Bailyn: Yale-NUS will build our brand

A recent News editorial (“News’ View: Keep Yale out of Singapore,” Feb. 11), suggested that Yale’s proposed partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in founding a liberal arts college is of little benefit to Yale and may damage Yale’s “brand.” I believe that the opposite is true — so much so that I have agreed to become the first dean of the new college when it begins.

Yale’s reach into rapidly-growing, highly-educated Asian societies will grow as a result of this venture. And President Levin and Provost Salovey’s community letter last fall articulately expressed the exciting advantages of introducing a new model of undergraduate education to Asia. But beyond the institutional imperatives, the new college will directly benefit teaching and learning in New Haven and throughout the world. In fact, imagining a liberal arts education in an Asian context has already provided Yale faculty members with new insights and ideas.

My colleagues in the humanities and social sciences are excited to explore the possibilities of a program similar to Directed Studies that encompasses Asian as well as Western traditions. I can personally testify that teaching science to non-scientists looks very different in a context where students have been educated in Asian secondary schools, and where one could imagine creating sequences of courses that build upon each other. Innovative pedagogical techniques will be far easier to implement in classrooms and study spaces that have been designed with modern technology in mind, rather than retrofitted. And teaching in an institution without departmental boundaries provides exciting new opportunities for interdisciplinary studies. All of these innovations and more will be implemented in the new college, and those that are the most successful will return to New Haven to enhance the educational experience here.

Of course, a liberal education can thrive only if there is freedom of expression in the classroom and in research, and some critics suggest that this is not currently possible in Singapore. But a study of the scholarly articles published by NUS faculty show critical reviews of government policies and room for humanities scholarship on such topics as queer theory. And in NYU’s Law School Program at NUS, where the new college will be located, there are courses on human rights where controversial issues are fully addressed. Many of the books that critics claim are “banned” are actually on the library shelves at NUS.

After extensive consultations with people recently and currently involved in educational ventures in Singapore, those of us involved in setting up the new college believe that academic freedom in teaching and research appropriate for a liberal arts institution exists. The draft agreement between Yale and NUS affirms both institutions’ commitment to academic freedom. If there is backsliding on this crucial issue, or if the situation changes in some unfortunate way, the agreement allows Yale to pull out at any time, and we would do so if necessary. But given our Singaporean partners’ clear commitment to appropriate norms of free expression on campus, I doubt that we will need to avail ourselves of this option.

In a larger sense, the whole issue of whether the Singaporean polity is sufficiently virtuous for Yale to engage with is misconceived. No country is ideal or perfect. Indeed, given our own government’s conduct over the past decade, it feels particularly inappropriate for Americans to be lecturing others on “caning.”

Is Yale a university, or a monastery? Monasteries can be great centers of learning and culture, and in many places and times have been instrumental in creating and transmitting knowledge. But monasteries sit apart and aloof from the sinful world, the better to preserve the virtue of the institution and the people who inhabit it. By contrast, the mission of a university is to engage with the world by generating educated students and deeper understanding that will help to mitigate society’s deficiencies. Viewed in this light, the appropriate question is whether our engagement with Singapore is likely to improve the world.

I believe it will. Singapore has set itself the goal of becoming an educational hub for Asia and the world. It realizes that liberal arts education brings with it many qualities that are crucial for this quest. Yale should help it in this endeavor, even if the setting seems very distant in geography, culture and politics. In so doing, we will extend the positive values underlying Yale’s “brand” to one of the most vibrant and rapidly advancing parts of our world.

Charles Bailyn ’81 is the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy & Physics and the dean designate of Yale-NUS.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Nothing ventured; nothing gained.

    Infiltrate and subvert.

  • howardn

    In New Haven it’s taze then release.
    In Singapore it’s taze, then cane or execute.

    Here is another professor confusing the liberal arts with political correctness, and a barbarian (if polite) culture with our own in twisted moral equivalence. Let’s make him a dean!

  • River Tam

    > In a larger sense, the whole issue of whether the Singaporean polity is sufficiently virtuous for Yale to engage with is misconceived. No country is ideal or perfect.

    Surely there is some governmental regime that is sufficiently abhorrent as to elicit sufficient distaste from the Yale administration. No country is ideal or perfect, but the fact that Yale has chosen to deal with an authoritarian, closed nation over an open democratic one speaks volumes about their commitment to basic human rights. Yale should *never* work with a regime that does not even grant their citizenry a right to trial by jury.

    Yes, that includes China, President Levin. When I graduate, I will not donate a cent of my money to Yale until the administration sees the light.

