Faculty to continue Yale-NUS debate

A resolution urging Yale-NUS College to uphold principles of non-discrimination and civil liberties will likely be brought to a vote at today’s Yale College faculty meeting.

Professors voted to suspend the rules of the meetings to introduce and debate the resolution, written by political science and philosophy professor Seyla Benhabib GRD ’77, at their monthly meeting in March, but they postponed a decision on it until their April meeting. After the last two faculty meetings drew high attendance, administrators decided to move today’s meeting from Connecticut Hall to Davies Auditorium in the Becton Center. Faculty members interviewed — including those who have worked on the college — said they have appreciated the active discussion of Yale-NUS and look forward to continuing the debate.

“The underlying principle [of Benhabib’s resolution] — that Yale-NUS College should abide by academic freedom, non-discrimination and protect the civil liberties of students — I’m in favor of that,” said Pericles Lewis, professor of English and chair of the humanities faculty search committee for Yale-NUS. “Then you get into questions of what’s the relevance of the Yale College faculty’s views on different governmental systems.”

Since the March meeting, Benhabib has proposed a revised resolution that faculty “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.” The original version introduced in March states that faculty “demand,” rather than urge, the college to respect these principles. Benhabib declined comment until after the meeting.

Over the past month, several faculty members have debated the merits of the Yale-NUS project through opinion columns in the News, national media outlets and other statements. In a March 16 column published by the Huffington Post, political science lecturer Jim Sleeper criticized the Yale-NUS venture and noted that several current or former trustees of the Yale Corporation have connections to Singaporean state-owned investment funds.

University President Richard Levin issued a statement Sunday detailing the connections three current or former trustees have with the Singaporean government. Charles Ellis, who retired from the Corporation in June 2008, served as an adviser to the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) up until June 2009. Current trustee Charles Goodyear, who joined the Corporation in July 2011, served as CEO-designate of Temasek Holdings, another Singaporean investment company, between March and August of 2009. G. Leonard Baker, who has been a Yale trustee since 2000, has worked with the GIC since 2001 and has served as an adviser to the National University of Singapore’s Investment Committee.

Levin said in his statement that Ellis and Goodyear were not on the Yale Corporation when Yale-NUS was discussed between January 2009 and February 2011, and Baker recused himself from voting when it came time for the Corporation to approve the college.

Since the possibility of Yale’s partnering with the National University of Singapore was first announced to faculty in September 2010, several professors have expressed concern over whether academic freedoms and civil rights will be suppressed at Yale-NUS because of Singapore’s allegedly authoritarian government. Some professors have also questioned the college’s use of the Yale name, even though Yale-NUS will not grant Yale degrees.

The debate concerning Yale-NUS has gained momentum in recent months. Professors requested in February that Yale-NUS be placed on the agenda for the March Yale College faculty meeting, and around 15 faculty members gave their thoughts on the project at last month’s meeting.

Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said she believes faculty should “continue to engage” in discussions about Yale-NUS.

“We need to understand an awful lot better what we’re getting into,” Wexler said.

Administrators discussed Yale-NUS at town hall meetings with faculty in the fall of 2010 — before an agreement to create the college was finalized with NUS in March 2011. Levin has also presented on Yale-NUS four different times at faculty meetings in the past three years, most recently at last month’s meeting. But some professors maintain that they were not adequately consulted in the past and would like a greater say as the project moves forward.

Wexler and other professors interviewed have placed the debate over Yale-NUS in the larger context of how Yale makes decisions on University-wide initiatives. Faculty raised concerns over the University’s handling of shared services at their February meeting, and some professors are advocating the creation of an elected faculty advisory committee in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to counsel the school’s dean on new policies.

Yale College faculty meetings take place on the first Thursday of each month at 4 p.m.


  • MikeConrad

    I know of a small college in rural Uzbekistan which will be delighted to share the Yale name as well. How shall I tell them to apply? I do hope Yale doesn’t intend to discriminate against Uzbekistanis.

  • MichaelDee

    I am an American who has lived, worked and raised my family in Singapore on and off for the last 12 years. I respect the discussion currently underway at Yale regarding the partnership with NUS in Singapore and seek to take no position as to the process by which the decision was made and/or communicated. Rather, i would like to offer a brief perspective as someone not short of opinions nor the willingness to express them who has found a welcome society open to discussion and improvement. I believe Yale and Singapore have much more to learn from each other than to be concerned about. The Singapore of today is not that of the misunderstood canning and chewing gum stories of decades ago. The Singapore one will find today is a respectful melting pot of many cultures, religions and ethnicities. It is very safe, spotless and it works. I have never found it difficult to express an opinion although the culture is one of respect and competence in expressing critical opinions and can find the US style of political warfare destructive and ineffective. I believe that the introduction of Yale into Singapore society will serve to create a dialogue and mutual understanding among two cultures which share a great deal. Singapore is one of the most successful societies on earth and is quite fragile given its small size. I hope the Yale faculty will keep an open mind and consider the unique opportunity to show the value of a liberal arts education in Asia, which heretofore has seen a disproportionate focus on science and engineering.
    Michael Dee

  • alum2001

    I don’t see why the faculty is all upset about this. It doesn’t affect them at all. Why are they so arrogant to assume they should have a vote in the matter? It is obviously a case for the Yale Corporation to decide; they approved it, so end of story.

    Michael Dee – thanks for your comments.

  • attila

    I think alum2001 will be the next president of Yale.

    In the meantime, can’t Levin just arrange to have the faculty who voice an inconvenient opinion caned?

    • ldffly

      The ones who really deserve to be caned aren’t there anymore. Like Derrida.

      • MikeConrad

        Would never do to have caned Derrida. He’d have enjoyed it.