From the Editor

Alumni et al.

What makes an alumnus?

Contrary to popular belief at Ivy schools that are not located in Cambridge, it is not true that if you walk through Harvard Yard, Harvard will claim you as one of its alumni.

On the other hand, I have it on good authority that you can become a devoted son or daughter of the University of Chicago if 1) you’ve ever flown over its campus and 2) you subsequently win a Nobel Prize.

We’ve been discussing the definition of “alumni” recently at the Yale Alumni Magazine because of a promotional brochure about Yale-NUS College. Yale is cofounding the college with the National University of Singapore, and the brochure says its graduates will join both schools’ “alumni societies.” (See “Yale and Yale-NUS Alumni.”) But Yale-NUS isn’t part of Yale, and its degrees won’t be Yale degrees. So its alumni can’t be Yale alumni, right?

Right, said the Yale administrators we asked. Eventually, Yale-NUS will be graduating 250 students per year; they will join the ranks of Yale’s “international affiliates,” who have studied in nondegree programs at Yale or have other Yale connections. They’re not alumni, but they’re invited to many alumni events and are included in the online alumni directory (unless they opt out, as Yale alumni can also do).

This category of the alumni “affiliate” or “associate” is an old one. US universities were doing social networking long before Facebook. In 1971, when Berkeley Divinity School merged with the Yale Divinity School, its past graduates were grandfathered in as Yale alumni affiliates. Today, elite universities put a lot of thought into burnishing their reputations at home and establishing reputations abroad. Maintaining contact with those who hold an honorary degree, or had a postdoc fellowship, or took an executive education course, is Networking 101.

It can pay off. Gilbert Doumit of Lebanon joined Yale’s World Fellows program in 2008; the next year, he became a prime mover in the Yale Arab Alumni Association. World Fellow Emmanuel Asiedu, of Ghana, helped set up the upcoming trip for alumni to volunteer in his country. A group of female affiliates is cosponsoring the YaleWomen inaugural conference of alumnae in 2013. 

Yale’s Singapore venture, however, has critics among both the alumni and the faculty because of the Singaporean government’s human rights record. Jim Sleeper ’69, a Yale lecturer in political science (and husband of political science professor Seyla Benhabib, who introduced the April faculty resolution urging Yale to uphold civil liberty in Singapore), has criticized the affiliate arrangement as well, calling it a way to sell Yale alumni on Yale-NUS.

The Yale Club of Singapore is one alumni group that has mooted the issue of Yale-NUS alumni (maybe with feeling: in an e-mail, President Bill Hatch ’09 called it a “rich discussion”). On the one hand, many Yale alumni in Singapore are involved in Yale-NUS, and the club will continue to help those who want to take part. On the other, members wish to be considerate of the differences in opinion over the college. So, from now on, the club will “neither actively hinder nor actively promote” Yale-NUS, Hatch wrote. But the club expects to engage with Yale-NUS alumni—preserving the distinction between the two institutions, yet instituting some “level of integration.” They have until 2017 to work it out.

And now, over to you. Alumni opinion on Singapore continues to be varied and thought-provoking: just read our Letters section. And let us hear from you.  


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