Yale Daily News

Yale-NUS College announced this week that professor Joanne Roberts will take over as president on July 1, 2022 after current President Tan Tai Yong steps down from the role following the completion of his full five-year term. 

Tan has served as president of Yale-NUS College since 2017, leading the school through the COVID-19 pandemic and the announcement of its 2025 merger with the National University of Singapore. Roberts is currently the executive vice president of academic affairs at Yale-NUS and a professor of economics, having joined the College in 2017. Roberts also served as the Yale-NUS dean of faculty.

“I am honored to lead this incredible community in the years ahead,” Roberts said. “Yale-NUS College has been punching above its weight despite its small stature in the past decade.”

Tan said that Roberts has improved the academic programs and tenure process at Yale-NUS and that she has “refined the residential experience immeasurably” since she joined the school in 2017. Speaking about his experience at Yale-NUS, Tan highlighted that the college has demonstrated the value of an “interdisciplinary, immersive liberal arts and sciences model” in Singapore.

Pericles Lewis, Yale’s vice president for global strategy and the founding president of Yale-NUS from 2012 to 2017, expressed his gratitude towards Tan.

“I am personally very grateful to Tai Yong for his partnership over the past decade,” Lewis said. “Together with his wife Sylvia, he has been a central member of the Yale-NUS community from its inception. He has a deep love for the college and his service to Yale-NUS has allowed the college to thrive over the past several years.”

This past August, the National University of Singapore, or NUS, announced the merger of Yale-NUS and NUS’ University Scholars Program in 2025 to form the “New College.” 

According to Yale Office of International Affairs Director of Communication Sheila McCreven, both Tan and Roberts will continue to guide the college through this transition by serving on a planning committee. Tan is heading the faculty working group within the committee, while Roberts is taking charge of the curriculum working group, McCreven explained.

Lewis, who is also a member of the planning committee, said that Roberts has prioritized the “well-being of Yale-NUS students and faculty” during this transition period.

“I have been pleased to see signs of considerable continuity, while recognizing that the New College will of course be very different from Yale-NUS,” Lewis said. “Together, we are working hard to ensure a smooth transition, a high quality of education during the next few years and the continued vitality of the Yale-NUS community.”

Students at Yale-NUS commented on Roberts’ involvement with the community and her efforts to engage with student concerns.

“During the townhalls, she took a lot of the questions and answered them with transparency,” Jacob Jarabejo Yale-NUS ’22 said in an interview. “She was upfront about what answers she could give and what was still being worked through.”

Tavis Tan Yale-NUS ’22 told the News that Roberts has always been kind, patient and willing to extend herself to students. 

Tavis Tan said that when the merger was announced, he felt that Roberts was really listening to the students, at a time when students were concerned about not being heard.

“She has been conscious of students’ expectations and needs after the news,” Tavis Tan said. “The wounds are still raw with students on campus, and I think she’s been approaching the situation really well, listening to what students and faculty need at this time.”

Roberts has promised to expand the study abroad program for current Yale-NUS students to come to Yale University, from 16 slots to 30, and has created an additional 30 spots for Yale-NUS students in the Yale Summer Session, according to Yale-NUS’s student newspaper, The Octant. Roberts also guaranteed students that their financial aid would not be impacted by the announced merger, The Octant reported.

Despite the optimism that Roberts has espoused, students expressed their concerns and hopes about what might come after the merger.

“When you come from a small college, it is easy for people to come together, and when you scale that up, that can get lost,” Jarabejo said. “At Yale-NUS, there is always that sense of community. I hope that doesn’t die out, even if the name no longer exists.”

Tavis Tan echoed these sentiments, pointing out that the planning committee must listen to students in order to carry the essence of Yale-NUS into the New College. He said that the merger still feels like a “closure” of Yale-NUS and expressed his hope that the New College continues to create a safe space for students where they can thrive on their differences.

Tavis Tan emphasised that the Yale-NUS community was happy with this choice of leadership.

“We need people who deeply care to bring those things to the New College, and I think that professor Roberts is the best person to take us through that,” Tavis Tan said.

Roberts will serve as the third president of Yale-NUS College.

Correction, Nov. 5: A previous version of this article misspelled Tavis Tan. The article has since been updated.

MIRANDA JEYARETNAM
Miranda Jeyaretnam is the beat reporter covering the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and developments at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS for the YDN's University desk. She was formerly the opinion editor for the Yale Daily News under the YDN Board of 2022 and wrote as a staff columnist for her opinion column 'Crossing the Aisle' in Spring 2020. From Singapore, she is a sophomore in Pierson College, majoring in English.