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What lies ahead for prospective Economics majors?

story Ying Tong Lai | photo Yale-NUS College Admissions Blog


s the pioneer batch of Yale-NUS College students prepare to declare their majors by March 13, concerns remain over the Economics major. Most pressing among issues raised by students are the perceived shortage of professors and limited options for specialization. At present, Director of the Social Sciences Division Jane Jacobs serves as acting Economics Head of Studies, in lieu of professor Rene Saran, who is on an unpaid leave of absence. It is unclear when Mr. Saran will return. “I’m not an economist,” Ms. Jacobs explained, adding that she currently works to recruit Economics professors and overseeing curriculum development. “I go to my senior visitors and to my juniors … [and] I take advice from them all the time,” Ms. Jacobs said. Mr. Saran’s leave of absence coincides with a scheduled “break year” in recruitment for the economics professors. President Pericles Lewis said that this cycle of faculty recruitment did not focus on psychology and economics and that the College is likely to hire more in those areas next year. According to Ms. Jacobs, the full team of eight economists will only be complete by August 2016. “We had to concentrate on other areas,” Ms. Jacobs said. “You can’t do all the searches at

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once because every search brings in hundreds of dossiers and applications, and there’s only so many of us.” She explained that Yale-NUS would be “cycling back” into Economics recruitment next year. According to Manas Punhani ’17, there were approximately thirty students enrolled in Intermediate Microeconomics last semester, but only 10–15 currently enrolled in Intermediate Macroeconomics. Both are required courses for the Economics major. The reduced interest may be due to “the way economics was handled”, “people just lost interest”, “or the fact that we don’t have a Head of Studies who is an economics-dedicated person”, Punhani said. The Economics faculty currently consists of three permanent professors—Yibei Liu, Guillem Riambau-Armet, and Rene Saran— and two visiting professors, Joanne Roberts and Eugene Chew. Both visiting professors will be in the College until the end of 2015. According to Ms. Jacobs, two more permanent professors are scheduled to join the College next semester—Julien Labonne and Francis Dennig. Depending on student interest, Ms. Jacobs said they may consider hiring more professors, “to make sure that our staff-student ratio is appropriate and favorable.”

Yet it is uncertain if the current Economics faculty is sufficient to offer enough diversity in advanced-level courses. A prospective Economics sophomore, who did not wish to be named, said, “They’re only offering really basic courses: things that are not specialized … There’re a lot of students interested in finance, but they’re not even planning on offering it here, at least in the short term.” “We are aware that there’s a lot of demand for finance, so we’re definitely working on that,” Mr. Riambau-Armet said. “But as a liberal arts college, it’s always going to be very hard to cover all areas, and that’s just because the numbers are smaller.” For the next recruitment cycle, Ms. Jacobs acknowledged the need for a senior economist “who can really head things up and offer mentorship to the junior faculty but also help with the students.” In the short term, students also have the option to take courses at the National University of Singapore (NUS). However, NUS courses count for fewer modular credits than those offered at YaleNUS, so students would have to take extra courses to make up the difference. The possible lack of diversity in faculty expertise becomes an even greater concern for capstone projects in senior year, which require “directed research under the supervision of an Economics faculty member”, according to the Yale-NUS website. “This will have to be in a field that the professor knows a lot about,” Punhani said. “Because there will be a limited number of faculty members at the time, this will limit the number of choices that we have as students.” Currently, Ms. Jacobs said the Economics department already has “a diverse range”, including Francis Dennig, a micro-economist with a specific interest in environment economics and Yibei Liu, a specialist in international organizations and international finance. She estimated that the full team of eight economists will be complete “by the time the inaugural group of students are in Year 4.” As the deadline for declaring a major nears, students have been communicating more of these concerns to the faculty. Punhani said, “I don’t think we had been pushing enough, and that responsibility lies with us. Now we’re pushing a lot more.” Still, Punhani acknowledged that these are the struggles of being a new college. “I think the school is actually trying pretty hard,” Punhani added.




