Visiting professors continue to play an important role at Yale-NUS College as the school inches closer to its intended capacity of 1,000 students and 120 faculty members.
With the Singapore-based college beginning to consider internal candidates for tenured appointments as it grapples with the problem of faculty turnover, administrators say that senior scholars remain essential to maintaining the school’s intellectual vibrancy.
“As with most universities, Yale-NUS College appoints visiting faculty to help round out the college’s curriculum offerings, expanding the repertoire of courses available to students,” Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Steven Bernasek said in an email to the News. “Our visiting faculty members are seasoned professionals who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Yale-NUS community.”
As of press time, 48 individuals are recognized on the Yale-NUS website as Yale-affiliated faculty members who have served as visiting professors in Singapore, including Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, 20th-century U.S. lesbian and gay history specialist George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89, and current Benjamin Franklin College Head Charles Bailyn ’81, who previously served as Yale-NUS’ inaugural dean of faculty. Several of the Yale faculty members listed have taught weeklong special seminars before returning to New Haven in time for the start of the fall semester.
And at present, the college is hosting five visiting faculty members who teach subjects including economics, anthropology and art history, and plans to host at least five visiting faculty members in the coming academic year as well. Three of this year’s five visiting professors are also serving as acting heads of studies for students undertaking majors in their field.
Joanne Roberts, who works with Bernasek in her role as the college’s associate dean for faculty development, told the News that visiting faculty bring expertise and gravitas to Yale-NUS, and are an important source of mentorship for the relatively young faculty of the college. Members of Yale-NUS’ faculty are only just beginning to go through the tenure review process that is a common rite of passage for scholars at the start of their academic careers. The school’s first two internal candidates were awarded tenure following a meeting of the governing board about six weeks ago.
“Appointing visiting faculty gives us an opportunity to learn from some of the best teacher-scholars in the world and have them share their knowledge — our junior faculty are fantastic teachers, but also teachers who are still learning,” Roberts said. “In terms of research mentoring, it is also a great opportunity for our juniors to be able to talk to senior visiting colleagues about their research.”
Bernasek said some visiting faculty have decided to join Yale-NUS permanently after the end of their period as visitors, such as Roberts and her husband Eugene Choo GRD ’01.
After serving in the economics departments of multiple Canadian universities for about two decades, Roberts and Choo came to Yale-NUS in 2015 as visiting faculty, and joined the permanent faculty of the college this January.
According to Roberts, her family had heard about Yale-NUS because of her husband’s connections to Yale. They eventually reached out to the college when they were considering spending a year away from North America to expand their horizons, and to be closer to Choo’s Malaysian family.
Upon coming to Yale-NUS, Roberts said she particularly appreciated its unique organizational structure. Instead of subject-focused departments, faculty at Yale-NUS are organized under the divisions of science, social science and humanities.
“In the past, I have always been in departmentalized faculty — as an economist, that means you typically drink coffee and eat lunch with a lot of economists. There was a lot more mingling here, and I loved encountering a lot of really interesting faculty with other interests more frequently,” Roberts said. “Being visitors for us was a nice way to test drive what it would be like to be in a liberal arts context in Asia, and it really was that experience that led us to consider such a drastic move.”
In the March press conference announcing his appointment as Yale-NUS’ second president, current executive vice president Tan Tai Yong spoke of his desire to bring visiting Yale faculty to Yale-NUS and develop deeper engagements with the college.
Noting Tan’s remarks, Roberts encouraged Yale faculty — particularly those with concerns about Yale’s collaboration with the Singaporean government — to consider spending a term in Singapore and contribute their expertise while alleviating their doubts.
Former Yale-NUS philosophy professor Jay Garfield said that he too was concerned about the criticism leveled against Yale when initially approached by Yale-NUS. However, speaking to faculty members about their experiences with Singaporean higher education convinced him that many of the critiques were misguided. He added that he personally did not experience any limitations on academic freedom while he was at Yale-NUS.
Citing multiple issues including Singapore’s mandatory retirement age and his discomfort with a longer stint in a big city, Garfield decided to return to Smith College after three years at Yale-NUS. Garfield had held a professorship endowed by one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Singapore. The position is now slated to accommodate visiting scholars. Though he stressed that there was “a lot to love” about Yale-NUS and fondly recalled his interactions with students and junior faculty members, Garfield expressed a cautious optimism when asked what he would tell a colleague considering a visiting position at the college.
“It could be very exciting and very rewarding, but it is a very particular kind of experience and it may not be exciting and rewarding for everyone,” Garfield said. “[I would tell them] to examine it very closely, to talk to a lot of the people who are there now on the ground and to maintain one’s parachute in case it doesn’t work out.”
According to Bernasek, four Yale faculty members — legal scholar Daniel Esty LAW ’86, sociologist Philip Gorski, psychology professor Jeannette Ickovics and anthropologist Marcia Inhorn — will be visiting Yale-NUS in the coming academic year.