Friday 7 December 2012

US dons: Freedom at Yale-NUS a concern

They want plans on college released; Yale says academic freedom assured
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2012

AN ORGANISATION representing American university professors issued an open letter on Tuesday, expressing concern about academic and personal freedom at the new Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) liberal arts college.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), with about 47,000 members, also called for Yale University to release all documents and agreements on the plan to establish the college in Singapore.

It wants the Ivy League university to set up open forums in which the plans for the college can be discussed, reviewed and modified, if necessary. Among the issues that should be looked at, it said, is whether the campus speech of students and faculty members, including e-mail and Internet postings, will be protected if they are critical of the Singapore Government and its laws.

The association also asked whether speakers invited to the campus will be affected by restrictions on visitors to Singapore.

Yale's departing president Richard Levin and Yale-NUS officials had said they consulted widely, but some Yale professors and alumni had complained of the lack of discussion on the setting up of the campus.

Yesterday, Yale-NUS president Pericles Lewis, in response to the AAUP, said "academic freedom will be a bedrock principle" of the college, where the first cohort of 150 students will start classes next August. He also said the college is currently drafting personnel practices that protect academic freedom and promote non-discrimination.

The college has so far hired about 40 faculty staff from several top universities around the world, including the United States and Britain.

Yale University also responded to the AAUP yesterday. It said the letter reflects a lack of awareness of information already codified and made public by the college, including guarantees of academic freedom and non-discrimination.

Policies also provide for a committee of Yale and NUS faculty to review complaints on discrimination or infringement of academic freedom, it added.

It pointed out that it did not receive any payment for its participation in Yale-NUS, although expenses incurred are reimbursed.

Last Friday, the leaders of two Singapore opposition parties, invited for a panel discussion at Yale in New Haven, criticised the setting up of the college.

Singapore Democratic Party's Chee Soon Juan and Reform Party's Kenneth Jeyaretnam said Yale is being complicit in the repression of political and civil freedom by the People's Action Party.

Dr Chee said his worst fears were realised when Yale-NUS said political campaigning and protest would not be allowed on campus. Students also cannot set up partisan groups. "Teachers and students, if you will not accept anything less for yourselves here in New Haven, why do you deny it in Singapore?" he said, according to a report from the campus publication Yale Daily News.

The report also had Mr Jeyaretnam saying that in Singapore, all national media and bloggers who attempt to circumvent state control are often threatened with defamation suits by the Government.

These are facts Mr Lewis has overlooked, he added.

Both men also questioned Yale's financial reasons for establishing the college, expressing concern that through Yale-NUS, the university will "simply line (its) own pockets" and disregard its established academic goals, to maintain a presence in Singapore, reported the campus newspaper.

Yale-NUS was defended at the session by Yale faculty members involved in the venture.

Political science professor Bryan Garsten said intellectual liberty has been "fundamental" in its planning process while Associate Professor Keith Darden, who is with Yale-NUS, said Yale, a not-for-profit corporation, cannot legally profit from the college.

Yale-NUS, like other Singapore tertiary institutions, disallows the formation of student political groups, as well as political protests, campaigning and fund- raising on campus.

But students can start groups that represent political ideologies, as long as they are not linked to political parties in Singapore.

Yale-NUS dons 'not consulted' over academic group's letter
By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2012

A GROUP of 25 Yale-NUS academics have said that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) did not consult them before raising concerns in an open letter last Tuesday.

In querying academic and personal liberties at Yale-National University of Singapore (Yale-NUS) College, the AAUP was supposed to represent the views of its members.

But in an open reply addressed to the AAUP on Sunday, the 25 academics said that no representative of the AAUP asked Yale-NUS faculty members for their take on academic freedom and the rights of faculty, students and staff here.

An open invitation for Yale University faculty members to raise such concerns with the AAUP, they also noted, was not extended to Yale-NUS academics.

Nevertheless, Yale-NUS faculty members said they "appreciate the AAUP's concern", and that the association raised issues that echo "many of the ongoing discussions among Yale-NUS faculty members and administrators".

Some of those issues raised by the AAUP included whether views expressed on campus, including those made through e-mail or on the Internet, will be protected if they were critical of Singapore's Government or its laws.

The association also asked whether speakers invited to the college will be affected by restrictions on visitors to Singapore.

The statement by Yale-NUS faculty members did not address the AAUP's concerns directly, although it did invite the association to consult them in future in "the spirit of collegiality and solidarity".

Questions over the degree of academic and civil liberties afforded at Yale-NUS have been raised repeatedly in recent months by opponents of the venture. Last Friday, an American free speech advocacy group, the National Coalition Against Censorship, issued a statement backing the AAUP's open letter.

Yesterday, Yale-NUS president Pericles Lewis reiterated that faculty members "are free to express their views and the college fully supports this freedom".

He added: "This is in line with Yale-NUS' commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry, which I've frequently addressed."

The college takes in its first cohort of 150 students next August.

Don't hold hostage legitimacy of Yale-NUS project
From Samuel Tan, Published TODAY, 14 Dec 2012

"Teachers and students, if you will not accept anything less for yourselves here in New Haven, why do you deny it in Singapore?"

With that, Singapore Democratic Party Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan gave justice to the fears of his audience from the Yale community. Or so they must have thought.

The best way to ingrain stereotypes, such as Singapore being a society where every citizen shivers in fear of the autocracy, is to appeal to an even more rooted stereotype: The white man's burden.

In the original "burden", the white man journeyed to far-flung territories, braving cannibals in order to civilise barbaric communities. That is why they needed to, oh, kill a few people here and there.

For Dr Chee, the burden of Yale and maybe the American Association of University Professors is to take up arms against the authoritarian strictures here and help spread the message of hope and free speech to Singapore's ignorant population.

Similar to both "burdens" is that militant, condescending attitude of an intellectually superior Western nation duty-bound to correct an untaught, degenerate Asian state.

I wonder if those who offered the prolonged applause after Dr Chee's speech ever thought there was a difference between a country like China and Singapore.

Scrutinising the way Dr Chee and Reform Party Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam delivered their views at Yale University's campus, it is hard to accept theirs as examples of divergent perspectives in the name of plurality. They may strongly believe that Singapore's varsity students should have the right to form politically affiliated groups, as reported in "Yale-NUS set-up comes under renewed fire in US" (Dec 6), but they should not hold hostage the legitimacy of the Yale-NUS project.

The college has promised to be a place where free academic discussion can thrive. If the two opposition leaders want greater political freedom in Singapore, there is every reason for them to support Yale-NUS as however tiny a step in that direction.

Dr Chee wants the Singapore Government to clean up its act before letting in Yale's brand name of being a leader in productive free thought. This would only deny young Singaporeans the freedom to explore issues regarding their society and the world in the security of a liberal varsity classroom.


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