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Parents of Yale-NUS students reiterate call for virtual townhall with NUS president

Parents of Yale-NUS students reiterate call for virtual townhall with NUS president

The entrance of Yale-NUS College. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: Parents of Yale-NUS College students and alumni have reiterated a call for a virtual townhall meeting with National University of Singapore (NUS) president Tan Eng Chye to address concerns about the Yale-NUS College and University Scholars Programme (USP) merger decision

This follows an earlier request for a townhall meeting in an email to Prof Tan on Monday (Sep 6). 

In response to the initial email, Prof Tan replied on Tuesday to say that the university was "planning a series of individual, face-to-face meetings for parents of Yale-NUS and University Scholars Programme students from the later part of September to address these concerns and questions". 

The parents then sent another email on Wednesday to repeat their request for a virtual townhall, in the school's "usual dialogue format". In this email, they asked for the townhall to be held on Friday. 

Both emails were signed by more than 260 parents. 

CNA has seen the parents' emails to Prof Tan, as well as the latter's reply to the initial email. 

'URGENT AND PERTINENT QUESTIONS' REMAIN UNANSWERED

In the initial email to Prof Tan, parents asked that Prof Tan make himself available for a townhall to answer their "urgent and pertinent questions" about the impending closure of Yale-NUS which have "remained unanswered since (the) decision was announced" on Aug 27. 

The email cited a news article published in the Straits Times, which said an NUS spokesperson claimed that the university "was working closely with Yale-NUS and USP faculty, students, staff and alumni" to address their concerns.

The parents said they found this claim to be "appalling". 

"There has been no effort to engage key stakeholders like students and alumni, or us, parents - who are also stakeholders from our role in financing educational institutions and as guardians and support systems of the students who attend them," they said. 

"This claim of active engagement is painfully contrary to our experiences in trying to engage NUS in conversation on the closure of Yale-NUS thus far." 

The parents said they received an email invite on Aug 30 to a townhall with the Yale-NUS leadership on Sep 2, but that this event was only to be attended by Yale-NUS' senior leadership, with "no presence from the NUS administration". 

"Prior to the townhall, multiple emails were sent to you, requesting for your presence to engage in dialogue with us. Unfortunately, your office declined our request, replying that 'NUS is not involved in this townhall, as the session is organised exclusively for the Yale-NUS community,'" the parents said in the Sep 6 email. 

"Given all the information we know till date of the unilateral decision-making process and the top-down approach NUS has taken to the closure of Yale-NUS College, the response from your office was disappointing and altogether simply too unsatisfactory."

During the townhall on Sep 2, the Yale-NUS leadership "could only provide very limited answers to our questions", said the parents. 

It added that when parents asked for "transparency and accountability on fundamental questions" on the closure of Yale-NUS, they did not receive satisfactory answers from Yale-NUS president Tan Tai Yong, executive vice president Joanne Roberts, and vice president Trisha Craig. 

The parents said in the email: "... their best attempt was: 'NUS has its own reasons and ambitions for wanting to develop this (new) college. (...) So there we have it.'"

The email asked for Prof Tan to engage parents "directly" and not ask the Yale-NUS' leadership to explain "what you have acknowledged to be your own decision". 

PROF TAN RESPONDS, PARENTS REITERATE CALL FOR VIRTUAL TOWNHALL

In an email response on Tuesday, Prof Tan said he fully understood their concerns about the merger. 

He added that NUS has been working with Yale-NUS and USP leadership to address these concerns, but noted that there may still be some questions, and NUS is "keen to provide further opportunities for parents to raise them". 

"As such, we are planning a series of individual, face-to-face meetings for parents of Yale-NUS and University Scholar Programme students from the later part of September to address these concerns and questions," he said. 

"Due to prevailing COVID-19 restrictions, these will have to be arranged in small groups." 

In response to Prof Tan's reply, parents reiterated their request for a virtual townhall in a follow-up email on Wednesday, but this time they asked that it be scheduled on Sep 10 at 7pm. 

The virtual townhall would be "in the usual dialogue format, and we will ensure that we keep to the participant limit to avoid having to use a webinar format", they added.  

The parents turned down Prof Tan's suggestion to meet with them in person in small groups. 

"In-person, one-to-one meetings at a later date in September are not appropriate given the present outlook of the COVID-19 situation in Singapore. There are over 260 of us parents who have expressed interest to engage in dialogue with you, and we find it unlikely that you will hold over 50 meetings with us. This is not accounting for the parents from USP," the email stated.

"Additionally, parents who are abroad would be excluded from in-person meetings despite them having raised their concerns as well."

CNA has contacted NUS for comment. 

MERGER DECISION

In a press release on Aug 27, NUS said Yale-NUS and USP will be combined into a single new college from 2022. 

Students of the new college will read a new common curriculum adapted from “the best of both the USP and Yale-NUS foundations”, enhanced with science, technology, engineering and mathematics elements, said the university.

Graduating students from this new college will earn degrees conferred by their respective home school or faculty. 

The programme will also retain a feature of the USP, where students can access the full range of majors, second majors, minors and specialisations offered across NUS. 

The final batch of students from Yale-NUS will graduate in 2025. 

Source: CNA/gy(rw)

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