intrinsically link an institution like Yale (which receives more than $400 million from the US government annually and follows hundreds of federal, state, and municipal laws governing its operations) to the policies of the US government. The parallel is not perfect, but your knee jerk response will undoubtedly be telling.

        Once again, besides a tiny minority of opinion pieces often written by the same tireless personalities, how many really believe that the Yale brand is being ‘dragged through the mud?” I, for one, refuse to believe that repeating a lie often enough makes it the truth.

        • Second Mouse

          Hey OverEducated. Since you live in Singapore I haven’t the slightest shred of doubt that you benefit immensely from the system of neocolonialism in Singapore that allows you to throw hissy fits as you please. Sorry that we don’t work that way over here – have you been abroad for far too long?

          Let’s review the evidence shall we?

          Since opening its doors, Yale NUS has

          1. Defended a law criminalising consensual gay activity between men on the grounds that it is rarely enforced

          2. Ridden roughshod over the feelings of LGBT members of the Yale community who are rightly appalled to see their rights and concerns dismissed with a flourish

          3. Become the the cheerleader of an illiberal country that is antithetical to American values

          4. All so it can conduct debates on whether gay men should be made criminals – a debate no other developed Asian country is even having I might add

          Happy now?

          • boogs

            George Chauncey agreed to go to Yale-NUS. That makes it all better.

          • Second Mouse

            Oh if you are a bigshot prof from Yale the Singaporeans will lick your boots gayness notwithstanding. No, their special brand of bigotry is directed at their own LGBT citizens only. Something to the effect of “shut up and never show your face again” or “get out of our country if you want to be human.” It’s like the Tiger Mummy who abuses her kids at home but lays out the Godiva for the neighbours to keep her nose clean.

  • Michael Montesano

    Thanks for your message, OverEducated. I am eager to be exposed to your understanding of the “full implications” of the founding of the Yale-NUS college. For, to date, Richard Levin, Linda Lorimer, Pericles Lewis and Charles Bailyn have all failed miserably to articulate an informed and intellectually credible understanding of the same.
    All the best, Mike Montesano ’83

  • Rayner Teo

    There are good reasons to question Yale’s involvement in Singapore. Mike has many. This piece has none. Instead I see–let’s be honest–scaremongering and elite privilege. If anyone is worried about being tainted by their association with Yale, the rational utility-maximizer’s signaling device is a HBS degree.

  • Leonardo Di Caprio

    You sir, have a serious case of butthurt. You arent even Harvard material. Second class and you still complain ? Yale-NUS is already better looked upon being in Asia, the next center of growth and excellence.
    Piss off mate.

  • Hbs@work

    This article exhibits so much arrogance and elitism. Yalies should be proud they are expanding influence in asia. An admissions officer at Yale will scream reading this country club attitude when the school values community service and reach. Thank god I am a Harvard alumni…..enough said