It’s an unfortunate reality that the liberal arts curriculum — the most holistic and balanced form of undergraduate education — is almost exclusively concentrated along a few thousand miles of the American east and west Coasts.
Though other countries are beginning to embrace the liberal arts model, their efforts will take time to flourish. For instance, the United Kingdom’s New College of the Humanities embraces the liberal arts, teaching logic, critical thinking, scientific literacy and applied ethics in its core curriculum. However, only a handful of these kinds of projects exist outside the United States. Where they do exist, they have yet to attain the same level of prestige that established institutions command; NCH has learned this lesson from its attempts to compete with Oxbridge for the most qualified applicants. Thus, the growing international population at most American liberal arts schools is a red herring. The vast majority of high school graduates abroad can harbor no meaningful aspirations of ever studying at a premier liberal arts school.
In light of this problem, Yale-NUS only serves to fill the vacuum that exists in Asian education systems. While some people at Yale strongly oppose the very notion of Yale-NUS, I’ve interacted with a significant number of others who oppose our specific engagement with Singapore. These are two separate criticisms and deserve to be considered separately.
Let’s turn our attention to the latter complaint. Imagine that Yale could start this process again — targeting our global expansion elsewhere. Would Yale be better served by inviting a different nation to host its educational experiment?
With a staggering 1.2 billion people, India is the world’s largest democracy. It has uncontested status as a growing economic power, as evidenced by its membership of the informal BRIC bloc of rising global players. Furthermore, thanks to President Richard Levin, Yale boasts very close ties with India, especially with the Indian Parliament. During his tenure, Levin has overseen not only the creation of the Yale India Initiative and the India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program, but also increased numbers of Indian applicants — and thus Indian students — flocking to New Haven.
Transplanting Yale’s international campus to India might have assuaged the critics and fearmongers currently condemning Yale-NUS. India’s rich democratic heritage carries with it numerous success stories of free speech and peaceful protest. The spirit of Gandhian civil disobedience still persists in Indian democracy: protest marches are perhaps too commonplace in contemporary Indian politics.
This spirit exists at the college level too. Student leaders at prestigious Indian institutions like the University of Delhi wield significant political power (in fact, they contribute much more substantially to Indian politics than the YCC). Furthermore, political parties in India have major youth wings, and encourage, rather than stifle, political activism. Basing Yale’s international campus in India certainly would have eliminated the biting rhetoric currently targeting Yale-NUS — criticisms that target the country’s perceived lack of freedom or compare it to something out of Orwell’s “1984.”
So why not India? It’s a thriving democratic polity with a powerful economy that, based on recent trends, is opening up to the world. In some ways, it was a near-perfect candidate that was unfairly snubbed. India would be an ideal hub to unite students from Afghanistan to Vietnam.
And most importantly for the fate of the liberal arts, India has been trying hard to liberalize its rigid educational model. Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal has undertaken numerous steps to reform the Indian high school educational system, hoping to foster the critical thinking skills that the liberal arts education aims to inculcate. The introduction of Yale in India would have been an almost perfect complement to the entire process.
While a Yale campus in India can only be a fleeting dream, perhaps it is necessary to consider this alternate reality to understand where our true opposition to Yale-NUS comes from. Indeed, are we opposed to the idea of Yale opening campuses abroad, or is it just the Singaporean version of this idea that offends us? Hopefully, introducing India as a counterfactual will help us better understand our positions on Yale’s international expansion. And should our neighbors in Cambridge decide to visit New Delhi in the future, maybe we’ll understand the extent of our missed opportunity for a different kind of international expansion.
Anirudh Sivaram is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at email@example.com.