Faculty weigh Yale-NUS

At a Thursday faculty meeting, Prof. Seyla Benhabib introduced a resolution expressing concern about Yale-NUS.
At a Thursday faculty meeting, Prof. Seyla Benhabib introduced a resolution expressing concern about Yale-NUS. Photo by Kelly Hsu.

Professors introduced and debated a resolution demanding that Yale-NUS College protect civil liberties and uphold principles of non-discrimination at a Yale College faculty meeting Thursday.

After University President Richard Levin updated faculty on the liberal arts college planned by Yale and the National of University of Singapore, around 15 professors made statements, many of which criticized the Yale-NUS project. Faculty then voted to introduce a new item for debate — a resolution expressing concern about Yale-NUS written by political science and philosophy professor Seyla Benhabib. The step was unusual in that it first required a two-thirds faculty vote to suspend the rule against presenting motions not already on the agenda, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said. Though the nearly three-hour meeting was twice extended by faculty votes, the roughly 150 professors present voted to postpone a decision on the resolution until their next meeting in April.

Benhabib said the resolution helps demonstrate that the Yale College faculty is an “equal deliberating body” to the Yale Corporation — which was ultimately responsible for approving the creation of Yale-NUS — even if the faculty is not responsible for all decisions concerning the University.

“We took a big and positive step forward this evening, perhaps opening up the larger question about governance in Yale University and the place of the faculty,” Benhabib told the News Thursday night.

The resolution, which was written on behalf of the Yale College faculty, questions the record of the Singaporean government with respect to “civil rights and political liberties.” It then “demands” that Yale-NUS “respect, protect, and further the ideals of civil liberties for all minorities, the principles of non-discrimination and full political freedom.”

“These ideals drive our pedagogical mission as well as our civic sense as citizens, and they must not be compromised in any dealings or negotiations with the Singaporean authorities,” the resolution reads.

Miller said she had never before seen faculty suspend the rules to introduce a new resolution at a faculty meeting during her three and a half years as dean. Since he was appointed president in 1993, Levin said there have been “several” resolutions like Thursday night’s brought up by faculty during their monthly meetings.

While it remains unclear if the resolution will pass a faculty vote, classics professor Victor Bers said he believes the document is “good for the reputation” of Yale’s faculty because it demonstrates their anxieties over the partnership with the Singaporean government.

Yale-NUS was the only major item on the agenda for Thursday’s faculty meeting, which began with the routine business of approving course proposals from the Course of Study Committee.

Levin then spoke about faculty involvement in discussions surrounding Yale-NUS — the fourth time he has reported on Yale-NUS at faculty meetings in the past three years, but the first time faculty had requested the item be placed on the agenda. Professors made their request about Yale-NUS at last month’s faculty meeting, in which several professors also protested the University’s efforts to centralize and streamline administrative services, an initiative known as shared services.

In light of February’s meeting, Levin told the News Thursday that administrators are aiming to increase faculty input in discussions about shared services. But he said professors have been involved in planning Yale-NUS since fall 2009, adding that administrators plan to continue discussions with faculty.

“The whole conversation exhibited the very values that some members of the faculty wish to affirm in their resolution,” Levin said. “We had a very full and robust discussion in which many views were heard.”

Before the resolution was introduced, several professors aired concerns about the political climate in Singapore, particularly the country’s law on homosexuality.

French and African American studies professor Christopher Miller spoke at the meeting about section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore, a law that bans homosexual conduct between males in the country. He said the work of Singaporean scholars Audrey Yue and Michael Hor demonstrates that the law still regularly affects the life of LGBT individuals in the country, despite assurances by Yale administrators and the Singaporean government that the law is no longer enforced.

“I just can’t imagine going to a place where it’s illegal to be me,” Christopher Miller, who identifies as homosexual, said in an interview with the News.

Art history professor Mimi Yiengpruksawan voiced concern at the meeting that Singapore is not a signatory to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization convention that prohibits the theft of cultural property.

Yiengpruksawan also said she fears Yale is compromising its values for the sake of collaborating with NUS. While she said international exchange programs such as Yale’s program with Peking University in Beijing are “wonderful opportunities for cross-cultural engagement and learning,” she said Yale-NUS is “a ‘new’ Yale that is paid for by the government of Singapore and addressed to the needs of that government.”

But Levin and several professors who spoke at the meeting maintained that Yale has considered issues of academic freedom, civil rights and Singapore’s political climate throughout the Yale-NUS planning process.

English and comparative literature professor Pericles Lewis, who chairs the Yale-NUS humanities faculty search committee, spoke about the success he and his colleagues have had in attracting diverse faculty applications to Yale-NUS. He said academic freedom is, on the whole, thriving in Singapore, and that he thinks the “general sentiment” of the faculty with respect to Yale-NUS is that the project is a “promising” venture.

Administrators officially announced the creation of Yale-NUS in March 2011.

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