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Whose Yale College?

March 28, 2012

Nearly one year ago, Yale University announced it had joined with the National University of Singapore to form Yale-NUS College – described in promotional materials as "the first new college to bear the Yale name in 300 years." Faculty at the original Yale College, in New Haven, want to know why they didn’t have greater say in such a momentous decision -- and they’re making their questions and concerns known now.

“If it took us longer than it should have to catch up with this, so be it,” said Christopher L. Miller, a professor of African American studies and French. “There is no statute of limitations on questions -- good questions about serious issues affecting not just Yale-NUS College but (and this is my primary concern) Yale-New Haven.”

Yale held a series of “town meetings” prior to finalizing the agreement to create Yale-NUS -- an undergraduate, residential liberal arts college -- and dozens of individual faculty members have served on planning committees. But there has never been a formal Yale College faculty vote on the matter. "The Yale College Faculty is not a 'town,' " said Miller. "We are the constituted body of the professors of arts and sciences at Yale; Yale's reputation comes from us -- not from the corporation" ("the corporation" being the name for Yale’s governing board).

 “When Yale went co-ed, the YCF [Yale College Faculty] voted. When, last year, there was a decision about bringing ROTC back, the YCF voted. But when there was a question about setting up the first sister campus bearing Yale's name in 300 years, suddenly it was 'not a project of Yale College,' and we were not allowed to vote; the corporation acted on its own," Miller said.


"It is true that the Yale College faculty have never recorded an official vote on the project. Technically that's appropriate since Yale-NUS will not be giving Yale College degrees."
--Charles Bailyn, dean of faculty for Yale-NUS

Faculty members have raised a variety of concerns about Yale-NUS College, including whether Yale’s policies of academic freedom and nondiscrimination can be maintained in Singapore: an authoritarian state that imposes limitations on freedom of expression and criminalizes gay sex. At the March Yale College Faculty meeting, Seyla Benhabib, a professor of political science and philosophy, introduced a resolution demanding "that Yale-NUS, in all aspects of its activities and operations, respect, protect, and further the ideals of civil liberties for all minorities, the principles of non-discrimination, and full political freedom, both on the Yale-NUS campus and in Singapore as a whole." The resolution was tabled for further discussion at the April faculty meeting.

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"Many of us on the faculty feel that the full ramifications of cooperating so closely with a government whose record of upholding civil and political rights and non-discrimination against gay and lesbian colleagues, migrants and foreigners is so deplorable, should have given the administration and the Yale Corporation pause before proceeding further," Benhabib said. "There are also significant governance issues about faculty appointments, curriculum design and promotion procedures as well as degree authorization that have not been satisfactorily resolved. We are now for the first time discussing these issues in open fora throughout the university."

Why for the first time? Victor Bers, a professor of classics who also spoke at the meeting, said that faculty discontent regarding a variety of issues – including reductions in secretarial support, the transition of the campus e-mail to a Gmail server, and, yes, the creation of Yale-NUS college – have triggered broader concerns about the need for greater shared governance at Yale. "By itself, the name 'Yale-NUS' is sufficient to justify the formal involvement of the Yale College Faculty, which is meant to assemble as a deliberative, not a merely ceremonial body," Bers said.

A Faculty Vote?

However, professors who are supportive of the Singapore endeavor point out that while the new college bears Yale’s name, it will not grant Yale degrees: rather, NUS will be the degree-granting entity. Yale College faculty have oversight over academic matters of Yale College – what courses to approve, what majors to offer. But what oversight should Yale College faculty have over degrees granted by NUS at a Yale-NUS College?

"There have been a number of concerns expressed by my colleagues recently over faculty governance that are unrelated to Yale-NUS. These concerns have now spilled over to Yale-NUS," said Charles Bailyn, a professor of astronomy and physics and the inaugural dean of faculty for Yale-NUS. "In fact, there was extensive consultation with many faculty both prior to and after the agreement was signed -- many dozens of faculty members have been involved in one way or another. But it is true that the Yale College faculty have never recorded an official vote on the project. Technically that's appropriate since Yale-NUS will not be giving Yale College degrees."

Bailyn pointed out that the faculty of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies did approve a concurrent degree program in which Yale-NUS students who meet certain requirements would be eligible to pursue a master’s in environmental studies or management at Yale. According to David K. Skelly, a professor of ecology and associate dean of the School of Forestry, the faculty voted unanimously in December to approve the program. "There is in general strong support for YNC among our faculty," Skelly said. "We see great opportunities for involvement in an environmentally critical region."


