NEWS’ VIEW: Pre-empting the Singapore dilemma

Yale must define its values before they become contested abroad.
WarnertoWoodbridge

Yale has committed itself to Yale-NUS — it is too late to turn back now. The college will open in six months, during the first semester of Peter Salovey’s presidency.

The campus provides an opportunity for Yale to introduce the liberal arts in a country that greatly promotes pre-professionalism. The breadth and discourse of our liberal arts education are intellectual values we believe in and uphold each day in our pursuits in New Haven.

But in Yale’s first campus abroad, our University will need to define which other Yale values are universal — within New Haven or without.

Defining clear principles for the future of Yale-NUS is the only way for our University to avoid the embarrassment we foresee. In one of his first acts in Woodbridge Hall, President Salovey must clearly announce the values he believes cannot be compromised at this new campus.

Singapore presents specific challenges to an institution that supposedly prides itself on free expression, civil liberties and non-discrimination. When Yale-NUS opens its doors, real conflicts will no longer be dismissible as mere hypotheticals.

Defending an unjustifiable anti-homosexuality law under the grounds that it is rarely enforced will not be enough when a Yale-NUS student is persecuted under 377A. When students push the boundaries of political expression, Yale-NUS will have to decide how it will respond to action that is incompatible with Singaporean law.

When these confrontations arise, we expect President Salovey, as well as Yale-NUS president Pericles Lewis,  to defend Yale’s values immediately and uncompromisingly — especially those that extend beyond academic freedom. These will be moments for principled leadership. Yale needs a president willing to criticize a partner, willing to respect cultural differences while remaining faithful to the University’s ideals.

To complete this intellectual defense of Yale values, the Salovey administration must develop and explain how Yale will respond when our values and Singaporean law contradict. By crafting contingency plans now — establishing lines of communication and clarifying how Yale-NUS and the Singaporean government are each responsible for enforcing Singaporean law — Yale can avoid fumbling on an international stage.

Reaffirming our commitment to Yale values abroad — and addressing its impact on our University’s reputation — will go a long way in assuaging dissent and frustration with this unfortunate venture. It will allow the Yale community to accept the value of Yale-NUS as an experiment — one whose positive consequences can be celebrated, but whose negative ramifications will be met with adequate preparation.

Only by upholding the Yale in its name can Yale-NUS create a community that offers its students the opportunities for intellectual discourse and responsible citizenship they deserve.

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