The importance of discourse and critical thinking over censorship formed a significant part of the panel’s discussion.

interview and photo used with permission from David Chappell reporting Spandana Bhattacharya


t Yale University over the spring break, The Octant sat down with the President of Yale, Mr. Peter Salovey, to discuss Yale-NUS College. During the interview, Mr. Salovey acknowledged the risks associated with building a new liberal arts institution in Singapore, yet remained optimistic about YaleNUS as its own entity with its own spirit of experimentation. As a member of the Governing Board, how regular is your involvement with Yale-NUS? I am at all of the board meetings either in Singapore twice a year or generally from teleconference. I probably talk to President Lewis about once a month ... I just saw him here in New Haven about two days ago. So the involvement is actually pretty regular, with not a lot of time passing between discussions.

story Scott Currie | illustration Tong Xueyin


n March 3, the Writers’ Centre hosted a panel of four esteemed guests to discuss issues related to the censorship of children’s books. According to Professor Robin Hemley, Director of the Writing Program and published author, this panel was inspired by a controversy over the National Library Board’s decision to remove books from their children’s section and pulp them in July 2014. “[Censorship] is the most topical and obvious issue there is,” he said, adding that it was best to “air these things— otherwise they fester.” The panel was composed of Susie Bright, a frequent author on topics of sexual politics, Suchen Christine Lim, a celebrated author and winner of the inaugural Singapore Literature Prize in 1992, Jeanie Okimoto, the co-author of The White Swan Express (one of the books embroiled in the controversy), and Mark West, a scholar on children’s literature. The panel was moderated by Alvin Pang, a prominent poet and author who is also teaching a course on poetry at Yale-NUS for a semester, and Abdul Hamid ’17. According to Mr. Hemley, the panelists were chosen to reflect a “balance between the local and global”, and also be “even-keeled and reasonable enough to see [the panel] as more than a pulpit.” During the session, a recurring idea was the importance of discussion over censorship, especially during the question and answer

session. On whether certain literature should be kept from children, Ms. Okimoto said that children and most readers self-select for what they are ready to read. Mr. West said that censorship should not be an answer to problems, advocating for open discussion instead in all instances. In an interview, Mr. Pang agreed and added, “Whether a book is deemed suitable or unsuitable depends on the political and social climate, not the book.” Panelists also acknowledged the complexities of these issues. In particular, Mr. West said censorship is more complicated than most people understand, as it exists on a spectrum. In a Rector’s Tea the following day, he added, “In many ways the bureaucratic, bury-them-inpaperwork type is a more insidious and perhaps pervasive form [of censorship].” General consensus among panelists and attendees was that the event was a success. Raeden Richardson ’17 said, “All panelists presented decisive, mature critiques of censorship … [and] put the fear of offending aside for an engaging discussion.” Mr. Pang emphasized that it was important for universities and public libraries to serve as venues for “intelligent and informed debate”, adding that he hoped discussion over the issues raised would continue after the panel. Also included in the two-day series of related events were a Rector’s Tea with Ms. Lim and Mr. West, and two writing workshops.

From your involvement, have you found any lessons that you think Yale can learn from Yale-NUS? I think the most important thing that Yale can learn from Yale-NUS College is what it is like to have a spirit of experimentation … A challenge with a 314-year-old institution like Yale is that we sometimes feel bound by our history to be anxious about innovation. There is no one in Yale-NUS who is anxious about innovation, but they also accept that some things aren’t going to work. There is a spirit that says, “well we can fail, but we can pick ourselves up and try something else” and I think that that spirit is wonderful and [Yale] can learn from that. You’ve been quoted as saying that the benefits of Yale-NUS, as an experimental college, outweigh the risks. What, in your opinion, are these risks? Every time you start a new institute of higher education you want to make sure that the quality of faculty and students is high. I would say that the quality of faculty and students have exceeded my expectations, but that’s always a risk. The second is if the College has to rely too heavily on Yale and NUS, rather than develop its own infrastructure, operations team, endowment and faculty leadership … The third risk could be something political, some kind of dispute between institutions or countries that plays out in some way at the

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FEATURE/ARTS Below: At Yale for the spring break exchange and semester study abroad respectively, the writer and Spandana Bhattacharya met with Mr. Peter Salovey.

ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE LIWA DESERT story Marusa Godina | photo Chu Hsien Lim

