TL;DR In view of the recent Yale-NUS saga, elitist statements made by Yale professors have come to light, with most opining that the creation of the institution has damaged Yale’s reputation as a world-class college.
The Yale-NUS college announced recently that they will stop taking in new students. According to an article reported by The Straits Times, the 240 freshmen who enrolled at Yale-NUS earlier this month (the school’s ninth intake), will be its final cohort of students and will graduate in 2025. NUS, in a press release on Friday (Aug 27) morning, said Yale-NUS will merge with NUS’ University Scholars Programme (USP) to form a new college that will open by August next year (2022).
The New College – a placeholder name for now – will seek to continue the legacy of world-class interdisciplinary liberal arts education.
And well.. There has been a little bit of an uproar from the students, and even common folk like me because of this.
What is Yale-NUS College?
For those who aren’t sure, the Yale-NUS College is a liberal arts programme launched by elite Yale University in the United States and the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2013. To date, more than 600 students have graduated from the college, with a statistic of 6 out of 10 students able to find work within six months of final examinations. Jobs they take are mostly in sectors like public service, journalism, finance and the arts.
The Yale-NUS campus comprises an arts centre, a library, an administration building and three residential buildings called Elm, Cendana and Saga colleges. The common curriculum includes courses like historical immersion, quantitative reasoning, scientific inquiry as well as literature and the humanities.
The Week 7 Project
According to writer Michael Sagna, many initially assumed that the government had a hand in preventing the project from going ahead due to its controversial content, but it emerged that the college had cancelled it due to planning issues. It was also thought that the Singaporean government had intervened due to the cancellation of the week 7 project, “Dissent and Resistance”.
The project was meant to be led by Singaporean playwright, Alfian bin Sa’at – whereby a small group of students would examine the political, social and ethical issues surrounding democratic dissent.
Over the years, there has been controversy regarding where the “NUS” aspect comes in Yale-NUS. There has always been a stronger emphasis on the Yale brand in the college’s marketing, and many students feel that the interaction with NUS is missing.
There have been opinions that this can seem elitist and isolationist.
The more important question is, how does the rest of Yale, the founding institution, find the college?
Through Yale Daily News’ website, a range of pieces covered a lot of mundane occurrences on the campus, and opinions of the college tend to be generally negative, especially after the week 7 cancellation.
According to the article,
“Professors in particular seemed to be rather concerned about issues of academic freedoms, questioning the choice of the university’s administration in terms of location for a Yale offshoot college.”
For example, in response to the the week 7 project being cancelled, Mark Oppenheimer, Lecturer of English at Yale, spoke about how he had “thought that Yale-NUS ‘is a terrible idea for a decade now”, arguing that “the [Singaporean] government’s authoritarian tendencies could tarnish Yale and its professors’ reputations”.
His baseless (albeit a little dangerous argument) should not have been focused on our government’s structure, but rather whether or not these authoritarian tendencies affected the academic world. This seems a little hypocritical especially since the country that Yale was founded on, has been plagued with academic scandals surrounding bribery and fraud. His statement was also uncalled for as there has already been a formal press release stating that the week 7 project was cancelled due to planning issues.
The elitism that is displayed from the words of these professors is appalling and undermines our government and academic system which has proved to be one of the best in the world.
In fact, to combat these baseless arguments, just last year, Amber Carpenter, associate Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS told Yale Daily News that “compared to her teaching in the United Kingdom, she has “more academic freedom and freedom from state intrusion” at Yale-NUS.”
The condescending tones demonstrate a belief that they know more than what is going on than the ones who are actually teaching, and learning at the college.
Are there ulterior motives to these attacks?
In opinion pieces largely written by professors on the Yale Daily News, a trend of being obsessed with protecting the “Yale name” can be seen, and get this – this emerged since the formation of Yale-NUS. Apparently, Professor Michael Fischer in a 2012 article titled “Yale-NUS is not Yale”, “the value of a Yale degree becomes diminished since it will be easily confused with the degree from a very different institution”. There have also been other articles implying that the formation of Yale-NUS would be bad for the Yale brand.
Ironic seeing how the university was literally named after a slave trader.
The writer, Michael Sagna also opined that,
“The most recent attacks on our college are nothing more than the continuation of attempts to protect the exclusivity of an institution built on three hundred years of elitism, and of course slave money.”
Yale University does not contribute to the Yale-NUS budget, none of the faculty nor curriculum structures are shared, Yale-NUS students do not graduate with a Yale degree.
The only help that Yale has provided our students with, was to develop a common curriculum, and reviewing tenure applications. The majority of the work was clearly done in the Yale-NUS college’s establishment, with Pericles Lewis being made the founding president to help shape the college’s institutions rather than guiding our day to day affairs.
The American elitism is all too real in this situation. This is an example of how colonialism and elitism can affect how the academic sphere is run. This affects our children, and our future. Let’s be thankful that Singapore does not fall into this dichotomy.