Administrative formalities or confidentiality? Restrictions surround information sharing and student engagement for new college working groups

History | Ryan Yeo (he / him), editor-in-chief
Pictures | Martin Choo (he / him)

Yale-NUS College and University Scholars Program (USP) student representatives on New College Working Groups (WGs) were unable to disclose details of their meetings and engage with students without prior approval. from their respective WG Chairs, the Yale-NUS Student Government. said in a statement to the student body on Wednesday (Oct. 27).

The statement says student representatives were initially told to “respect confidentiality” during their first meetings and were not allowed to release any information from the working group meetings.

Instead, the Communications Working Group would centralize the dissemination of information about the Working Group discussions to ensure “accuracy and competitive insight”.

Last week, student representatives from the Yale-NUS WG sent a collective response to The octantrequest for comments that they have not been able to disseminate the information shared during the working group meetings. Separately, a USP student representative declined to comment.

Since the task forces convened their first meetings on September 21, no information about the anonymous college has been shared with the student body on a specially created blog or through other channels.

Administrative formalities or confidentiality? Different approaches for each working group

The level of transparency and student engagement for each New College Working Group (WG) varies.

Responding to the students’ request for clarification, Ho Teck Hua, chairman of the New College Planning Committee (NCPC), said the committee values ​​the views of the students. He added that the student representatives of the WG were not required to “collect student feedback or consult with students” unless the chairs requested or approved their specific proposal to solicit comments. .

Referring to the parameters of consultation with the student body, the provost said: “The chairs of [the] The WG can decide on this. In general, the question of comments or consultation should be broad without going into specific details, as this is work in progress.

“This applies to all comments / consultations as well as working group communications. Presidents can also request that certain documents remain confidential.

The presidents of the WGs, for their part, each gave different answers regarding their approaches to transparency and student engagement within their respective WGs.

Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS and Chair of the Faculty Appointments Working Group, said The octant via email last Friday (October 22) that their working group meetings involved discussions on “how best to support faculty throughout the transition process” while ensuring “the continuity of our academic programs at the college “.

“Discussions within my working group often involve confidential matters such as contracts, terms of appointment, as well as personal and professional plans. These are not issues that can be shared openly, ”added Professor Tan.

“I cannot speak on behalf of the other Chairs, as they will lead the communication parts of their respective working groups and are free to share and update the affected communities as they see fit. “

Speaking only on behalf of the working groups she sits on, Joanne Roberts, chair of the Common Curriculum Working Group, said in an email earlier this week: “In the working groups I sit on , students play a crucial role. They shared their own perspectives and came together with their peers. ”

There have been no “unusual restrictions” on what they can discuss, she added.

Specific to the Common Curriculum Working Group, Emily Tan ’23 and Morgane (Dasha) Ropion ’22, Yale-NUS student representatives on the working group, confirmed that they are allowed to share and collect information as long as they do not disseminate confidential working documents.

Roberts said confidentiality requirements were “normal” in these kinds of planning committees.

“Normally you ask the president, ‘I’d like to consult the students on this, are you okay? In this case, the president will normally say yes. I don’t know if this is particularly limiting.

“I didn’t do it in my committee. I kind of trusted my committee members not to share counterproductive or gratuitous things, ”she added.

Meanwhile, Koh Yan Leng, vice president (campus infrastructure) of NUS and chair of the facilities management working group, redirected The Octant emails to the communications working group.

The other chairs, including Ovidia Lim-Rajaram, chair of the communication working group, did not respond to The octantrequest for information a week ago on task forces at press time.

Basic course structure, “Big decisions” ready by December

Roberts said she was unable to share New College’s draft curriculum “until the Provost confirmed that it is ready to be shared in full detail.”

When asked if she should receive permission from the provost before sharing information, Roberts replied, “I could probably share if I wanted to. But ideally, it should be shared with Yale-NUS and USP students at the same time, as both have made valuable contributions. Also, it might not be useful to have unfinished information circulating, which could be confusing. “

It only shared the basic structure of New College’s planned curriculum, which would include “common courses” and “electives,” including quantitative reasoning and writing courses. She would avoid sharing the rest of the plan while it was still “so preliminary,” she said.

The Common Curriculum Working Group aims to complete its planning by the end of the semester, before the winter break in December, she added.

According to Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students at Yale-NUS and WG member, four meetings were scheduled for the Student and Residential Life WG before the December winter break, each lasting one to two hours.

Cory Owen, associate dean of students and a member of the facilities management working group, said six meetings were scheduled for his working group before the end of December.

She explained that the NCPC had to make the “big decisions” by the end of the year before the start of the admissions cycle for New College’s new batch of students.

Stanfield commented, “The schedule is fast as they are going to start recruiting students. They have to be fast.

Meanwhile, Roberts assured that despite the quick schedule, she was convinced that a “strong” program could be developed soon, because her task force “worked very effectively” and because there was already “groundwork”. solids ”in the Yale-NUS and USP programs. .

She added, “When we get to August, it’s only the first year of the joint program that you need to have ready to be offered. You don’t even need to have everything ready, as long as you know what it is and have a feel for it.

Student engagement

So far, the only modes of engagement with the Yale-NUS and USP student associations have been the channels initiated by some student representatives of the WG, after approval by their respective WG presidents.

On October 11 and 12, Yale-NUS student representatives from the Student and Residential Life Working Group and NCPC, respectively, held open forums with the student body. Only five and six students showed up at the open forums with the Student and Residential Life WG and the NCPC, respectively.

Yale-NUS student representatives from the Student and Residential Life Working Group also launched three polls soliciting input from the student body.

During this time, there have been a number of engagement efforts by USP student representatives in all working groups with the USP student body, through focus groups and groups. informal discussions.

Angela Hoten ’23, who attended the two Yale-NUS open forums, was unsure of their effectiveness given the lack of transparency in the working groups.

She said: “Student representatives seem to have to abide by these ambiguous confidentiality clauses and this puts them in a position where they cannot inform the student body of what is going on in these WG discussions and what is happening. decided for New College. How is it different from how we got here? ”

“These working groups should allow student representatives to share the minutes and decisions made in these working groups, and also allow student representatives enough time to put together the necessary details they need to present a case.” solid for the programs we have at Yale-NUS.

Promises and commitments

When setting up the new college, students’ opinions are important and consultations will take place, NUS management had previously promised. Tan Eng Chye, president of NUS, said in a town hall at the end of last month: “I don’t think the students should have the last say, but I think the community should have an important say.

Likewise, Ho promised in an email to all NUS faculty, staff and students in October: “Together, the planning committee and working groups will develop a collaborative, consultative and open approach that will guide the new college to the future. “

Ho also said at a town hall in September with parents of Yale-NUS and USP students, “We’re going to get everyone’s feedback. I am hopeful that New College will do very well because from day one we are consulting everyone.

Earlier, in September, Roberts said The octant that she would commit to continuing to “consult with students, openly share and do our best at Yale-NUS” during the planning process for the new college, and “push for openness and communication” with the management of NUS.

About John A. Provost

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