Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education rated Yale one of the worst colleges for free speech. The announcement sparked little fanfare. While we disagree with the Yale Press’ decision to censor cartoons of Muhammad, as well as the administration’s mystifying choice to strike the word “sissies” from a Harvard-Yale T-shirt, to skewer Yale seemed hyperbolic. After all, we attend the college that authored the famous 1974 Woodward Report, which so brilliantly fortified the best American traditions of free speech.
Sadly, our concern extends beyond T-shirts, cartoon anthologies and angry foundations. Benefiting from campus apathy, the administration is scrambling to finalize the budget for a far more troubling project: its first-ever international franchise, a Yale-monikered university in the Singaporean autocracy.
This initiative’s substantive advantages, if any, remain unclear. The new Yale-NUS will look like Yale, but it won’t hand out Yale degrees. Yale appointees will sit on its board, but likely alongside members of the Singaporean government, like those on the NUS board. Its students will take classes taught by Yale professors, but in them, they won’t be able to read banned books about the regime’s death penalty, jailhouse torture, homosexuality prohibition, or its censorship.
Even if local laws do not explicitly limit campus scholarship, self-censorship by students and faculty certainly will. Who would publish a fiery doctoral thesis in a country that metes out caning for minor offenses? A country that slanders and jails academics and authors for running foul of its government? Colonizing a Singaporean campus will not carve out a Western bubble — in the trials of British author Alan Shadrake and American spray-painter Michael Fay, the government has shown it will happily punish foreigners. And it will not create an Asian Ivy, nor somehow convince the Singaporean regime to change its ways. It will foster self-suppressing fear — or it will make martyrs.
Put bluntly, this proposal is driven by branding. Yale wishes to extend its international reputation eastward. But this will probably backfire. Yale will review the campus triennially, and given censorship, it will likely find itself unhappy with the results. Our say in Yale-NUS internal affairs will be meager, and our financial commitment nonexistent. There even remain doubts over whether the rigid Singaporean professional hierarchy will welcome the liberal arts. This newspaper fears that we will be forced to withdraw, suffering the same fate as Johns Hopkins University’s foray into the island nation. We will not walk away without egg on our face.
Embarassment will set back a worthwhile cause: the globalization of Yale. President Richard Levin’s tenure has been marked by an impressive widening of scope. Today, Yale has grown far beyond its puritan New England roots and positioned itself as a major world institution. Its programs in China, over which we exercise considerable control, have strengthened Yale’s educational offerings, not to mention its brand. But an unfunded and unsupervised campus in a repressive autocracy will do more than dilute the Yale name: it will sully it.
Two weeks ago, we learned that Yale and the Singaporean government have yet to reach a budget agreement on the proposal; it’s now delayed, and the plans are stalled. Now is the time for students and faculty to seriously consider the Yale-NUS gambit and its implications for our University’s character. This newspaper hopes that Yale does not prove the naysayers right. We must stop Yale in Singapore, while we still have the chance.