NUS president to hold online townhall meeting with parents of Yale-NUS students to discuss closure

NUS has said that the merger between Yale-NUS and USP is part of the university's larger move towards interdisciplinary learning. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - National University of Singapore (NUS) president Tan Eng Chye has agreed to an online townhall meeting with parents of Yale-NUS College students to hear their questions about the school's closure.

The meeting will also be open to parents of students in the University Scholars Programme (USP), he said in an e-mail response to parents on Thursday (Sept 9).

The exact date for the townhall meeting has not been set.

Professor Tan had initially refused a townhall-style meeting, saying that he would instead hold a series of individual, face-to-face meetings with them in the later part of September.

The parents then sent a response rejecting his suggestion for smaller group meetings in favour of an online townhall meeting on Friday at 7pm.

In his reply on Thursday, Prof Tan said: "Due to prior commitments, I will not be able to make it for the proposed townhall on Friday... However, I am pleased to separately arrange a virtual townhall next week."

On the same day, the Yale-NUS leadership sent out a letter to all parents stating that they would soon receive an invitation to a virtual townhall meeting next week featuring Prof Tan, Yale-NUS president Tan Tai Yong, and Yale-NUS executive vice-president for academic affairs Joanne Roberts.

NUS had made a shock announcement on Aug 27 that Yale-NUS - a liberal arts tie-up between Ivy League university Yale in the United States and NUS that began in 2011 - would stop accepting new students and merge with NUS' USP to form the New College - a placeholder name.

Following this, more than 260 parents of current and former students at the college signed a collective letter asking Prof Tan to attend a townhall meeting with them to explain the reasons for the upcoming merger between Yale-NUS and USP.

One of the signatory parents, who wanted to be known only as Madam Hui Ling, told The Straits Times that the consensus among parents, students and some faculty is that there has been a lack of transparency from NUS throughout the process.

This motivated her and others to draft and sign the letters to Prof Tan to help them understand why the decision was made, she said.

"None of the reasons they have given so far are convincing," the 55-year-old former media professional told ST.

"This decision is not something that NUS should be taking lightly. There appears to be very little regard for the psychological impact that this is having on students and faculty," she said.

Her son is a Year 2 student at the college.

Speaking to ST via a Zoom call on Friday evening, five other parents who signed the letters called for the merger to be reversed, citing that the diversity of international students, the ground-up groups built up over 10 years and small class sizes will be difficult to replicate in the New College.

They also challenged the choice to inform students about the merger after paying for their school fees, with the parent of a Year 1 student, who wanted to be known as Ms Chong, describing that they felt like victims of a "bait and switch".

Ms Chong, a business owner in her 50s, said parents were also not informed about the need to raise funds, adding that Yale University mentioned that there were four more years to meet the endowment target.

She said: "This is something that can be adjusted either by raising school fees or increasing the number of students... Why weren't these (used as) alternatives? Were they even considered?"

NUS has so far said that the merger between Yale-NUS and USP is part of the university's larger move towards interdisciplinary learning, while Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, who sits on the Yale-NUS College board, said the main purpose is to "democratise" liberal arts education in Singapore and make it available and accessible to more local students.

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