Now, Yale is seeking to export those values by establishing the first foreign campus to bear its name, a liberal arts college in Singapore that is set to open this summer. The ambitious, multimillion-dollar project thrills many in the Yale community who say it will help the university maintain its prestige and build global influence.
But it has also stirred sharp criticism from faculty and human-rights advocates who say it is impossible to build an elite college dedicated to free inquiry in an authoritarian nation with heavy restrictions on public speech and assembly.
“Yale’s motto is ‘Lux et veritas,’ or ‘Light and truth,'” said Michael Fischer, a Yale professor of computer science. “We’re going into a place with severe curbs on light and truth … We’re redefining the brand in a way that’s contrary to Yale’s values.”
Yale President Richard Levin describes the new venture as a chance to extend Yale’s tradition of nurturing independent thinkers to a dynamic young nation at the crossroads of Asia. In the 19th century, Yale scholars fanned out to launch dozens of American colleges, Levin noted in a 2010 memo presenting the concept to faculty. “Yale could influence the course of 21st century education as profoundly,” he wrote.
Levin, who spent years expanding Yale’s campus in New Haven before initiating the Singapore project in 2010, has announced plans to retire at the end of the academic year. His successor, Yale Provost Peter Salovey, also supports the Singapore venture.
Working with the National University of Singapore, or NUS, Yale is building a comprehensive liberal arts college from scratch. The school will offer majors from anthropology to urban studies, electives from fractal geometry to moral reasoning, and a rich menu of extracurricular activities — sports, drama, debate, even a juggling club.
Scheduled to open this summer with 150 students, it is slated to grow to about 1,000 undergraduates living in a high-rise campus now under construction.
While American universities have been venturing overseas for decades, they have mostly offered tightly focused degree programs, often for graduate students. The closest analogy to the Yale project may be New York University’s branch campuses now under construction in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.
But the new NYU campuses are extensions of the university. The Yale venture, which targets top students from around the globe, is an unusual hybrid.
It will be called Yale-NUS College. It will draw some faculty — and its inaugural president, Pericles Lewis — straight from New Haven. Students will spend the summer before freshman year in New Haven, attending seminars with Yale faculty. When they graduate, they will be welcomed into the Association of Yale Alumni.
Yet Yale officials are emphatic that the new school is not a branch campus. The degrees it issues will not be Yale degrees. “It is not Yale,” said Charles Bailyn, an astronomy professor on leave from Yale to serve as the founding dean of Yale-NUS.