Faculty approve Yale-NUS resolution

Despite a statement of opposition from University President Richard Levin, faculty voted by a wide margin to pass a resolution urging Yale-NUS College to uphold principles of non-discrimination and civil liberties at Thursday’s Yale College faculty meeting.

The roughly 200 Yale College faculty members who attended the meeting spent two and a half hours discussing revisions to a resolution proposed last month by philosophy and political science professor Seyla Benhabib GRD ’77. After debating the text of the three-paragraph resolution nearly word for word, professors — including some who support the Singaporean liberal arts college — approved a version that begins by expressing concern over a “history of lack of respect for civil and political rights” in the country. Immediately before the final vote, Levin made a brief statement objecting to that language.

“I felt that the tone of the resolution, especially the first sentence, carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming,” he told the News Thursday night.

The meeting marked the first time faculty members have taken a stance on Yale-NUS through a formal vote. Levin said in February that the decision to launch the college ultimately rested with the Yale Corporation, as the venture is a new school and not a program within Yale College.

In the final version of the resolution, the Yale College faculty expresses concern over the history of civil rights in Singapore, urges Yale-NUS “to respect, protect and further” non-discrimination and civil liberty, and states that these values comprise the core of a liberal arts education.

Benhabib told the News Thursday that she was satisfied with the results of the meeting.

“I am really proud of the way in which the Yale College faculty rose to the occasion and debated relentlessly for two and a half hours this resolution and its details,” Benhabib said. “I think we just have to sit back and take stock, but it’s a big moment for Yale and this is not the time to spin things every which way.”

While faculty agreed on the broad principles of the last two paragraphs — which urged Yale-NUS to respect the ideals that “lie at the heart of liberal arts education” — the first paragraph’s statement on the Singaporean government led to contentious debate.

Economics Department Chair Benjamin Polak, who supports the Yale-NUS project, said some professors worried the discussion of the Singaporean government in the resolution would be “offensive” or “arrogant.” Polak said he voted for the resolution because he thinks it will strengthen the partnership between Yale and the National University of Singapore, explaining that the main principles of the resolution go “hand in hand” with a liberal arts education.

“I think that one can be strongly supportive of the project, as I am, and support this resolution strongly, as I did,” Polak said.

Sociology professor Deborah Davis, chair of the social sciences faculty search committee for Yale-NUS, proposed the most significant revision to the resolution, which was defeated after a long debate. Under that revision, the resolution would have been reduced to a single-paragraph statement upholding the principles of non-discrimination and civil liberty. It would not have specified that these principles be upheld for “sexual minorities and migrant workers” in Singapore, or discuss the history of the nation’s government, professors who attended the meeting said.

Classics professor Victor Bers, an outspoken critic of the Singapore venture, called Davis’ revision “pablum” during the faculty meeting debate and told the News he viewed it as an attempt “to water down Seyla Benhabib’s resolution to the point where it had almost no meaning.”

In a final change to the resolution, faculty voted to remove the adjective “proposed” from the description of the Yale-NUS project in the first paragraph. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said striking “proposed” was important for the faculty to move from thinking of Yale-NUS as a possibility to accepting Yale’s commitment to the project.

Faculty members who attended the meeting emphasized that even seemingly minor details of punctuation were debated rigorously.

“People picked apart the words, commas, semicolons,” said Joel Rosenbaum, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology who voted for the resolution.

Miller characterized the final vote, which was conducted by paper ballot, as “substantially in favor of the resolution, but also substantially divided.”

Three professors interviewed estimated that about 100 to 110 faculty voted in favor of the resolution, while around 70 voted against it. University Spokesman Thomas Conroy declined to release the exact vote in a Thursday email, saying vote details of faculty meetings are not public.

Under Robert’s Rules of Order, which govern the procedure of faculty meetings, Miller said votes can be taken by voice, standing or ballot. Bers said he felt the paper ballot vote was important because faculty have told him “they are afraid to have the administration see how they vote.”

The resolution drew support from both faculty who oppose Yale’s involvement in Singapore and those who support or are actively involved in planning the project.

Political science professor Bryan Garsten, a member of the social sciences faculty search committee for Yale-NUS, said the language of the resolution risks doing “injustice” to his colleagues in Singapore working on the project. Still, he said he ultimately voted for the resolution.

“I felt that the partnership we have with our colleagues in Singapore is strong enough, and that people who we’ve been working with are fundamentally on the same side on the question of intellectual freedom and its connection to the liberal arts,” Garsten said.

