NEWS’ VIEW: Remaining Yale in Singapore

Yale-NUS College will open in 16 months. No amount of criticism from faculty, alumni or others will stop Yale’s first-ever international franchise from welcoming its inaugural class of students in fall 2013.

The school’s opening will be the keynote of University President Richard Levin’s efforts to globalize Yale. It is also clearly a boon for Singapore. The city-state’s government wanted a way to train a diverse group of students to help Singapore thrive, and it wanted a brand name to anchor the new college. It received everything it could have asked for by signing a name as big as Yale. Both sides have expressed their excitement about the partnership with speeches and press events.

But the truth remains that Yale will henceforth be closely linked with an authoritarian regime, and the University will have to find a way to balance partnership and pushback. It will not be enough just to advance the frontier of modern education or to build an excellent, rigorous college. The University must use all its weight to keep the new institution true to Yale’s values and to the needs of future students at Yale-NUS.

Yale was founded to teach moral fortitude and leadership in civil and religious spheres. Now, lux and veritas point to acceptance of all students and points of view. Yale teaches students to question standard practices and to uncover what is right. All that is crucial to the academic environment, and it — not the U.S. News and World Report rankings — is the true Yale brand. Yale-NUS may be on track to help Yale’s commercial and global prestige, but it has to promote Yale’s commitment to equality and freedom, too.

Yale is dedicated to public service and fighting injustice. Singapore’s regime allows dissent within the classroom — but only within the classroom. Ideas are not meant to be fenced off in safe spaces. Imagine a Yale where debates could not spill out of classrooms and into dining halls, train cars and the speeches of politicians across the country. That school would not be Yale, and it would not be able to live up to Yale’s educational values. Education does not lie solely in the academic sphere. Academic freedom is worthless without social and political freedom.

In the self-censoring atmosphere at NUS, where current students can neither protest freely nor register an official LGBTQ group, holding a liberal arts education to Yale’s standards is impossible. It is Yale’s duty to fight for the same freedom for the students at Yale-NUS as for those in New Haven.

The students who arrive at the new college will be searching for a kind of education that doesn’t yet exist in Singapore. They will want the challenging discussions and the political activism and the chance to question their fundamental tenets. Once these students enroll in a school bearing Yale’s name, it will be Yale’s responsibility to ensure that they get what they’re signing up for.

Should Singaporean policies interfere, Levin must lead the way in standing up for his students. If Yale cannot ensure the rights of the students at Yale-NUS, its presence in Singapore will be a disgrace.


  • Opinionated

    Can anyone tell us what the purpose of this franchising action really is?

    It can only confuse the ‘users’ of the brand.

    Who benefits? How?

    I guess that someone in Singapore might benefit somehow, but I can’t say that I see how? There is even a faint whiff of neo-colonialism about the whole idea. Wouldn’t ‘Oxford-on-Malacca’, or some such, make a lot more sense?

    Further, I don’t see how Yale, her faculty, students or alumni benefit, either, unless it makes it easier for faculty and students to find a way to study/research in the Far East?

    It just doesn’t make much sense on the face of it.

    For ‘branding’ to work, it has to mean something. Slapping a Chevy badge on a Daewoo damages both brands.

    I suspect we will see the same effect in this case.

  • Ydndad

    It’s too late to pullback now. Let the government in Singapore find out what it’s like to have a campus on their island that advocates free enquiry and free speech inside and outside of the classroom. The government will discover that there will be additional costs beyond buying into a brand name. Yale students and faculty will not be as docile as other US-based professional schools that established various forms of alliance with NUS and NTU.

  • ldffly

    From Opinionated:
    “Wouldn’t ‘Oxford-on-Malacca’, or some such, make a lot more sense?”

    In another context, in response to another article published some weeks ago, I asked whether the Oxbridge Universities ever tried what Yale is trying. I never received a response and haven’t been able to learn anything myself. As your remark suggests, this would have made more sense for the English universities in another era, but to the best of my knowledge, they never did it. Instead, they sent graduates to the ends of the British empire to do their work which, among other things, meant bringing with them the English language and British ideals of education and civilization. Yale College certainly did that within the USA. When this country’s universities were being founded, Yale graduates were there, in leadership and in staffing. Yet, Yale never did breed any little Yales out in the hinterlands.

    Now, here we are on the way to Singapore. Why? In order to have influence around the globe must Yale integrate itself into the globe’s important locales by means of cooperative ventures with all the risks and unknowns that that entails? Or are we supposed to believe that this is purposed to fill a need, a need for some new vision of nondepartmental liberal arts education? A vision whose clarity was brought into question by Seyla Benhabib. I am sorely tempted to say that no one really knows what’s up here, but I won’t.

    This project might have the patina of altruism, a project to do something good and new for Singapore, but watch out. I suspect this new form of liberal arts education is no more than a tinkling bell to please the ear. If this thing doesn’t show good financial results at some point, above all if it doesn’t produce graduates who in a reasonable time start returning monies, Yale will slowly but surely make a graceful exit.