BENHABIB: What’s at stake at Yale-NUS

At its monthly meeting tomorrow, the Yale College faculty will debate and probably vote on a resolution that means a lot more for the future of Yale University than its wording alone suggests. I introduced the resolution concerning the planned Yale-NUS College in Singapore to express faculty dissatisfaction not only with Yale’s collaboration with a government that severely constricts human rights, civil liberties and academic freedom but also with the administration’s decision-making process about curricular and pedagogical matters that should have been decided by a vote of the Yale faculty — if indeed Yale’s name is to be attached to the college in Singapore at all.

While the body of a university must be administered by a corporation, its living constitution — some would say its soul — flourishes only in its scholars’ and students’ freedom to follow reason and open inquiry in directions that are not foreclosed by government or market pressures. Yet the Yale faculty has slowly awakened to the virtual fait accomplit of a new college that will be in part governed and fully funded by Singapore and its National University. Yale’s collaboration in this venture was conceived partly by some members of the Yale Corporation who have also served on the Government of Singapore’s investment corporation. While the new college will not technically grant Yale degrees, its graduates will be fully integrated into the Yale Alumni Association Network.

My resolution addresses explicitly only one dimension of these strange and troubling arrangements. It reads:

“We, the Yale College Faculty, express our concern regarding the recent history of lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore, host of the proposed Yale-National University of Singapore College.

“We urge Yale-NUS to respect, protect and further principles of non-discrimination for all, including sexual minorities and migrant workers; to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society.

“These ideals lie at the heart of liberal arts education as well as of our civic sense as citizens, and they ought not to be compromised in any dealings or negotiations with the Singaporean authorities.”

At Thursday’s faculty meeting, amendments may be introduced with the intent to get the Yale faculty on record supporting the establishment of Yale-NUS, even though the faculty never formally debated or voted on the project before it was signed and sealed. But any such support would require a new resolution and cannot be adopted before the full terms of the agreement between the Yale Corporation, the Government of Singapore and the NUS administration are made public. How can we be asked to endorse an arrangement the terms of which have not been disclosed?

Furthermore, it is only in ad hoc fashion that the cooperation expected of the Yale-New Haven faculty with Yale-NUS comes to light: We are expected to host and train the new faculty members of Yale-NUS here in New Haven as early as this fall, the president of Yale-NUS writes that classrooms will be equipped for teleconferencing with classes that we teach in New Haven, and the first students admitted by Yale-NUS will come to New Haven in summer 2013 and attend our classes, where special focus will be placed on encouraging them to participate freely and learn to speak their minds. When have we been asked whether or not we agree with all this?

The argument by Yale-NUS defenders that puzzles me most is that we in New Haven live in departmental silos, while Yale-NUS will set a dazzling example of the interdisciplinary future of liberal arts for us here in the United States. Leaving aside this venture’s naïve missionary sentiment, one must ask: Do we need to go to Singapore to advance interdisciplinarity and a revival of the liberal arts?

I understand well the challenges of achieving a genuine interdisciplinarity. A University-wide conversation about such programs would be welcome. But where has that discussion been? What exactly have been the obstacles to holding it here in New Haven?

We, the faculty of Yale College, have the responsibility and obligation to deliberate and vote on these arrangements. Nothing less than our honor and judgment is at stake.

Seyla Benhabib is Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy .


  • The Anti-Yale

    During the Viet Nam War era faculties , when ignored or trivialized, jammed the wheels of governance with their bodies.


    M.Dov.’80, etc.

  • ldffly

    Prof. Benhabib, this was an excellent statement.

    I have been worried about (and for what it’s worth posted my worries on these pages) the integrity of whatever research might come out of this new university. In addition, I too have wondered what they might be talking about in regard to interdisciplinary liberal arts. What could this be? Is anyone allowed to ask about specifics? You described it as naive and that is my impression, too. Over the decades, I have seen too many of these sorts of efforts simply flounder because no one really knew what they were up to. Could this really be happening at Yale? Lack of specifics, lack of focus, maybe even utter vacuity?

