Endorsing Political Repression: The Yale-NUS Venture

by the Yale Amnesty Co-Coordinators

The first round of admissions has ended at Singapore’s newest college, even though the new campus is not expected to open until August 2013. That’s right—the venture in which Yale University has partnered with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to create Yale-NUS College, Singapore’s first liberal arts program, is going full steam ahead. The school offers students the chance to take coursework across broad interests in discussion-based classes. The Yale-NUS website states: “Learning is different here… the Yale-NUS curriculum emphasizes critical thinking….” The Yale-NUS partnership, however, is built on hypocrisy.

The laws of Singapore forbid critical expression. The Singaporean constitution allows the government to illegalize any speech deemed a threat to public security. According to Amnesty International, the Singaporean Government fines and detains opposition leaders for “public speaking without a permit.” Even foreign journalists, like Alan Shadrake, have been imprisoned for critical publications.

Amidst an outcry from Human Rights Watch, covered by local paper the New Haven Register, Yale President Richard Levin and Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis have tried to pacify concern. Levin released a statement saying that the Yale-NUS partnership will yield “pedagogy encouraging critical inquiry.” Lewis has said Yale-NUS would “protect academic freedom for…discussion and publication.” Both statements seem to be lies on face.

The Singaporean Government must approve all Yale-NUS political associations. Only one campus location is available for public speaking, and only with a special government permit. Faculty will not be able to publish anything critical of local government. As the Wall Street Journal reported on July 16, protests are not allowed on campus, and partisan political societies are similarly outlawed. We find it hard to believe that either President Levin or President Lewis can honestly believe that NUS will protect critical discussion. We’re joined in this uneasiness by the editorial staff of the Yale Daily News, which published an editorial on the issue on July 23. This came on the heels of their most recent article as part of their continuing coverage of the Yale-NUS venture.

Yale-NUS claims that its curriculum emphasizes leadership development. But the college does not stand on a strong enough foundation to do so. According to Yale’s Free Expression Policy, true leadership requires being able to critically engage with social institutions. It requires students to be able to propose solutions and advocate for reforms. If Yale-NUS suppresses those skills, it cannot claim to provide a legitimate liberal arts education.

In July, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party wrote to Professor Pericles Lewis, Yale-NUS President, condemning Yale’s hypocritical creation of a university that stifles speech and political expression while promising academic freedom. [Check out his letter here.] We support you, Dr. Chee Soon Juan! Yale’s shameful acquiescence to an authoritarian government is unacceptable, and we must fight for change.

Through the Yale-NUS partnership, Yale is endorsing human rights violations. As student activists in a chapter of Amnesty International, a group founded to support freedom of political expression, we cannot accept this decision and will continue to pressure the Yale administration to change this policy of political repression.

For a clearinghouse of information on human rights in Singapore as well as the Yale faculty, alumni, and student reactions to the Yale-NUS venture, check out the website put together by Yale faculty, a joinable site on the classesv2 server. Learn how to log in here!

Please check back with us soon for more updates and join us in the fall to protest President Levin’s decision. We’re hoping to build a coalition with other student groups to ensure that Yale lives up to its human rights obligations. Please send us an email at yale.amnesty@gmail.com or contact one of our co-coordinators to get involved.


Filed under Human Rights, Yale-NUS

2 responses to “Endorsing Political Repression: The Yale-NUS Venture

  1. Yes, join the “Yale and Singapore” website. Just be aware that they don’t always alert subscribers when they upload new material that challenges their perspective; that’s happened twice with two different administrators now.

    I think it’s great that Yale Amnesty is watching political freedom in Singapore and Yale-NUS (though you should also know that some Singaporeans disagree with me: they feel emphatically that this is our burden to carry, not yours). But there are a number of inaccuracies in this article. For starters, read Yale-NUS College: Perils and Promises at http://kentridgecommon.com/?p=16139. Or talk to one of the Singaporeans at Yale. Or why not talk to some Yale-NUS students while you’re at it, since they’re the ones whose rights you’re interested in?

    The situation is not as black and white as this blog post makes it sound, and I think you need to know more about what’s going on before you can do any good.

  2. Pingback: A Singapore Ramayana: academic freedom and the liberal arts curriculum « The Liberal Arts in Singapore

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