Yale Scholar Will Be First President of New Institution in Singapore

Yale U.

Pericles Lewis
May 30, 2012

Yale-NUS College, the new Asian liberal-arts institution born of a collaboration between the National University of Singapore and Yale University, is looking inward for its inaugural president.

Pericles Lewis, a Yale professor of English and comparative literature who has played a key role in planning the curriculum and hiring faculty for the new university, will be its first leader. Mr. Lewis's appointment was announced Wednesday in Singapore by Richard C. Levin, Yale's president, and Tan Chorh Chuan, president of the National University of Singapore.

A joint Yale-NUS search committee considered a number of presidents of American liberal-arts colleges as well as high-level administrators at top research universities for the post, Mr. Tan said in a phone call with The Chronicle, but "in the end, the person best suited for the job was right in front of us."

A scholar of British and European literature and a leader in the field of modernism, Mr. Lewis has taught at Yale since 1998. His selection caps a few turbulent months for the fledgling college, which will enroll its first students in the fall of 2013. Dissent over the project among Yale faculty spilled over into the news pages, in both Singapore and the United States.

But while some of his Yale colleagues criticized the Ivy League institution's involvement in Singapore, a country with a sometimes spotty history on academic freedom, Mr. Lewis has spoken in favor of engagement.

"It's an opportunity to develop a really distinctive model of education," Mr. Lewis said in a phone interview. He said he is excited to "reimagine" a global liberal-arts curriculum that emphasizes a "new kind of literacy for the 21st century," one that is not just "book-centered—although I like books—but that is also about visual literacy, numeric literacy."

Mr. Lewis added, "One of the greatest attractions is the opportunity to start a university from the ground up."

Given the high-profile nature of the post, promoting from within may come as a surprise to some observers. Likewise, the decision to name a non-Singaporean—Mr. Lewis is Canadian-born—to helm the East-meets-West institution is also notable.

But Mr. Levin called Mr. Lewis a natural choice for the job, saying he had emerged as a "central thought leader" in planning for the college. "He is a great listener, he brings people together, yet he has an independent vision," Mr. Levin said.

Mr. Lewis also will be surrounded by administrators with years of experience in Singaporean higher education, including Lai Choy Heng, a vice provost of the National University of Singapore whose appointment as executive vice president for academic affairs at Yale-NUS also was announced today.

For his part, Mr. Lewis, who will spend the next year shuttling between New Haven and Singapore, said he and his family are excited to live and work in the booming city-state.

A graduate of McGill and Stanford Universities, Mr. Lewis's academic work connects literature with its social and intellectual context. He is the author of Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2010), among other works, and is the editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literatures.


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