"By itself, the name 'Yale-NUS' is sufficient to justify the formal involvement of the Yale College Faculty, which is meant to assemble as a deliberative, not a merely ceremonial body."
--Victor Bers, professor of classics

One anomaly of Yale’s governance structure is that there is no universitywide elected senate. The Yale College faculty -- the undergraduate arts and science faculty – are the ones raising questions about the initiative, but there is no single elected body that represents faculty from all of Yale’s schools. On the one hand, this can be seen as a legitimate challenge to obtaining faculty approval for projects that impact the entire university. On the other, it can be seen as an excuse. Michael Fischer, a professor of computer science, said that it has been used as the latter. “Shared governance is just not working anymore,” Fischer said. “It’s not working when the administration says, ‘Well you don’t have jurisdiction over that because these issues go beyond Yale College; as Yale College faculty you can vote on what courses to teach, and things that are directly involved with the academics of Yale college, but not with any of the broader issues.’ ”

In the case of Yale-NUS, critics argue that it cannot be viewed as a separate operation. They argue that the new college will impact Yale College in New Haven – not only in terms of the potential risk to reputation, but in more tangible ways too. For example, Yale faculty will leave New Haven for temporary teaching appointments in Singapore, and the concurrent program in environmental studies requires students to spend one semester at Yale College as undergraduates.

The Broader Perspective

Many American colleges are relative newcomers to cross-border education, but as the norms have evolved so far, faculty typically aren’t afforded jurisdiction over the decision of whether or not to open an international branch. Jason E. Lane, an associate professor and co-director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany, said that as universities establish foreign outposts, decision-making tends to happen in two spheres: "There’s the administrative sphere, which is, 'Do we set up a foreign entity?' and there’s the academic sphere, which is, 'What programs are going to be offered?' "

As for the first sphere, Lane said administrators typically make the decision about venturing overseas on their own. "We’ve not often seen a lot of shared governance," he said, although there frequently is consultation of faculty. As for the academic sphere, typically foreign campuses offer preexisting programs, and administrators seek approval from individual departments to offer those programs in new locations. For example, administrators would ask the business department for approval to offer its M.B.A. at a campus in Beijing. "Generally," Lane said, "it’s not a universitywide faculty decision."

Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and president of NYU’s American Association of University Professors chapter, has written critically of foreign campuses, including NYU’s branch in Abu Dhabi. "Consultation is the term that’s used almost universally in my experience when it comes to getting some kind of faculty input on these foreign branch campuses," Ross said -- drawing a line between asking for input from individual faculty and subjecting major decisions to deliberation and approval by elected or representative faculty bodies. "Ad hoc consultation. If the faculty need to be consulted, they generally are faculty that are appointed to task forces, so they’re not elected representatives. They tend to be faculty who will give a rubber stamp to any administrative policy decision."

"The administration perceives these decisions as executive decisions that are not necessarily decisions over academic affairs" – a faculty senate’s purview. "They’re decisions about institutional destinies."

Moving Forward

Yale’s president and provost declined, through a spokesman, to be interviewed. "They discussed Singapore with their faculty colleagues at the last [Yale College Faculty] meeting and they will be at the next meeting for the discussion. It's an ongoing dialogue, and they’d like to continue that dialogue with their colleagues for now," said Tom Conroy, the university press secretary.

Meanwhile, plans for the new campus are moving forward. Pericles Lewis, a professor of English and comparative literature and co-chair of the Yale-NUS humanities search committee, said that faculty have reviewed more than 2,000 applications for fewer than 50 positions, and will be making a substantial number of offers over the next few weeks. He spoke of the opportunities of being able to create a new, "21st-century" liberal arts curriculum from scratch: "We’re asking ourselves, 'What is it that an educated person needs to learn in the 21st century?' " Lewis said. "We’ve adapted a fairly traditional liberal arts curriculum like the ones at Reed or Scripps or Columbia or University of Chicago, where there tends to be an emphasis on reading great works from the Western tradition. We expect that to be a part of what we do, but we also want to read works from other traditions, particularly the Asian tradition, and we also want students to study social scientific and scientific methods." The first faculty will arrive on the Yale-NUS campus in the upcoming academic year and the first class of students will commence studies in summer 2013.

The faculty hiring committees comprise equal numbers of Yale and NUS faculty. Bailyn, the inaugural dean of faculty, explained what the governance of curriculum, faculty hiring, and promotion and tenure will look like as Yale-NUS develops: "Once the first group of Yale-NUS faculty have been hired, they will also be represented on the committees, alongside Yale and NUS faculty. As more Yale-NUS faculty come on board that representation will increase. When the full Yale-NUS faculty has been hired, the governance of the curriculum, faculty hiring, promotion and tenure and so on will be done entirely by Yale-NUS itself" – with the exception that tenure appointments will require approval from the Yale and NUS provosts.

"It is important to remember that Yale-NUS College is not a branch of Yale (or of NUS), in contrast to other overseas ventures of U.S. colleges," Bailyn said. "It is a new institution, reporting to its own governing board, that is being founded jointly by Yale and NUS. As such, it is appropriate for its own faculty to govern such procedures, once that faculty is in place."

 

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