New President for Yale-NUS College

Speech by Professor Tan Tai Yong, President-Designate, Yale-NUS College

at the Special Meeting for the Introduction of the College’s New President

14 March 2017 at Yale-NUS College


Members of the Governing Board, colleagues, students,

I am deeply honoured to be appointed the next President of Yale-NUS College. I am grateful to the Governing Board for placing its trust in me to take on this very important and exciting responsibility. I am also indebted to Pericles Lewis, for his leadership as the founding president, and for leaving such strong foundations for us to build on. I humbly accept the privilege to lead the College in its next phase of development and growth.

I have been Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs since 2014, and consider it my good fortune to have been part of a wonderful team that has worked tirelessly to build the College in the past few years. In a short span of five years, the growth of the College, from nothing more than an idea, to what it is today, is nothing short of remarkable.

This is testament to the committed partnership of faculty, staff and students, strongly supported by the Governing Board and the generosity of our benefactors. I have learnt much, and benefited from the strong sustenance and wise counsel of my colleagues and friends. As I assume the mantle of the presidency, I shall continue to rely on this dedicated community of learning that defines the College.

I have long held the conviction that the best way to prepare students for a rapidly changing workplace and an increasingly complex world is to develop in them the capacity for reason, reflection and independent critical thinking. And, in an inter-connected world, the ability to appreciate differences through greater understanding of diversity is a particularly critical attribute.

At Yale-NUS, our curriculum and co-curricular programmes aim to cultivate creativity, curiosity and critical thinking, while nurturing in our students an ethic of service as well as adaptability and resilience.

As we prepare the Class of 2017 for graduation in May this year, I believe we shall see, in our graduating students, the realisation of those outcomes. I am confident that our graduates will be differentiated by their abilities to understand issues from broader, global perspectives; by their special quality of empathy, as well as the desire to work for change.

They will have the flexibility and imagination to adapt to ever-changing and ambiguous environments, and have the audacity and gumption to face the challenges of an increasingly volatile and uncertain world. This will be the resilience that must characterise our students – an appreciation that things will not always go their way, and the ability to overcome adversity with inner strength and grace.

In my welcome speech at the inauguration of the Class of 2019, I asked the freshmen to imagine a college whose purpose, among others, is to prepare them for active roles in civic life; whose curricula and courses challenge students’ imaginations and develop their civic competencies; whose co-curricular activities offer multiple opportunities for students to engage in public work. This is our grand aspiration. We shall persist with that aspiration, and that ethos of service must find permanent place in the Yale-NUS DNA.

I believe the building blocks to achieve all that I have said above are in place. But, we must not be complacent. We need to constantly ask: how can we do better? How do we add value? How do we continue to make that difference? We must never lose that desire to go beyond, to exceed ourselves.

We are a community of learning, founded by two great universities. The continued involvement and support from Yale and NUS will make the College distinctive and strong. I know NUS well, and will work to strengthen ties with the colleges in University Town, as well as the schools and departments across the bridge.

Yale is located just a little further away, but with us always, in spirit and purpose. I am fortunate to have been part of the start-up team for this College, and to have, over the years, made many good friends there. I will continue to broaden and deepen our engagement with New Haven, and widen our network of friends and advocates there. I am deeply grateful to President Peter Salovey and Provost Ben Polak for expressing their total commitment to the College. We will continue to bring visiting Yale faculty to spend time in the College, and I expect that a few Yale faculty will have deeper engagements with the College in due course.

It is my good fortune to be inheriting a College in such a strong position from the founding President. It has been wonderful working with President Lewis; he is an inspiring leader and dear friend, and I have benefitted much from his guidance and leadership. Pericles has laid strong foundations and has placed the College on an upward trajectory. He may leave the College, but the College will not leave him. In this new capacity as the inaugural Vice-President for Global Strategy and Deputy Provost for International Affairs, I am sure we can count on him to advocate for, and support, the development of this very special College.

Today, more than ever, a liberal arts and sciences education has become increasing relevant to Singapore as it strengthens its position as a global city-state. The challenges that the country will face, domestically and externally, can no longer be solved by science and technology alone.

Our time has come. I strongly believe that the premise on which Yale-NUS was founded will rise in even greater prominence because the search is on for talented future leaders who can understand and contextualise issues from global, regional and local perspectives; empathise with sensitivity and compassion; and work collaboratively for positive change.

At a time when the Oxford Dictionary makes “post-truth” its 2016 International Word of the Year, and when information is increasingly used to obfuscate rather than to enlighten, it is all the more crucial for us to cultivate a new intellectual community, one whose members are intellectually agile, mentally robust and who have a deep sense of social responsibility.

I look forward to working with you – colleagues, students, stakeholders, and friends – to make Yale-NUS a leading light in the world of liberal arts and sciences, based on a community of learning that is galvanised by a culture of trust, respect and duty, and dedicated to making a difference in all that we do.