The Yale College faculty will vote today on a resolution proposed by political science professor Seyla Benhabib that calls for Yale-NUS College to commit as Yale does to the “ideals … at the heart of liberal arts education.” The resolution is an attempt to have the faculty clearly state that the Yale name stands for something.
Professors of all opinions on Singapore should recognize that concerns about gay rights and freedom of expression, no matter how much they are downplayed, still exist. Those concerns are not a condemnation of Singapore or Yale’s venture there. Indeed, Benhabib’s resolution does not critique the project. It calls instead for Yale to stand for its values. This afternoon, professors should consider what the resolution says, not the existential debates about Yale-NUS that led up to today’s vote but are now moot.
Benhabib’s resolution will not change any of the concrete plans for Yale-NUS, but faculty should still support it. A vote in favor of this statement as it stands now would not be a vote for or against Yale-NUS. It would be a demonstration that faculty care about how Yale works and about the liberal arts education for which the University stands.
Such a vote might spur faculty to recognize their duty to speak up in the future. Initial reaction to the Yale-NUS proposal was muted. Two town hall meetings for faculty about the new college were sparsely attended and spurred little debate. Robust public discussion about Yale-NUS has picked up only recently.
Faculty silence has been the norm over the past few years. That seems to be changing. Opposition to shared services — which would streamline administrative services in departments — has been mounting. Faculty have been trying to establish more of a say in the governance of the graduate school. Their delayed and thus inert reaction to Yale-NUS can serve as a lesson about the faculty’s duty to voice its opinion and how much weight that opinion should bear.
Faculty are the guardians of Yale’s soul. Professors do the bulk of the work that animates this place. As the University globalizes and expands, it needs a clear grasp of what makes it Yale — and the faculty are key to defining what that is. They must not let themselves fade out of that role just because a portion of Yale’s administrative attention will be directed across the world. Whether or not professors support Yale-NUS, they should vote for a resolution for the college to “uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society.” The resolution is not just about Singapore but also about the spirit of the liberal arts. And voting for it is the way for the faculty to establish its voice.