NUS initiated talks on merger of Yale-NUS with scholars programme in July

The Aug 27 announcement has been met with dismay and anxiety from Yale-NUS students and alumni. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) said it began official discussions to merge Yale-Nus College with its University Scholars Programme (USP) in early July, about two months before the merger was announced.

The Aug 27 announcement has been met with dismay and anxiety from Yale-NUS students and alumni. Some have launched petitions challenging the lack of transparency and the top-down approach of the decision-making process behind the merger.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a university spokesman said on Friday (Sept 3) that NUS had consulted the chairman of the university's board of trustees and the Ministry of Education on the merger in late June.

Both parties were supportive of the proposal, she added.

Last Friday, president of Yale University Peter Salovey said he had been informed by NUS president Tan Eng Chye in July of NUS' intention, as part of "a larger strategic realignment NUS has been pursuing since 2018", about the plan to form a new and larger liberal arts college that will not bear Yale's name through the merger.

NUS confirmed that in early July this year, the university formally initiated discussions with Yale University on the merger.

Yale University acknowledged NUS' plans and noted that it was NUS' prerogative under the terms of their agreement signed in 2011 when setting up the college. Yale said in a statement last Friday (Aug 27) that the agreement gave either party the opportunity to withdraw in 2025.

In July, the leadership of Yale-NUS was informed after Yale was notified.

Subsequently, the Yale-NUS Executive Committee discussed the transition plans until early August.

The NUS board was briefed in early August, and the Yale-NUS governing board endorsed the transition plans later that same month.

The spokesman reiterated that the plan to merge the two programmes under the New College - a placeholder name for the merged entity - took into account NUS' broader vision and plans to expand access to a liberal arts education, describing the move as "a very considered one".

The New College is part of an NUS road map to deliver flexible, interdisciplinary education more accessibly, and on a greater scale, said the spokesman.

This road map began with the formation of the College of Humanities and Sciences, which brought together the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science.

This move, which was announced in December 2020, is also being challenged by a petition that has gained more than 13,000 signatories.

When asked whether the decision could be reversed and about its response to the petitions challenging the merger, the university said it has been working closely with Yale-NUS and the USP to engage their staff, faculty, students and alumni to address their concerns and questions.

"This continues to be our main priority," said the spokesman.

NUS, however, did not respond to queries on why students were excluded from the decision-making process or whether there was any recourse for what students and Professor Salovey have called the planned closure of Yale-NUS.

Meanwhile, NUS said a New College planning committee, which will include faculty and student representatives from both Yale-NUS and the USP, is developing plans for the New College.

Yale-NUS College president Tan Tai Yong told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the committee will be chaired by Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS senior deputy president and provost, and will comprise leaders from USP, Yale-NUS, Yale and NUS.

He had said that more updates on the New College will be provided in the first quarter of next year.

Professor Tan, who is the second president of Yale-NUS since its founding in 2011, added that the planning committee will focus on key areas such as the new common curriculum for the New College, staff matters, transition plans, admissions as well as residential and student life.

Faculty from Yale-NUS and USP will also be represented on the subcommittee for the common curriculum. This planning committee will also seek ideas and feedback from students, staff, faculty and alumni of both Yale-NUS and USP about the formation of the New College.

Ahead of Parliament on Sept 13, three Workers' Party MPs have filed parliamentary questions over the merger.

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