History professor Anders Winroth, who also supports the Yale-NUS project, said he voted for the resolution even though he thought its language was “poorly formulated” as it lacked “precision” and “eloquence.” He added that he thinks the dissatisfaction some faculty members have with governance and decision-making processes at Yale underlies the debate on Yale-NUS.

But English and comparative literature professor Pericles Lewis, who chairs the humanities faculty search committee for Yale-NUS, said he voted against the resolution because the reference to Singapore’s history was “broad-brushed” and “a little out of context for a Yale College faculty resolution,” though he said he supports the resolution’s support of non-discrimination, academic freedom and civil liberty.

“I hope that people in Singapore will realize this is not intended by the faculty of Yale College as an insult to Singapore as a society or as a nation,” he said.

Yale-NUS is scheduled to open in fall 2013.


  • Skeptic

    A “bank shot” at Rick Levin more that something aimed at Singapore?

  • highandelm


    Blockquote> faculty voted by a wide margin to pass a resolutionBlockquote


    “Three professors interviewed estimated that about 100 to 110 faculty voted in favor of the resolution, while around 70 voted against it,” is substantially divided more than substantially in favor.

  • Bobbylin

    It is not an insult to the people in Singapore.

    They know that the Singapore government will not change. If they can change, they would have done so. Everything is running based on what the government perceived as the best. Even if mistakes were made, they will justify their mistakes or play down the significance of their mistakes by asking people to move on.

    What YNC can do is to provide the shockers to shake the system. But when you shake a sleeping giant, the giant will feel unpleasant that you are disturbing his sleep. He will bound to fight back. So be prepared.

    • Bobbylin

      For the youth in Singapore, it will be a fun experience to shake the Giant from his slumber. But first they have the reach the realization that the Government will not change.

  • The Anti-Yale

    ” ‘ I felt that the tone of the resolution, especially the first sentence, carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming,’ ” he [Pres. Levin] told the News Thursday night.

    “Moral superiority”?


    Everyone knows we tormented blacks and homosexuals in the USA for over a century.


  • Sara

    I like the dialogue this produces. How about a resolution that condemns our own local institutions and governments for their history of lack of respect for lower income populations and minorities? The Yale Shuttle, for example, a program that helps undercut local transportation resources for the people who most desperately need it.

    • uncommons

      …what? The Yale Shuttle is for Yale students. This is a school, not a charity.

  • attila

    **Under Robert’s Rules of Order, which govern the procedure of faculty meetings, Miller said votes can be taken by voice, standing or ballot. Bers said he felt the paper ballot vote was important because faculty have told him “they are afraid to have the administration see how they vote.”**

    This is the important part of this story. The faculty of Yale University, tenured professors, are afraid of repercussions if they do not vote the way the administration wants.

    • hrsn

      How much tinfoil do you need for your little hat?

  • ldffly

    Yes, my jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that one.

    I’m sorry to reminisce once more, but I just don’t remember that atttitude from my time in graduate school–that is, the time when you’re close enough to faculty that they tell you things. Indeed, I can remember Scully taking the administration on publicly on a number of matters. A tenured faculty member should not have a great deal to fear but you have to suspect that in times of a tight budget the administration could turn on the whole department if a tenured member acted up.

    Levin needs to go. Students, remember these times when you know who comes calling after graduation.

  • mingsphinx

    As a Singaporean, I wish to encourage this debate. Do not worry about sensitivities or hurt feelings because it is only by speaking out that misconceptions can be laid to rest and the truth be made known. Singapore has become a place where too few have the mind or courage to confront uncomfortable truths and in this regard Yale’s adherence and insistence on the values of liberalism has much to contribute to my country’s social, political and economic development. Liberty cannot be bought and it is time that Singaporeans understand this. Even though Singapore has offered very generous terms (too generous in my opinion) to attract Yale to Singapore, you can and should say no if the conditions do not meet your minimum standards. But I would encourage the dissenters to make the trip, if possible, to Singapore. That way you can decide based not on what you read but what you see.

  • questioning

    I would have had much admiration for such resolutions had they entailed a recognition of the United States’ “history of lack of respect for civil and political rights” and the suffering this lack of respect perpetuates into the present, domestically as well as internationally. See for example:


  • strauss1

    Levin is a clown. Can’t wait until he’s out of here, preferably in shackles.

    • hrsn

      And afterwards, it will be so much better than it was before, right?

