Why I support YNC: a post from Professor Marvin Chun, Master of Berkeley College at Yale

As master of Berkeley College, I get to vicariously experience the kind of college 
life that I wish I had for myself. It is with the same motivation that I support the
 Yale-NUS College (YNC) project.

Life at Yale cannot be described in words, but here are a few glimpses from the
 past week. Last Tuesday, I joined a group of about 50 Berkeley seniors to hear 
and discuss student presentations on topics ranging across Southern liberalism, 
a biography of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Pierson College 
master John Hersey, molecular mechanisms for cell maintenance, and the 
history of the Titanic – all in two hours. Later in the week I met with a student 
who developed a likely publishable essay exploring the cognitive science of
 political corruption, and another student planning a fund-raiser for the homeless. 
On Friday night, Berkeley College Council organized a blacklight dance party in
 our basement space that they transformed into a glowing Pandora wonderland. 
On Saturday night, my family and I attended a Yale Symphony Orchestra concert 
that featured student soloists and conductors that I personally knew as musical
 directors of the Berkeley College Orchestra. Academic interests and
 extracurricular life span seamlessly across all activities and spaces – Yale 
synergizes the liberal arts and residential college experience more harmoniously 
than anyone.

I am from the academic 99% who had neither a liberal arts education nor a 
residential college experience. In South Korea, I dutifully studied 16 hours a day 
during high school to score above the national examination cutoff that gave me
 entry into an elite private university there. Required to choose a major before 
entering college, I took over half of my credits in psychology, memorizing the
 material in a way that perhaps qualified me to now teach Introduction to
 Psychology. I passively learned, but I did not feel actively engaged or inspired.
 Imagine spending your college years never speaking up in class or receiving any
feedback on the papers you submit. My study groups did not discuss ideas, but
 focused on how to distribute the best student’s notes (not mine).

By the end of my stifling freshman year, I had enough and wanted out. I tried to
 transfer to any college in the States that would take me. However, scholarships
 were nonexistent, and when I asked my father to sign a financial support 
commitment, he declined saying that he couldn’t afford it. Then I remember how 
he left to his room. Disappointed at the time, I was more embarrassed and sorry
 to hear my father apologize for it many years later when he was dying from
 cancer. I assured him that things worked out okay for me. Any memory of my 
having wounded his parental esteem was buried along with him over 10 years 
ago.

However, while walking out of the Yale College faculty meeting on March 1, I was
 surprised to see this memory erupt from its psychoanalytic dormancy. Will YNC 
be denied to numerous students around the world like myself, lacking the hyper-talent 
or mega-resources needed to study abroad at a place like Yale?

All faculty and students unanimously support the premium importance of 
academic freedoms and equal human rights for all. These principles are not only
 fundamental to YNC, Yale has an exit plan if they are not sustained. So is a 
faculty resolution necessary to state the obvious, while risking the perception that
 the YNC project is being held political hostage? I emphasize that I agree with
 nearly all of my colleagues’ concerns and statements, as much as I believe we all 
share an unwavering commitment to education. In fact, I am encouraged to see 
the open nature of the debate, well covered by the Yale Daily News and other 
outlets. Both critical and supportive op-ed statements, coupled with admirably 
balanced reporting, already demonstrate that YNC enjoys free and critical 
debate. Furthermore, the visibility of this partnership guarantees an international
 audience for all these voices. We have exhibited the kind of open, diverse, and
 scholarly dialogue that the YNC liberal arts education promises to foster.

Now that I’m a lucky member of the academic 1%, I join many of our faculty and
 students in supporting YNC as an unprecedented opportunity to share our gifts 
and privileges. This commitment to others is what the “Y” symbolizes to me, and
why I am proud to see its name on the new college with NUS.

Marvin Myung-Woo Chun is Professor of Psychology, Neurobiology, and Cognitive Science at Yale and Master of Berkeley College

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