Sunday, 24 Oct 2021

Some members of Yale-NUS faculty pen letter to MOE, Government disagreeing with closure

SINGAPORE – Some faculty from Yale-NUS College have written a letter disagreeing with the de-facto closure of the college, stating that the reputational damage it has caused will affect all universities in Singapore.

It reads: “We were not consulted on this decision, we do not agree with this announced merger and we stand in solidarity with the public statements and deep pain expressed by students, alumni, parents and generous donors to this unique and thriving Singaporean institution.”

The statement, released on Wednesday (Sept 22), is addressed to the Ministry of Education and the government board of Yale-NUS, as well as the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) board of trustees.

The letter was not undersigned, but a senior member of the faculty told The Straits Times on Thursday that about 12 people penned the final version.

Other staff had also read and given comments on its drafts.

The statement said that the decision to merge the college with the University Scholars’ Programme (USP) is a breach of trust by NUS leadership, and that it will significantly harm the careers of faculty, staff and students involved.

This will make it much harder for Singapore to develop international partnerships in the future, it said.

It added: “The reputational damage caused by this breach of trust between NUS and its partner institution, its donors and its own students, faculty and staff will affect not only NUS but also the Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Management University and all other universities.”

It went on to detail the unique qualities of Yale-NUS, as well as its successes so far, and raised questions it says have remained unanswered since NUS’ announcement on Aug 27 that this year’s intake of students would be the college’s last.

These include questions on how the New College – which will replace Yale-NUS and USP – will fulfil its stated goal to “scale-up” interdisciplinary education, the role of finances in the merger decision and whether the Yale-NUS governing board had fulfilled its responsibility to safeguard the interests of the college.

The Straits Times saw a previous draft of the letter on Sept 11.

The senior member of staff who joined Yale-NUS when it was founded eight years ago said the release of the letter had been delayed till Wednesday to accommodate strong objections from different colleagues and concerns about its public release.

“It took a long time for faculty to process emotionally, write collaboratively, and then begin our informal consultations,” the staff member said.

The senior staff member said that doubts lay in the accelerated opening of the New College. “Recruiting a class to a new school is difficult – we experienced this at Yale-NUS, because you don’t have a track record and no established curriculum yet.”

A member of the faculty who also helped pen the letter and declined to give his name told The Straits Times that most of them have not been speaking publicly “for fear of reprisal from NUS or the Government”.

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The choice to speak now came out of concern for the mental health of students and alumni who have had to deal with the “devastating” decision, as well as to show “how hugely damaging” this move has been for the faculty’s academic careers, he said.

The New College is not off to a great start, he added, saying it will be difficult to construct anything similar to Yale-NUS in a year, especially while all the faculty are busy teaching their regular modules.

“We just spent a decade building something successful, and just as it was coming into its own, it was shut down without any warning,” he said, “Why would we – or anyone else – want to help NUS build it again when the same thing might happen to the New College at any time?”

Separately, parents of students at Yale-NUS told The Straits Times that they left a Sept 17 townhall meeting with NUS president Tan Eng Chye still feeling unclear about the reasons for the college’s closure.

Ms Deanne Chong, whose child is currently a student at the college, said: “After the townhall, I felt extremely frustrated. The replies were vague and unconvincing. It remains unclear to me why Yale-NUS, with its track record of success, is being shut down, and why the Yale leadership maintains – to the contrary – that financial sustainability is not an issue.”

Professor Tan had agreed to the townhall meeting with parents after more than 260 of them sent him letters asking for one, citing a lack of transparency over the entire process.

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