T College. That kind of controversy would have with it a kind of reputational risk. With regards to these risks, how have you and Yale as an institution responded to criticisms and controversy? I respect and I think we all have to respect that individuals will differ in their views about what kind of projects a university might engage in, what kind of values, where a university should focus its efforts and the talent of its faculty. So I don’t find criticism unwelcome. I think it’s part of the process and I am comfortable with it. I would hope that so far anyway the quality of the educational experience at Yale-NUS … has impressed the people who, in the planning stages, were most nervous about this educational collaboration. One controversy, at least within Yale-NUS, has been its status as an “autonomous college within NUS.” How would you interpret this status? I see Yale-NUS as its own entity. It has its own board, faculty and students. Its degrees are certified by NUS, ... and a certain amount of the hiring of faculty and the development of the curriculum is linked to both Yale and NUS ... I would not be worried about the links between Yale-NUS and NUS, because the proximity to NUS and its resources...can be a great benefit for the College, which of course will develop a lot of these resources on its own. But why not take advantage of what is nearby? I would not reject that. It can only strengthen the College. Throughout Yale-NUS’s brief history there have been moments where value differences between Yale-NUS and NUS have surfaced. How would Yale deal with these issues if they ever came into conflict? I think you just try to work them out. I think reasonable people are very motivated to get to a place of common ground and common understanding and I think that has certainly been the case so far.

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welve Yale-NUS College students traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during spring break, where they attended various workshops to refine their selfexpression skills. Spending two days in the Liwa desert, the Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) participants had the opportunity to develop their own artistic projects by exploring notions of Writing, Art, and Identity with guidance from Professor Heidi Stalla, Assistant Director of the Writing Program. She was assisted by Diana Chester, a lecturer and Capstone Advisor for the Arts at New York University Abu Dhabi, Rebecca Tannenbaum, a senior lecturer of humanities at Yale-NUS and Caroline Mandela, a Yale-NUS Dean’s Fellow. Participants stayed at an artists’ retreat developing their projects through a special methodology called ‘Form-Shifting’, developed by Ms. Stalla and Ms. Chester. In an email interview, Ms. Stalla described it as “a creative pedagogy that invites participants to engage with evidence and develop ideas through both visual art and writing exercises.” According to Ms. Stalla, it helps participants explore a topic from different perspectives and experiment with various forms of expression. According to Lim Chu Hsien ’18, FormShifting involved pairing participants less familiar with each other. After spending ten minutes in silence, they interviewed their partner about anything that they were curious about. After that, they wrote a poem about their experiences, before translating it into a visual art piece. Lim said, “It was extremely insightful as I got to spot similarities and differences about myself in the respective stages. Seeing how one stage connected intricately with another illuminated some aspects of myself, which were deeply buried.” The participants also shared that the artistic prompts were open-ended. Jane Zhang ’18 gave an example from a cafe that they were sitting in—they had to focus on every sound,

Chu Hsien Lim’s final project.

every color, every person that passed by and every feeling that passed through their heads to finally put their thoughts on paper. According to her, the main learning point was discovering the importance of effective observation. The workshops were intended to guide participants on a path of artistic self-discovery. Glen Kilian Koh ’18 noted that students were told to spend less time on writing because it was more important to see what preoccupied them rather than to work on improving their writing. The participants shared their work and exchanged ideas but did not criticize each other’s reflections. Zhang added that the workshops made her realize that she had not been writing for a very long time and that it was a very powerful tool for self-expression. The final project too was very openended—at the end of the trip, students were asked to find things that caught their attention. “My final art piece tied together different parts of the trip that struck me: the love note found in the sand which reminded me that we all are so similar despite different backgrounds, a mirror to represent the reflections about myself and my identity, and sand which amazed me with its ability to so quickly erase all evidence of being,” Zhang said. Lim created a sand bed, made of broken pieces of glass and a mattress. She said, “The bed is a metaphor for my introspective self, the question mark represents the constant searching of identity and the broken pieces of glass symbolize the excruciating process of being honest with one’s identity.” Participants found the workshops meaningful and memorable. Koh said, “I believe we all uncovered something about ourselves that was very unexpected.” Ms. Stalla shared similar sentiments: “I was thrilled with the LAB—everything came together. Rebecca Tannenbaum, Diana Chester, and Caroline Manela were fabulous co-leaders, and student engagement was creative, sensitive and inspiring,” she said.


