Yale-NUS will be hosting several visiting faculty members this fall, continuing a trend that has seen the school temporarily draw on senior academics from institutions around the globe to support, lead and teach along with a relatively young faculty cohort.
Since the school began enrolling students five years ago, visiting faculty members have played an integral role at Yale-NUS. They have helped bolster the school’s curriculum offerings and mentor younger colleagues, the majority of whom are yet to be considered for the tenure appointments that typically come about six years after a faculty member is first hired as a professor. Even the school’s current dean of faculty, Joanne Roberts, first spent a year at Yale-NUS as a visiting faculty member in 2015 before joining the permanent faculty of the college this January.
The current cohort of visiting faculty members at Yale-NUS includes two Yale professors — psychologist Jeannette Ickovics and anthropologist Marcia Inhorn — as well as long-serving professors from other American higher education institutions.
In interviews with the News, visiting faculty members cited a range of reasons that brought them to Yale-NUS.
Some, like the University of Hawaii’s Barbara Watson Andaya, had previously taught at the National University of Singapore on several occasions, and took up an offer for a visiting position at Yale-NUS this year at the suggestion of new Yale-NUS President and former NUS administrator Tan Tai Yong.
Others, such as Vassar College’s Bryan Van Norden, were drawn by the opportunity to contribute to the spread and diversification of liberal arts education in Asia.
“While liberal arts education in the U.S. is increasingly under fire from politicians and the general public, Asian governments recognize that a liberal arts education is what has made American higher education the envy of the rest of the world,” he said. “Yale-NUS is an example of the new Asian liberal arts model. In addition, it is committed to the sort of multicultural approach to education that I and others have been fighting for in the U.S.”
Van Norden, who will hold a professorship endowed by one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Singapore during his time at Yale-NUS, is a prominent figure in the field of philosophy due to his consistent advocacy of a more multicultural approach to the subject. A philosopher specializing in Chinese philosophy, Van Norden received concerted attention for an opinion piece published last year in The New York Times, where he and a colleague wrote that until Western philosophy departments embrace curricular diversity, the field should “face reality and call departments of European-American philosophy what they really are.”
“So far, most departments in the U.S. have continued to be dogmatically ethnocentric,” Van Norden said. “Philosophical ethnocentrism plays into the nationalism and xenophobia that is increasingly a part of politics in the U.S.”
While at Yale-NUS, Van Norden will be teaching courses in the Philosophy and Political Thought sequence of the college’s mandatory core curriculum. He will also be teaching courses specifically on Chinese philosophy, including Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism.
A professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the School of Public Health, Ickovics too wanted to contribute to the growth of the liberal arts in Singapore, and bring “more than a century of excellence” from the School of Public Health to Yale-NUS.
“I come from a liberal arts tradition in terms of my own training, and really value these transdisciplinary approaches,” Ickovics said. “Having been at Yale since 1989 — I began as a postdoctoral fellow in psychology — I was eager to contribute to the development of this tradition at Yale-NUS in Singapore.”
The visiting professors also expressed views about their temporary country of residence that contrast with the perception of Singapore held by many skeptics of the joint venture between Yale and NUS. These critics, including several members of Yale’s faculty, question whether there is anything for Yale to gain from lending its name and support to an initiative in a country with a restrictive political environment that they deem incompatible with a liberal arts education.
According to Van Norden, conversations with his colleagues have assured him that at Yale-NUS, no topic is off-limits in the classroom, despite local laws such as the criminalization of any sexual relations between adult men.
“Everyone I have talked with who actually has experience teaching at Yale-NUS has told me that there is no difficulty in teaching about any topics,” Van Norden said. “Colleagues have developed courses in which issues about politics, class, religion, race, gender and sexuality are openly and candidly discussed.”
During her stay in Singapore, Ickovics will be writing monthly blog posts about her experience.
Her first post last month favorably compared Singaporean standards of living as well as public health practices and outcomes to those of the U.S., and included a reference to what she termed “a pageant-like” National Day Parade featuring a giant mosquito.
“Singapore’s budgetary priorities in health also reflect an enlightened view: moving beyond hospital to community, quality to value and health care to health,” she wrote. “Clearly we in the United States have a lot to learn.”
Yale-NUS had five visiting faculty members in the spring.
Contact Ishaan Srivastava at firstname.lastname@example.org .