Yale and the Singaporean regime have finalized the budget for their partnership. They have put up the cash, and we will lay down our name.
In past weeks, this newspaper has opposed the proposal on practical and academic grounds. Setting up shop in a censorship-laden regime will render true liberal arts scholarship impossible. But beyond the classroom, this collusion has even worse implications. We will become the academic partners of an oppressive autocracy, tools of their illiberal ambitions. Yale will not liberalize Singapore. The People’s Action Party (PAP), the nation’s ruling elite, holds all the chips and pays the checks. To trust the PAP’s assurances about academic freedom would be naïve. But to rope our name to an oppressive autocracy would be profoundly irresponsible.
The Yale community deserves to know the truth about our new partners. Human Rights Watch describes Singapore as “an authoritarian state with strict curbs on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.” The PAP has maintained one-party rule since 1959. Opposition politicians, speakers and journalists are fined or thrown in prison. The regime even bans public demonstrations. Singapore is a quiet despotism: its political agitators disappear indefinitely; its workers cannot organize; its citizens live under scrutiny.
Political repression furnishes a deplorable human rights regime. Singapore has the highest per capita execution rate in the world. Homosexuality is banned and punishable by imprisonment. In 2007, 6,404 men were sentenced to be caned. The nation’s 160,000 migrant workers enjoy no labor rights. And abroad, the PAP props up the military junta in Burma.
For students here, these facts may seem distant or abstract. In yesterday’s email from the President’s Office, Singaporean human rights abuses were not even mentioned. But at Yale-NUS, these realities will be personal. Within miles of campus, untried prisoners will languish in detention facilities. The laborers who sweep its classroom floors will not be able to organize. How would the Catholic community at Yale respond to the PAP’s detention and torture of 22 Roman Catholic social activists without trial? The LGBTQ community, to its homosexuality ban? Our political activists to its habeas corpus-denying Internal Security Act? On a campus of thousands of engaged minds, the apathy has been overwhelming. At a meeting to discuss the partnership, only 25 faculty members showed up.
For many on campus, it is not easy to criticize an administration that has internationalized so successfully. Yale must engage with foreign modes of thought, even uncomfortable ones. But even as we globalize, some of our principles must stand immovable. If we become the partners of the PAP, we lose our moral authority.
This is not another innocuous international program. It is a fully fledged commitment to a partnership that runs counter to our values. And it will set a dangerous precedent for other major institutions looking eastward in the years to come. Yale will become deputized by a ruling elite that is not merely unsavory, but deeply unjust. If we climb into bed with one of Southeast Asia’s most notoriously despotic governments, we will legitimate its abuses. We become complicit. As Yale President A. Whitney Griswold said on June 9, 1957: “Self-respect cannot be purchased. It is never for sale. It cannot be fabricated out of public relations.”
It is time for students and faculty to dispel their apathy. The folly of Yale-NUS stretches beyond academic freedom — it shakes the foundations of our character, name and future. And we may now have passed the point of no return.