      • ldffly


  • kdaysandtou

    Yeah, Levin is a real bonehead for that quote. There are certainly a ton of problems in the United States, but Singapore lacks some really basic civil liberties that would make it difficult for Yale-NUS to be a viable liberal arts college.

    • sporean

      “…Singapore lacks some really basic civil liberties…” ==> For example? Pray tell. Since I’m Singaporean, you’ll get firsthand confirmation of said lack of civil liberties.

  • SingaporeResident2012

    The Yale faculty and the New York Times have stated that the proposed Yale-NUS college should not go ahead on the grounds that Singapore is unduly restrictive.
    There are some political incompatibilities between Singapore and the USA that have not been mentioned.

    Singapore has a rock solid commitment to multi-racialism. If you visit the Web-based map of its Housing Development Board [1] you can see that over 85% of Singaporeans live in buildings subject to racial diversity rules. Ethnic Chinese, ethnic Malays and ethnic Indians are evenly spread across all buildings. There are no ghettos containing only one race. On any given school day you can see students of all skin colors chatting happily to each other. The USA by contrast looks like the result of a policy of accidental apartheid with bitter racial divisions. Responding to the Travyon Martin shooting African-Americans state the fear that they can be killed just for their skin color. Why should Singapore want to associate with such a country?

    Singapore’s commitment to social and economic equality has led to a society where nearly the entire population reaches the retirement age with the security of owning their own home. 88% of Singaporean households [2] are home-owners compared to only 65% of Americans. In many big US Cities like New York the home ownership rate is under 30%.

    The New York Times has mentioned that Singapore pursues anti-defamation law suits against its critics. This is a slight distortion in that it is individuals not government who are the plaintiffs. If the defendants end up losing then the penalty is a non-violent one: the payment of money.

    Recent American repression has been much more violent. In their debates did the Yale faculty mention water-boarding, Guantanamo or rendition?

    I am sure if you polled the Yale faculty on the post-September 11th weakening of American Civil Rights you would get some response like: “Don’t blame me for that – those were not my decisions.” I think you would probably get a similar response if you could interview the future students of Yale-NUS.

    If the Yale faculty did succeed in canceling the plan for Yale-NUS it would leave the future students of this college disenfranchised. The decision would turn its back on a group of students who I think will turn out to be tolerant, talented and tremendously keen to improve our global society. Educators are very unlikely to achieve things with boycotts. It is more realistic to try to make the world a better place one student at a time.

    [1] http://services2.hdb.gov.sg/web/fi10/emap.html
    [2] http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/keyind.html#hhld

    • factuality

      You can attempt to paint a rosy picture of Singapore all you like, but the truth is it’s still far from a perfect society.

      • ldffly

        As usual, claims of material utopia don’t pan out. That’s not surprising.
        Just for the record, I’m with Patrick Henry–give me liberty or give me death. I don’t want material well being if it means I’m in a cage.

        The issue is should Yale franchise its name to a university that might or might not be capable of upholding Yale standards which include liberty to speak and write without government interference or corporate interference. For the sake of argument, I’m willing to stipulate that Singapore is heaven on earth. Now, should Yale go ahead with Yale/NUS? My own opinion is that Yale is bigger than no government. I suspect this project will be integrated into the culture of the ruling party. If that party changes, it won’t be in virtue of Yale’s influence.

      • sporean

        Are you kidding me? Only beggars and homeless above the age of 60? Something’s not right with this video. Most of them look to be resting in void decks (common recreation areas) since Singapore temperatures can hit 90F+ most days. The marbled/tiled benches can be very cooling … I’ve tried them and I’m neither begging nor homeless.

  • The_Pariah

    **Singapore citizen to Yale Uni: Hail Yale or Wail Yale?**
    **Birds of a feather flock together – be wary with whom you associate ……**

    Is Yale’s soul up for sale?

    **The devil is in the details.** Pls use your collective brains in Yale and expend effort to analyse Singapore’s laws, regulations and policies. Evaluate for yourself if Singapore have just laws that uphold – NOT only in letter but also in spirit – Democracy, Freedom of Speech, Rule of Law.

    **Correlate laws with regulations and procedures** : The Constitution, Parliamentary Elections Act, Presidential Elections Act, Penal Code, Land Titles (Strata) Act,

    **EXAMPLE 1:** For a country with one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world (Singapore beats USA, Switzerland, Norway, Japan), more than 80% of our population live in HDB subsized public housing and HDB policy of past 2 decades link prioritization of Lift Upgrading Program funded by national reserves (viz, lift landings on every floor instead of every fifth floor) to PAP’s General Election vote percentage.

