Academic freedom promised at Yale-NUS

As Yale and the National University of Singapore commit to moving forward with their jointly run liberal arts college, administrators are taking steps to ensure that academic freedom will be protected on the foreign campus.

Officials at both universities announced a final budget and agreement that made plans for Yale-NUS College a reality on Wednesday, after nearly two years of discussions. Though critics of the plans have argued that Singapore’s autocratic government poses a threat to academic freedom on the new college’s campus, administrators say they have safeguards in place to protect the liberties of faculty and students, and are developing an orientation program and on-site committee to help them with the transition abroad.

“It would have been irresponsible for Yale to have gone forward without having reached a degree of confidence about these matters [of academic freedom] that would justify going forward,” Anthony Kronman, the former dean of Yale Law School and an advisor on the Singapore project, said Thursday. “We have been given the strongest possible guarantees by the government of Singapore and by [NUS] that on the campus of the liberal arts college, the principle of freedom of expression will be honored just as on the campus of Yale in New Haven.”

Despite the administration’s assurances, critics of Yale-NUS insist that the college endangers Yale’s principles of academic freedom. Classics professor Victor Bers said he is “skeptical” that the liberal arts college will yield any positive results, and fears that potential problems with the project could quickly compromise Yale’s reputation.

“It’s obviously a bad idea,” political science lecturer Mark Oppenheimer said Thursday. “One, it puts Yale in the position of administering a campus that’s not 100 percent politically and intellectually free, and that subverts Yale’s values, and two, it’s just not what Yale should be in the business of doing. It’s growth for the sake of growth.”

Yale will always have the option of dissociating itself from the project, University President Richard Levin said in September. He said Thursday that the University will have certain protections in place for students and faculty should the project fall through after the college opens, though he declined to comment on what these measures would be because he said they are very detailed.

Charles Bailyn, who will serve as the first dean of the faculty, said Yale has gone to “great lengths” to ensure that academic freedom will exist on the campus of Yale-NUS College. Bailyn said he and other Yale administrators feel confident students and faculty will have all the liberty they need to publish and teach as they see fit, adding that NUS currently has a student newspaper which has criticized authorities in the past.

Since Singapore has such different customs, laws and cultural values than the U.S., Bailyn said he wants to ensure that faculty “understand what they’re getting into” before they begin careers at Yale-NUS. While interviewing prospective professors, the administration will provide a fact sheet with frequently asked questions about the college and life in Singapore, Bailyn said. Those hired will spend part of the 2012–’13 academic year in New Haven for an orientation before heading abroad, he added.

Yale does not plan to issue a handbook spelling out what actions and freedoms are guaranteed in Singapore, Bailyn said, but instead will create a committee that students and professors can approach with questions and concerns. The committee will comprise faculty from Yale and NUS, but not those employed at the jointly run college itself, Levin said Thursday.

“[The committee will] represent Yale and its American perspective and NUS and its Singaporean perspective,” Levin said. “We thought this would be a good way to have a group outside the college itself to provide good advice and resolve any issues that might arise with the college.”

Bailyn said although administrators are intent on creating a support system for those who will go to Singapore, a previous American-Singaporean collaboration has set a positive precedent for the college.

New York University has established a branch of its law school in Singapore, and Bailyn said the school’s agreement with the Singaporean government states that whatever is permissible in classes in Manhattan will also be allowed in Singapore. Over the last year, Bailyn said, NYU officials have said that standard has been maintained.

“I think we are convinced that you can publish in the scholarly literature, you can criticize government policy, you can teach a course on queer theory,” Provost Peter Salovey told the News Wednesday. “But what you can’t do the same way as in the United States is… protest in public places.”

Still, Bailyn said those freedoms are only guaranteed on campus, and that off-campus “is a different case, a much more complicated and in some ways difficult thing.”

Yale-NUS will hire about 100 faculty over the next three to four years, with 30 to 35 core members brought to the program by 2012.


  • martynsee

    Good luck.

    1994 – 2011: A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore

    Just some examples :

    Jan 2006: The police warn a group of schoolgirls that the wearing of t-shirts en masse might be misconstrued by some as an offence under the law. The students had planned to help raise money for charity by selling white elephant T-shirts at the Buangkok MRT station’s inauguration ceremony.

    May 2008: Officers from the Board of Film Censors, assisted by the police, enter the Peninsula-Excelsior Hotel to seize a film which was undergoing its private premiere. Witnessed by about a hundred guests including foreign diplomats, organisers hand the DVD copy of the film to officials. Entitled “One Nation Under Lee”, the documentary was made by artist Seelan Palay, who is currently under investigation for exhibition of a film without licence.

    Sep 2008: US lawyer Gopalan Nair is sentenced to three months prison after being found guilty of insulting a high court judge in a blog entry. Nair tells reporters he has no regrets, “I only wrote a blog. I didn’t go out and kill anybody.” While in prison, he is convicted on a separate charge of contempt of court, but is let off with a warning by the judge.

    Sep 2008: News portal The Online Citizen reports that the Nanyang Technological University has pulled the plug on two stories on the school’s student newspaper. Both articles are reports of the Singapore Democratic Party’s visit to the campus. A professor of its communications and information faculty say the stories were killed because “there was a feeling of concern over the use of student media to publicise and promote the unsolicited views of an uninvited person to the campus.”

    Jul 2010: Filmmaker Martyn See’s recording of a public speech by former political prisoner Dr Lim Hock Siew is banned by the Government on account that the film is “against public interest” and that it “undermines public confidence in the Government.” The Media Development Authority order See to remove the video from youtube and his blog.

    Sep 2010 : Students at the Nanyang Techological University are informed that those who create webpages or blogs containing information regarding politics and religion must acquire licences from the Government and the university’s written approval. Under the Broadcasting Act, registration is required for websites deemed by the authorities to be propagating political or religious issues relating to Singapore.

    Nov 2010: In the stiffest sentence imposed for contempt of court, 76-year-old British author Alan Shadrake is sentenced to six weeks in prison and fined $20,000 by High Court Judge Quentin Loh, who says the book, ‘Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore’s Justice in the Dock,’ contains “selective background of truths and half-truths, and sometimes outright falsehoods.” A stay of execution is granted pending Shadrake’s appeal.

  • goldoro99