    Many years ago, Cardinal Newman said that the faculty was the heart of the university. It still should be. I hope that the faculty continues pushing the better interests of the university against the administration.

  • Bobbylin

    Why Yale-NUS College is located in Singapore?

    Perhaps you should know that Singapore is planning to become an education hub.

    YNC may be one of those investment for their future.

    There are greater demand for places in the local universities.

    And think of it this way: Not everyone can afford to study abroad. This might be the best chance for the local citizens and neighboring students to experience something which cannot be found in their country.

  • Bobbylin

    This College isn’t built for the reputation of Yale. It’s mainly for the benefits of the local and neighboring students.

  • Bobbylin

    It is not as if Yale is opening a new campus in Singapore. So why are you all so concerned.

    Don’t mistake YNC as Yale or NUS.

  • Skeptic

    “At Thursday’s faculty meeting, amendments may be introduced with the intent to get the Yale faculty on record supporting the establishment of Yale-NUS, […] But any such support would require a new resolution and cannot be adopted before the full terms of the agreement between the Yale Corporation, the Government of Singapore and the NUS administration are made public. How can we be asked to endorse an arrangement the terms of which have not been disclosed?”

    This statement is confusing. It seems to imply that 1) the adoption of the resolution as proposed by Prof Benhabib is to be interpreted as non-support of the Yale-NUS project by the Yale Faculty while 2) amendments that might be interpreted as indicating faculty support for Yale-NUS “would require a new resolution and cannot be adopted.. .”. Is this a “take it or leave it” stance? As I understand Prof Benhabib’s resolution it does not speak to support or non-support of the Yale-NUS project itself, rather to the views of the Yale College Faculty on policies and actions to be expected of the Yale-NUS College.

    Is this resolution about academic freedom, civil rights, and the like, or is it really about Yale College Faculty veto power over the Yale-NUS College and more generally a lightning rod for discontents over Yale University governance?

  • River_Tam

    As far as I can tell, Bobbylin only comments on anti-YaleNUS articles.

  • cbailyn

    Let me clarify one point in Professor Benhabib’s piece. No individual, program, department or school at Yale will be required to “host and train” the Yale-NUS faculty. Dozens of individual colleagues and some institutional units have expressed interest in working with the new College and its faculty in some capacity, but any such involvement will be entirely voluntary.

    “Training” is is any case a misleading description for next year’s activities. The Yale-NUS faculty currently being assembled include scholars and teachers with a wide range of experience, including senior people with decades of experience in teaching undergraduates at top-ranked liberal arts colleges and universities around the world. They have no need of “training”, and they can provide it themselves to any junior colleagues who might.

    What Yale-NUS will be doing next year is more accurately described as “development”. Our curriculum exists in outline form only, and this outline will need to be turned into courses with detailed syllabi, reading lists, assignments and so on. We also plan to study recent pedagogical innovations and research, and to learn from each other to prepare for teaching the broad interdisciplinary courses contemplated for the Common Curriculum. We welcome the participation of Yale faculty who share our excitement about this development process, but no-one who finds the project in any way distasteful needs to be involved at all.

    – Charles Bailyn

  • attila

    Let *me* clarify cbailyn’s comment. It is perfectly true, once you understand the vocabulary of the senior administration and its Chosen Few among the faculty.

    “Voluntary” means “until some administrator decides to ram it down your throat.”

    I am sure that in the next years, various parts of Yale will be “volunteered” to have joint programs with Yale-NUS.

    The only realistic way to evaluate this adventure is to assume that Yale-New Haven and Yale-NUS will share many programs; that many students admitted to the NUS campus will spend at least one year at Yale; and that the people most affected by this — the students and faculty at the New Haven campus — will have no realistic input into the decisions.

    Bailyn and people like him can claim there are no plans for any of this. I believe them. I also think a large Bunny will bring me eggs this Sunday.

  • MikeConrad

    Way to trash the brand, Levin. Nice work, Corporation.

    This is the saddest day for the University in living memory.

    • ldffly

      Someone is going to do well here. I just wish I knew which one.

  • Pingback: University, Inc.()