    **EXAMPLE 2:** Defying the dictionary definition of “pension”, the PAP Govt even passed a law under Parliamentary Pensions Act to pay qualifying ministers and political office holders Pension And Pay upon reaching age 55. Decades later, this provision was finally removed AFTER 2011 General Election when the PAP obtained the lowest vote % since independence in 1965.




  • hopeless

    Please don’t try to influence or change PAP government style. You’ll never succeed. If you try, Yale will get kick out of Singapore! PAP is very strong and has many talented & highly paid workers upholding the Singapore style of government. We’re not like the USA. Our type of democracy is unique in the world but it only works in Singapore. It is a very simple system – the elite rules over the non-elite. KISS.

    • sporean

      Doesn’t it happen everywhere? Are you telling me it doesn’t happen in the US of A? Ohmygawd, America IS Singapore.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Yale will get kick out of Singapore!”

    That’s the point. Once Yale is solidified in Singapore, no one would DARE kick Yale out. The scandal would be infamous. “Singapore, ejects Yale, rejecting intellectual honesty.”



  • mingsphinx

    **Regarding HDB Flats**

    There are so many misconceptions about Singapore. There seems to be quite a bit of talk about Singapore’s public housing. For the average American, any mention of housing projects conjures up images of gang tagged graffiti painted walls with sounds of gun fire echoing through the night. Definitely not the sort of place you would go to if you could help it. Public housing in Singapore is a little different.

    For starters, most of these so called subsidized public housing units actually cost more than the average single family home in the United States. The units in older estates like Clementi, which is near the Yale-NUS campus, was built very quickly with cheap materials like cinder blocks. In the 1960s, when the massive push to build more public housing got underway, most Singaporeans were either cramped into tenements or found shelter in some kind of poorly constructed structure on land they squatted on. In order to initiate the land reforms that were needed if the country was to industrialize, it was vital to quickly build flats to accommodate the people who were displaced by land requisition. Contrary to expectations, these public housing projects did not degenerate into a mess of human filth and misery. The residents took care of the place they lived in and investment by the Singapore government (one of the reasons why they continue to win elections) mean that many of these older estates have an air of graceful, aging gentility to it. In fact, many of the housing units in Clementi would easily set you back half a million U.S. dollars.

    They no longer build flats using cinder blocks in Singapore. If you get the chance to visit the Yale-NUS campus, you will see a new development that literally sprung up in a couple of years. These units are built using high quality prefabricated materials and would easily give luxury condominium units anywhere in the world a run for their money.

    I wonder how many people are making their decisions given that they know so little about Singapore. Strongly held opinions supported by gross ignorance is not the way of the thoughtful, inquiring mind. Proceed from what you know to be true and never rely on hearsay. Reading the critics of Lee Kuan Yew and his minions gives rise to one impression of the country. But bear in mind that in this regard even the most sensitive souls bring with them a cultural lens that distorts, sometimes fatally, the interpreted truth.

    *Sell not your soul, close not your mind.*

  • MichaelMontesano

    The crisis of governance at Yale due Woodbridge Hall’s approach to the university’s tie-up with NUS has already done great damage to Yale. One Officer of the university has forfeited the trust of Yale faculty by failing to be forthcoming about a spousal financial connection to the Singapore government. The president has told the faculty that its views on the tie-up are irrelevant. What a way to run a university. Sadly, too, one can fairly suspect that the changing composition of the storied Yale Corporation in recent decades helps account for these developments. Yes, President Levin owes it to Yale to resign. This is where reckless adventurism has led Yale.

    • ldffly

      On this matter, my nose has led the way for me, in a manner of speaking. I say that because I cannot make verifiable, publishable statements or observations on this matter. I hope that if you can (and it appears that you can) that you find some way to get them published.

  • CharlieWalls

    Yale University is ranked 10th or 11th worldwide in a (London) Times study. Thus the Yale Corp, should they be interested in the academic quality of Yale, might consider that position. Selling the franchise, however, seems more their speed.

  • sporean

    “I hope that people in Singapore will realize this is not intended by the faculty of Yale College as an insult to Singapore as a society or as a nation,” ==> Uh, it does and it did. They’re assuming all Singaporeans are dim-witted slaves to the government who do not have voices of their own.

    “Bers said he felt the paper ballot vote was important because faculty have told him “they are afraid to have the administration see how they vote.” ==> Fear of authority much? And they’re complaining about Singapore?! Give me a break.

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