From town halls to Parliament, Yale-NUS affiliates push for answers on college’s closure
Students, alumni feel unheard in the midst of Yale-NUS closure
Asha Prihar, Contributing Photographer
In the month since the announcement of Yale-NUS’ closure, faculty, students and alumni have mobilized to oppose what they call a “top-down” decision. Efforts to save the first liberal arts college in Singapore have reached the nation’s Parliament and sparked petitions collecting nearly 15,000 signatures.
Yale and the National University of Singapore partnered up in 2011 to create the liberal arts college, which accepted a cohort of around 250 students each year. But on Aug. 26, NUS announced it would withdraw from the deal, seizing on a clause built into the school’s founding that allowed either party to unilaterally pull out of the partnership by 2025. In July, NUS President Tan Eng Chye GRD ’89 told University President Peter Salovey that NUS would merge Yale-NUS with its existing University Scholars Programme to create the “New College,” which would not be affiliated with Yale. NUS expressed a desire to open the college to more Singaporean students, and Tan has since said financial concerns were another factor in the split. According to Vice President for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis, the decision came as a surprise to Yale leaders, who ultimately accepted NUS’ decision.
Though Yale faculty have long opposed the partnership, Yale-NUS students noted that it allowed for increased academic and civic freedoms within the state. When the news of the closure came out, Singapore’s Education Minister Chan Chun Sing assured the country’s parliament that the split would not result in a loss of academic freedom at the New College. Still, Yale-NUS students, faculty and alumni have voiced concerns and launched campaigns in opposition to the move, most recently in a Sept. 28 town hall with Tan.
“I am upset, confused, hurt, angry and still shocked by this decision,” Suman, a current Yale-NUS student who asked to be identified by her first name due to fear of government retaliation, wrote in an email to the News. “In a matter of months, our fate was etched onto stone for us, and without our input or any say.”
In an email to the News, Chua Loo Lin, director of the Office of University Communications at NUS, wrote that, “The decision was a very considered one that takes into account the broader vision of the National University of Singapore (NUS) to expand access to a broad-based interdisciplinary education.”
Chua added that the New College “will carry with it elements of the culture and legacy of Yale-NUS and USP.”
Following the Aug. 26 announcement, the Yale-NUS community banded together through a petition denouncing NUS’ merger decision. The petition, which has garnered more than 14,600 signatures, uses the slogan “#NoMoreTopDown” to call for greater community input in NUS decision-making.
In late September, over 530 Yale-NUS alumni signed an additional statement of issues and demands to be presented to the NUS Board of Trustees, Yale-NUS Governing Board and Singapore’s Ministry of Education. The statement focused on the negative implications of the closure, namely the loss of a unique institution in Singapore, dwindling diversity of higher-education options and lack of financial accessibility for Singaporean students.
“The way in which this decision was made suggests an administrative environment that is hostile to collaboration, growth and stability across Singapore’s higher education sector,” the letter reads.
Yale-NUS students were able to express their concerns in a Sept. 28 town hall with Tan, which was framed as a chance for students to learn more about NUS’ split from Yale and its merger with USP. During the town hall, Tan pointed to financial concerns as a reason for the closure, differing from Chua’s and Education Minister Chan’s assertions that finances were not a deciding factor in the split
Tan explained to attendees that Yale-NUS was over $200 million behind in its funding goal for its endowment, a sum too large to warrant accepting an offer of help from Yale. According to the Octant, the Yale-NUS student newspaper, only $87 million has been raised out of the $300 million goal, which was set to be reached by 2030.
In a statement to the News, Chua explained that “financial sustainability was an important consideration, but not the main motivation for the establishment of the New College.”
At the town hall, Tan further explained to attendees that had the merger decision not been made, Yale-NUS would “be diluted” and the students “eventually [would] suffer.”