    > Indeed, given our own government’s conduct over the past decade, it feels particularly inappropriate for Americans to be lecturing others on “caning.”

    I’m sorry. This is a disgusting and depraved comment. Shame on Professor Bailyn.

  • cyd

    > Yale should never work with a regime that does not even grant their citizenry a right to trial by jury.

    A feature that Singapore’s judicial system shares with many other countries, such as the Netherlands and Japan. American parochiality shines through again…

  • howardn

    For .53 oz. of pot in Singapore, you get to meet Mr. Darshan Singh.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_in_Singapore

  • graduate_student

    >Is Yale a university, or a monastery?

    Apparently, it’s a brand. The Pepsi to Harvard’s Coca-Cola, the Burger King to Princeton’s McDonald’s, the J. Crew to Stanford’s Banana Republic. I say globalize!

  • Goldie08

    Great comment, graduate student.

    Also good to know that I have enough resin built up in “the beastmaster” to get me executed in Singapore without actually possessing any weed. Laughable. No thanks.

  • River Tam

    > A feature that Singapore’s judicial system shares with many other countries, such as the Netherlands and Japan

    Japan is a police state without a presumption of innocence (99.7% conviction rate, no habeas corpus). The Japanese right to trial by jury was eliminated in 1943 by the Imperial government. Do you really want to be holding this up as a standard to strive for?

    The Netherlands are also the only western democracy not to provide for a trial by jury. “Many other countries” is misleading to say the least.

  • weinberger3

    Actually, Professor Bailyn, I would put it to you that Singapore is the monastery; not Yale, which sits in the restless, sinful, relentlessly self-scrutinizing free world that Singapore’s laws seem designed to circumvent ever touching on their city-state. Were Singapore less preoccupied with its own virtue — that the “polity” be “sufficiently virtuous” seems the government’s primary aim — it might truly be a worthy partner for Yale.

    Eric Weinberger ’89

  • The Anti-Yale

    The Protestant Reformation didn’t happen OUTSIDE the Church. It makes a certain sense to send a Yale Trojan Horse to Singapore, even if its warriors carry scholarly weapons, not spears.

  • howardn

    To paraphrase Jules Winnfield: “… ain’t the same church, it ain’t the same religion, it ain’t even the same theology….” Besides, have you ever seen Darshan Singh? http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articleexecutioner.html

  • cyd

    > Japan is a police state without a presumption of innocence (99.7% conviction rate, no habeas corpus). The Japanese right to trial by jury was eliminated in 1943 by the Imperial government. Do you really want to be holding this up as a standard to strive for?

    Funny how you’re happy to pick on the failings of every other country besides your own. This kind of argument is pointless, since there’s no lack of positions to which you can shift your goalposts.

    Let me just say, however, that Japan at least is out of the business of waging illegal wars and massacring foreign civilians. You can’t say the same for the country in which Yale University is currently based.

  • Goldie08

    the article about the executioner is gruesome

  • The Anti-Yale

    Goldie08:

    Japan is out of the business of aerial suicide bombings and other perversions of the etiquette of war precisely because General Douglas MacArthur demanded that its Emperor declare in Japan’s official W.W. II surrender that the Emperor was not a God.

  • River Tam

    > Funny how you’re happy to pick on the failings of every other country besides your own.

    I’d pick on my own country’s failings, but

    1) I think it’s in bad taste to do so publicly.

    2) I think you and I would disagree as to what those failings are.

  • NUS

    Professor Bailyn, Have you even worked with NUS faculties? Esp. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Ask their turn-over rates of professors at Arts Faculty. Enter some classes by local professors to understand their teaching, ideas behind the teaching, and students’ reactions to ideas. You will be SHOCKED. Ask those who worked here and left either by their own choices or was asked to leave because of unclear reasons: what is the mission of Arts Faculty, and NUS? What can students get out of the college education? What is the bigger context/reason for all of these to happen? If you think that having a tie of Yale-NUS can improve the world, I am sorry to say that this is naive. I’ve heard so many kent ridge stories that I am sure this is not going to happen.

    However, if you are the dean, and if you can operate the college based on transparency and fairness, and aim for creating an environment of academic freedom of expression, yes, you are helping NUS, Singapore and the world. But how confident are you on this? Are the conditions sufficient for you to do this? What is your concrete plan? How much do you know about the local culture/politics? What is being discussed/told/promised can be very different from what is being actually done here. Again, I’ve heard many stories approving this.