Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Yale-NUS space use a bone of contention

Students irked by policy change; college cites increasing demand on space and facilities
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2017

Some students at Yale-NUS College have raised concerns that their voices are being drowned out, after what they call a series of troubling decisions taken by the school administration in recent weeks.

The most contentious of the decisions was a change in policy on the use of college space, which students feel would curtail their expression of diverse views and ideas.

However, the liberal arts college, a tie-up between the National University of Singapore and US Ivy League institution Yale University, told The Straits Times that the change is due to an "increasing demand on its space and facilities".

The college said that since it moved to its current campus from its temporary site at the NUS University Town, it has received an increasing number of requests to hold events there.

The response comes after an article in the college's student-run publication The Octant last Tuesday highlighted students' frustration over recent developments.

The first item was the policy change for the use of college space, which disallows any event that requires licences or permits under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act or the Public Order Act. This could affect events to publicise a cause or support the views of any person or group.

Referring to the change in use of space as a "heavy-handed invocation of Singapore's laws", the article noted that students were not asked for their input in the drafting of the policy, despite the process beginning as far back as last September.

Yale-NUS said the new policy will help it "optimise the allocation of resources, particularly for external events hosted on our campus".

In general, many of the current student events are already exempted from the policy, it added.

"However, we need a set of guidelines to manage the larger-scale events more efficiently as significant resources go into these events."

Its Dean of Students Office will continue conversations with the student government, which represents the student body's concerns, and review where students wish to increase their involvement.

Addressing concerns, Yale-NUS said students and faculty are free to invite speakers to campus without submitting an event approval form.

But it added: "As in the past, and in keeping with Singaporean law and policy, we do not host activities that encourage racial or religious strife, or encompass partisan political campaigning and fund-raising."

The article also stated that students were unhappy with the dissolution of a student graduation committee, and the suspension of the Yale-NUS International Relations and Political Association's activities.

Last Wednesday, a townhall was held to address students' concerns.

A third-year student, who did not give his name, said the meeting gave some assurance that students' voices would be heard.

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