Charles Bailyn ’81 has been back in New Haven for several months, but he still has Singapore on his mind.
There is plenty here to occupy his time: The astronomy professor and newly appointed head of Franklin College has been thinking about how to attract transfers to the new college and build a welcoming community. But Bailyn, who just returned from a four-year stint as Yale-NUS’s inaugural dean of faculty, is also thinking about how his time in Singapore offered him fresh perspectives on campus issues at Yale and may even have prepared him for his new administrative role.
Yale saw a slew of appointments over the summer, including Bailyn and East Asian Languages & Literature professor Tina Lu, who led the teaching team for a common curriculum course at Yale-NUS, as heads of the two new colleges. Yale-NUS founding President Pericles Lewis is also returning to New Haven as the new University vice president for global strategies and deputy provost for international affairs . All three have ties — and for Bailyn and Lewis, substantial ties — to Yale’s liberal arts experiment on the other side of the world. The similarity extends to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, who also helped build Yale-NUS from scratch before being promoted to his current position in 2013.
While administrators say the appointments and Yale-NUS connections are not directly correlated, there may be something unique about the Singapore experience that makes one a better fit for senior posts at Yale.
“It’s a little different story for each person. But people like [Lewis] and [Bailyn] were very valued members of the Yale community before they went to Yale-NUS College. And I think their experiences at Yale-NUS College in many ways made them even more attractive to taking on leadership positions back here at Yale University,” University President Peter Salovey said.
Prior to leaving Yale for Yale-NUS, Bailyn led the Astronomy Department as chair and director of undergraduate studies. He also oversaw the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee in Yale College and served as a member of the 2001-03 Committee on Yale College Education, which reviewed the college’s curriculum.
Bailyn said the Singapore experience broadened his perspectives. For example, watching from Singapore how campus racial protests unfolded at Yale last fall provided him with a fresh angle, Bailyn said, adding that although racial tensions do exist in Singapore, the country’s different ethnic makeup and national history mean the two faced different challenges.
Still, Bailyn said he was unsure whether that perspective gave him an edge in his appointment.
When he took up the offer to lead Yale-NUS, Bailyn said, he knew that he would return to Yale after an initial period of time. But he added that he never saw the Singapore offer as a ticket to higher positions in New Haven.
“I don’t think [Yale-NUS] was a stepping stone to anything else. It was the thing,” Bailyn said. “I’m really excited about founding a new residential college, but founding a college is a step beyond that.”
Lewis similarly held administrative duties prior to his Yale-NUS career and served on several University-wide committees.
However, Lewis said over 100 Yale faculty have had connections with Yale-NUS in the past — either as visiting professors, or staying longer for teaching and institutional roles — and therefore it is coincidental that recent appointments involved people who have ties to the college in some way.
Although Quinlan did not comment on whether the appointments were coincidental, he said his job as Yale-NUS’s inaugural dean of admissions and financial aid informs his work at the admissions office every day.
“It was a unique entrepreneurial opportunity in higher education and gave me and others an opportunity to take a fresh look at holistic admissions in another context,” he said. “I try to bring that fresh perspective to all of the changes that I’ve instituted at Yale since becoming dean of admissions here.”
Administrative appointments go two ways: the searching committee has to trust the candidate’s abilities, and the candidate has to be willing to step up for the role in the first place. This could be one explanation for the similarity in the four’s shared Singapore backgrounds, Bailyn said.
The kind of people who are interested in going to Singapore and building Yale-NUS from the ground are also the same people who are willing to take up institutional roles, he explained. For example, former Head of Berkeley College Marvin Chun and Chair of Yale’s Humanities Program Bryan Garsten both led the efforts in designing Yale-NUS’s common curriculum.
“It’s not surprising that these people end up having important institutional roles,” Bailyn said. “It isn’t so much about the Yale-NUS experience. It’s more about self-selection.”