One of Yale-NUS’s most distinctive features, and a defining aspect of the academic experience at the new liberal arts college in Singapore, might soon see major changes.
Now in its fourth semester, Yale-NUS College’s Common Curriculum will undergo extensive review this year, within Singapore and beyond. Two committees will do the bulk of the work.
The Self-Study Committee, composed of Yale-NUS faculty, will consolidate feedback from faculty and students about the curriculum and present potential revisions by September 2015, according to Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis. Thereafter, a visiting committee will review the report and send final recommendations to the Yale-NUS Governing Board for approval in December 2015.
The visiting committee is made up of four individuals from Yale University, four from the National University of Singapore and two from Yale-NUS. According to Lewis, three of the four Yale representatives will be psychology professor Marvin Chun, political science and humanities professor Bryan Garsten and ecology professor David Skelly.
Representatives from NUS, as well as the fourth from Yale, have yet to be finalized. The committee will also include Steven Bernasek, science divisional director at Yale-NUS, and it would be chaired by Tan Tai Yong, executive vice-president for academic affairs at Yale-NUS.
“We wanted representatives from a large range of disciplines, who are understanding of what we are trying to do [in the Common Curriculum] and [are] of good stature in their fields,” Lewis said.
The members of the visiting committee were chosen by Lewis in consultation with Tan and leadership at Yale, NUS and Yale-NUS.
Every aspect of the Common Curriculum might be subject to review. Currently, it includes 12 required courses — ranging from “Comparative Social Institutions” to “Scientific Inquiry” — representing 38 percent of a student’s total coursework. The requirements include sciences, humanities and social sciences.
Science majors are required to take eight common curriculum courses, while non-science majors take seven in their freshmen year. All students are required to take three common curriculum courses in their sophomore year and two any time in their final two years.
Lewis said discussion about the number of courses in the Common Curriculum is “on the table.” He said student voices will help guide consideration of this issue, which is at the forefront of campus discussion.
The committee overseeing the development of the Common Curriculum had been aware of the concerns around fulfilling major requirements with limited elective slots, especially for science majors, said Garsten, who chaired the committee. Yet they ultimately felt that the critical thinking skills that the Common Curriculum imparts would ground students no matter what they choose to pursue.
Students interviewed expressed concerns about the science component of the Common Curriculum in particular — and expressed a desire for sweeping changes.
While the idea for the science component is good, said Jacob Schneidewind YNUS ’18, its execution could be improved. He pointed out that “Scientific Inquiry,” a course all first-year students take in their first semester, did not prepare students adequately for the science track in the second semester.
“Especially given … that [students’] backgrounds are so diverse — we’re from 40 different countries — you cannot expect that everyone received the same mathematics background, even if everyone took a calculus class,” he said.
Michael James Anthony YNUS ’17 said the arts, humanities and social sciences components work better than the requirements in the sciences.
In addition to looking at the balance between the Common Curriculum and requirements in the majors, Garsten said the Visiting Committee will also be exploring broader questions: weaknesses in curricular matters as a whole and whether the goals of the Common Curriculum are being realized.
Yet the magnitude of changes possible under the review remains to be seen. Garsten said much depends on what the Visiting Committee finds in the process.
“I think it’s fair to say that we’re not going in looking for revolutionary changes,” he said.
Still, Charles Bailyn, dean of the faculty at Yale-NUS, said it would not surprise him if structural change in the sciences were recommended.
Changes approved at the end of the review process will take effect in the 2016–1 and Scott Currie contributed reporting.