THE SLOW DEATH OF THE ACADEMY column Dennis Chiang | illustration Rachel Johanna Lim


e cannot tolerate intolerance.” This aphorism best encapsulates the current attitude in academia towards controversial areas of research, which are often labeled as ‘intolerant’. In providing funding or hiring faculty for controversial areas of research—such as race, sex, and gender— academic institutions err on the side of caution and are hesitant to fund their research. This wariness stems from a fear of student reprisal, the ensuing bad publicity and discrimination lawsuits that will invariably fly their way. It was because of this worrying trend that I had Jay Lusk ’18 ask President Lewis during the last Town Hall about Yale-NUS College’s strategy in balancing safe-space policies and academic freedom. Since then I have met with President Lewis along with Michael James Anthony ’17 and while it was heartening to hear that we shared the same concerns, I felt it was necessary to inform the rest of the YaleNUS community on the importance of this issue as I think modern safe-space policies are toxic to academic freedom. In recent years, the academy has taken a strong social justice slant. This has pervaded universities to such an extent that last year a student at Harvard University argued in their student newsletter, The Harvard Crimson, that academic freedom should give way to ‘academic justice’—a euphemism for pre-selecting certain ideas as infallible and censoring any contrarian idea to it. Universities used to be dangerous places where any and all ideas were permitted for the sake of robust intellectual discourse and ideas were taken on their own merit. However, universities have now become more concerned about ‘intersectionality’ and ensuring a diversity of academic voices. While this sounds good in theory, in practice, the validity of an argument is now determined based on the identity of the person making it as opposed to its merit.

Above: Safe space policies in recent times have threatened to overwhelm academic freedom.

For example, at the University of Oxford last year, a scheduled debate on abortion was shut down because it was deemed offensive to the school’s female population. One of the reasons stated was the fact that the debaters were two cisgender men who had no place having an intellectual discussion on what women do with their bodies. This is part of a larger trend of the insulation of individuals against exposure to uncomfortable topics of discussion that has taken over academic institutions globally, and I find this absolutely reprehensible. There is a principle of mutual reciprocity when it comes to freedom of speech—no one gets to be the arbiter of who can and cannot speak or what can or cannot be heard. It is discouraging that this wave of academic social justice seems to be reaching even YaleNUS. For example, ideas of sexual dimorphism and sex-linked traits are deemed as ‘incorrect’ opinions to hold in some of our classes. It is not hard to imagine that in the future, more radical professors may go one step further and censor any research or interrogation of such ideas by their academic peers on the basis of ‘intolerance’. It has been argued that this new ‘social justice’ position is where modern universities need to head after decades of being ivory towers. This new Western conception of what

LETTER TO THE EDITORS MAYBE SAFE, BUT NOT NECESSARILY TRITE I refer to Daniel Silverman’s article “We’re Safe and Alright [All Trite].” While I appreciate Daniel’s article on an issue of no small interest, I would suggest however, that the lack of high profile movements away from what one might consider ‘typical’ institutional structures is not necessarily a symptom of concern about external opinion, but also a function of two

other very important things: 1) different positions on what the best way for Yale-NUS to move forward is and 2) different personal priorities of the individuals that comprise the student body. What meaningful institutional success looks like for Yale-NUS is an interesting question—however, not everyone would agree that a vibrant political society constitutes that.

the academy should be, however, spits in the face of centuries of Asian academic traditions. In just one of many Eastern academic traditions, that of Zen Buddhism, the discovery and reconciliation of an uncomfortable truth as one of many tangential answers to a philosophical riddle is key to reaching its epiphanic moment of clarity. Given that YaleNUS was conceived as a revolutionary new university that would integrate the best of both Eastern and Western academic traditions, to lean so heavily on the modern Western conception of what the academy should be seems contrary to the school’s stated vision. It is my contention that if Yale-NUS reifies a safe-space policy in line with those that have been implemented in other universities elsewhere, it will go the same way as these institutions and restrict academics’ ability to teach and research controversial ideas. Safespace policies legitimize subjective perceptions of victimhood and allow these ‘victims’ to censor any idea they do not like. There is only one ‘safe-space guideline’ that I feel is necessary in a university: Anything that directly incites physical violence toward any person or persons will not be permitted. That is more than sufficient. If certain individuals are struggling with the ‘emotional trauma’ of such an ‘unsafe’ space, we should provide better psychological and mental health services to mitigate this. These vulnerable individuals should also not come into university with the expectation that the institution exists to protect them from ideas they subjectively perceive as ‘traumatizing’ or ‘intolerant’. That is not the function of a university. If there is one thing I would like people to take from this piece, it is this: A university where even a person’s deepest, most cherished convictions can be called painfully into question is the only university worth going to. Let’s hope Yale-NUS can be such a university.

Send your letter to the editors to general@theoctant.org by 5 pm on Friday for the chance to have it published here next week. Normalizing what is for Singapore yet a novel pedagogical model might be one alternative, among many. But such a goal and others like it are less given to revolutionary moments and more to imperceptible, tectonic change which in the long term, moves continents. —Ling Xi Min ’17

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