Please allow me to introduce myself. After spending 14 years as a literature professor at Yale, I left New Haven in 2012 to become president of Yale-NUS College in Singapore, a new college founded jointly by Yale and the National University of Singapore.
The committee that selected me for the role had four members: Yale and NUS Presidents Richard Levin and Tan Chorh Chuan and Yale and NUS Provosts Peter Salovey and Tan Eng Chye. The following year, Provost Salovey became President Salovey. And, in 2018, Provost Tan Eng Chye will succeed Tan Chorh Chuan as President of NUS. This continuity has been good for Yale, for NUS and for Yale-NUS College. President Salovey and Provost Tan Eng Chye have been actively involved in every stage of planning the new college, hiring the faculty, defining the mission and encouraging the development of an innovative curriculum and extra-curricular life. And they have both taught me a lot.
Since I returned to New Haven, people have often asked me what I learned in Singapore that would be most relevant to my new role at Yale. The biggest theme of my time at Yale-NUS was community.
Political scientist Benedict Anderson described nations as “imagined communities” — imagined because in reality you will never know all your fellow-citizens and must instead identify with them through shared symbols like flags and national anthems and a shared culture typified by the daily newspaper.
Colleges are much smaller than nations, and Yale-NUS is smaller than most, with only about 800 students. In the early days, with an entering class of 150, we could all get together in the gym to discuss student issues. Still, like nations, even small colleges are imagined communities, complete with pennants, alma maters and invented traditions.
Despite all the changes at Yale since the 1960s, an alumnus from those days still often feels an intense bond with today’s students — and may even read the News. Yale-NUS has a powerful sense of community due to its small size and recent founding, but it also has a strong feeling of connection to Yale. What nurtures this connection?
Over 100 Yale faculty have visited Singapore in the past six years to advise on curriculum, assist with faculty hiring and teach. All promotion and tenure cases at Yale-NUS are decided by committees that include Yale faculty or deans. The curriculum was jointly designed by a group of Yale faculty, NUS faculty and new faculty hired specifically for Yale-NUS. Yale-NUS has three residential colleges, one of them named Elm after New Haven, the Elm City. It also has a Center for International and Professional Experience, a Center for Teaching and Learning, a Writers’ Center and a growing library, all of which were developed in consultation with experts here at Yale. Several recent Yale graduates work in student life at Yale-NUS; and many of the faculty studied at Yale as well.
Hundreds of Yale-NUS students have visited New Haven over the past five years, and four Yale-NUS graduates are currently enrolled in graduate programs here, in Psychology, Public Health and the Institute for Sacred Music. Others will enroll next year at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the School of Management. The Association of Yale Alumni has welcomed Yale-NUS graduates as international affiliates.
I hope that current Yale students will likewise have a broad enough imagination to embrace their counterparts at Yale-NUS. These are students from all over the world, with great achievements and talents, who have been involved in creating a truly innovative community. There is much that we in New Haven can learn from Yale-NUS. As one of the world’s great universities, we should endeavor to engage and to innovate rather than rest on our laurels.
When Yale students think about where to pursue international experiences, I hope they will consider spending a semester or a summer at Yale-NUS College. It is a wonderful community — and it offers a great opportunity to expand your imagination.
Pericles Lewis is Yale’s Vice President for Global Strategy and Deputy Provost for International Affairs. Contact him at email@example.com .