When one student asked about community pushback, citing the widely-spread petition as evidence for the community’s unhappiness, Tan commented that the petition included misinformation. He pointed to the petition’s assertion that the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science merged to form the College of Humanities and Sciences, which he said was incorrect because there was additional consultation and alterations to the programs, according to a transcript of the town hall reviewed by the News.
Students who attended the town hall told the News that they left unsatisfied, with many of their questions unanswered.
“We wanted [the town hall] to be some avenue of closure,” Jacob Jarabejo Yale-NUS ’22 told the News. “But what it seems after attending this town hall is that it just reignites our flames to just push back against this kind of incompetent leadership.”
Siddharth Mohan Roy Yale-NUS ’25 also told the News that Tan did not adequately answer his and other students’ questions. Mohan Roy said that, in his opinion, the NUS president seemed to be “creating his own questions” to answer.
Chua did not respond to specific questions about the town hall.
Taking questions from members of parliament on Sept. 13, Chan argued that there is no reason to be concerned with the loss of academic diversity or freedom of thought with Yale-NUS’ closure.
“It would be grossly unfair to faculty members in NUS and other autonomous universities to suggest that their teaching or research is in any way less rigorous, of lower quality or less free than that of the Yale-NUS faculty,” he said.
Jamus Lim, a member of Singapore’s Workers’ Party, told the News that he had tried to raise his concerns regarding the closure of the university in parliament, but was never called upon.
In response to the sudden closure, Lewis claimed that Yale is taking an active role in supporting the faculty of Yale-NUS. In an email to the News, he said that NUS has given all Yale-NUS faculty members the option of joining the New College, and that Yale is also planning to welcome Yale-NUS faculty members who would like to spend “some of their sabbatical time” in New Haven.
Lewis added that he is working with Salovey to ensure that there are enough faculty, resources and extracurricular support to create a “great” experience for remaining Yale-NUS students. In addition, Yale is increasing the number of Yale-NUS students who spend a semester abroad in New Haven prior to the 2025 Yale-NUS split.
But Suman expressed disappointment with the decision to close Yale-NUS, as well as doubt that the experience would replicate the Yale-NUS of years’ past.
“I was deeply upset, and I remain upset about the decision,” Suman said. “I was promised a certain Yale-NUS experience when I decided to attend this college, and despite the assurances that yes, Yale-NUS will retain its identity till I graduate, it would be a lie to say that I will get the full ‘Yale-NUS experience.’”
Yihao Xie Yale-NUS ’17 echoed Suman’s sentiment, telling the News that he was angry at a perceived lack of consultation of students or alumni prior to Yale-NUS’ closure, and the lack of “adequate, consistent explanation,” as to why the school split with Yale.
“I also think the hasty and secretive way the announcement was made, and the refusal to openly engage with stakeholders even after all the backlash and criticism, reflect very poorly on the NUS leadership,” he said. “They don’t care what stakeholders think and just want to push through with an unwise and unpopular decision.”
“There’s a lot of emotions coming through,” Jarabejo said. “[Tan] keeps [re]iterating that we need to calm down and understand NUS’ perspective. But based on his answers, and how patronizing he was, it seems like he needs to understand us and not just understand us, but actually understand why we’re pushing for certain things.”
Chua emphasized to the News that NUS will continue to employ all current faculty and staff during the transition.
Faculty at Yale have also expressed disappointment at the abrupt split of Yale-NUS.
Bryan Garsten, who chaired the inaugural curriculum committee for Yale-NUS College that designed its common curriculum, said that he was really “surprised and disheartened” to hear about the decision. He praised the faculty of Yale-NUS, who he said “built this new college from scratch [and] showed how to reimagine liberal education for the 21st century and for an international setting.”
Garsten also expressed concern with the impact this will have on the lack of options for students within Singapore, emphasizing the liberal arts education Yale-NUS offered.
Yale-NUS currently employs approximately 320 faculty and staff members.
Correction, Oct. 6 The story has been updated to reflect the correct surname for Education Minister Chan.