The upcoming merger of Yale-NUS with the University Scholars Programme to form a new interdisciplinary liberal arts school has caused a huge fuss among a number of students and activities.
They claimed that the merger masks NUS’ (and MOE’s) true intentions of shutting down the college, and are worried that this would be the death knell for liberal arts education in Singapore.
But would it really?
Back in 2010 when the idea of a liberal arts college between Yale and NUS was first mooted, many were sceptical because they didn’t believe that the school would be able to have full autonomy and academic freedom to pursue the kind of liberal education and experience that is offered by Yale in the US.
As reported in an article in Yale Daily News, 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”.
And indeed, in 2019, when a module on Dialogue and Dissent was cancelled by the school’s administration, these sceptics were quick to pat themselves on the back and rub it in the faces of those who believed otherwise with a snarky ‘I told you so’. So it is with great irony now that these same unbelievers are suddenly advocating against its closure, even going as far as instigating students to organise action against the decision. This is either a bunch of very confused people, or rebels without a cause poking holes into everything.
Second, why do these people think that liberal arts education started with, and will end with, Yale-NUS?
The New College has not started, yet many have postulated - without any basis - that it will be an inferior cousin to Yale-NUS.
Is it not fair to also say that the New College may potentially offer better pedagogy?
People are forgetting that a liberal arts education isn't just about graduating from a brand name institution. It is about the people – the faculty and the students that make for an enriching experience on campus.
Harping on and on about the closure of Yale-NUS takes away credit from the Professors, lecturers, administrators and students, who dedicated much time and effort to innovate, organise and push the boundaries to carve out a unique space, curriculum and experience for students and prove naysayers wrong that liberal arts education in Singapore can not only happen but flourish. This tenacity and fighting spirit will not just disappear overnight with the merger, but can and will continue to exist within all at NUS.
Third, for a bunch of supposedly progressive students, it is surprising that some are still stuck with the ‘White-Man Syndrome’ – preferring to graduate with a degree bearing the name of a prestigious and elite Western instituition, instead of merely from NUS.
It would almost seem as if these students lack the confidence in a local university (and by extension, themselves), to think that an Asian institution will never be as good as a Western one (internalized racism, anyone?).
It is thus amusing that from the latest 2022 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University rankings, local universities NUS and NTU were ranked 11th and 12th respectively, while Yale was ranked 14th. How is that for Asian power?
All the above reasons may not salve the hurt and confusion experienced by students who were suddenly faced with the news that their college will soon cease to exist.
It is also understandable that they would want some answers from NUS, which could have been more transparent and consultative in their decision-making.
However, to create such a huge fuss over the merger of a school, even to the extent of demanding donors to withdraw funding from NUS, smacks of willfulness and self-entitlement, unbecoming of a graduate of Yale-NUS.