Suspicious of Singapore

In their defense of President Richard Levin’s great Singapore folly, professors Charles Bailyn, Deborah Davis and Pericles Lewis (“Rethinking Liberal Arts Education,” Feb. 29), none of whom has ever drawn a paycheck in Southeast Asia, let alone actually run anything in this part of the world, peep, “We recognize that Singapore has very different laws and traditions from our own.”

Yes, it does. And the Singaporean state functions as it does for a reason. Yale has now hired itself out to the Singaporean state to create a new college on the campus of the National University of Singapore. It is therefore incumbent on Yale both to develop and to demonstrate an understanding of the rationale according to which the Singapore state works, for that state’s determination to have a liberal arts college on this island and all planning for the operation of that college each conform to that rationale.

No one at Yale involved in this project has ever shown either the sophistication or the respect for the Yale community to share his or her understanding of the University’s new Singaporean employers. Woodbridge Hall has offered that community only smug assurances that there is nothing to worry about in Singapore. But Yale’s failure to demonstrate that it has any idea what it is getting into renders these assurances irrelevant.

In their manifesto, Bailyn, Davis and Lewis mention a curriculum brainstorming session held at Yale last August. What they do not reveal is that Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies was kept in the dark about this session until after it had happened. Little epitomizes Yale’s lack of interest in the Singaporean and Southeast Asian contexts in which it would operate as this childish stunt.

Michael Montesano

March 1

The writer is a 1983 graduate of Saybrook College and a resident of Singapore.

Celebrating Patton and Bouchet

The news of the discovery of the papers of Richard T. Greener, Harvard’s first black alumnus, recalls a similar revival of interest in another once obscure black American achiever, Edward Alexander Bouchet, recipient of a doctorate in physics from Yale in 1876 and the first African-American doctoral recipient in the United States. He received his Ph.D. almost 19 years before W.E.B. DuBois became the first black to be awarded a doctorate from Harvard.

A member of the Fisk University class of ’56, Dr. Curtis Patton initiated independent research into Bouchet while on the faculty of Yale Medical School. Patton rescued Bouchet from relative obscurity, reminding Yale of its historical achievement in awarding the first doctorate to a black man in the United States.

In the Sterling Memorial Library on the Yale campus, you will see the portrait of a solemn young black male on the wall near the approach to the stacks, an achiever of historic consequence, who is now venerated and honored at Yale (and nationally) thanks, in great measure, to the efforts of Curtis Patton. It is instructive how important it was to rediscover Bouchet, both for Yale, black history and posterity.

Though now retired, Dr. Patton can draw satisfaction whenever he enters Sterling and glimpses that gilt framed portrait on the wall, passes the memorial sculpture on the campus, and participates in the awards and societies resulting from the rediscovery of Bouchet, the son of a slave who accompanied his student master to New Haven so long ago.

Dr. Norman Hodges

March 14

The writer is a 1961 alumnus of the graduate school.