From the Editor

Attention must be paid

One of our early ideas for the subtitle on the cover of this issue was: “Yale’s controversial plan to plant its flag in Asia.” Our editorial staff, drawing on two collective decades of reading alumni letters to the editor, reasoned that when news of Yale’s plan for a new college at the National University of Singapore came out, “controversial” was a given. Some alumni would decry Singapore’s human rights record. Some would denounce the idea of any new college, anywhere at all, with Yale’s name on it. Then other alumni would object, extol globalization, and cheer Yale on to a bigger footprint in Asia.

But time passed, and no controversy budded. The media yawned. Yale’s most stalwart critics in the blogosphere were silent. On campus, only two dozen faculty showed up at the first meeting to discuss the plan with Yale’s president and provost.

And the alumni? Mostly quiet. A month after Yale e-mailed its announcement, 290 alumni had responded. That’s 0.3 percent of the estimated living Yale alumni.

Mind you, I’m not calling for controversy. As a rule, this magazine doesn’t take editorial positions on Yale policies. (If you read our Letters to the Editor, you know why: Yale alumni are all over the map in their opinions about Yale. And while they like to get information from us, they prefer to form their opinions themselves.) What I am calling for is discussion. Alumni who’ve written the administration are in favor of the plan, 7 to 1. But even if 100 percent of alumni were 100 percent in favor, one would expect a little more engagement, a little more curiosity—especially when the topic is as monumental in Yale’s history as the founding of a college in Asia.

Yale is about to acquire an institutional counterpart, and we the alumni are about to acquire a sort of alma mater–once–removed, in a culture that differs from U.S. culture in complex and, to an American, unpredictable ways. Singapore is an island city-state, so international that only 60 percent of its residents are citizens. Its society is carefully managed for ethnic and religious intermingling: populations are deliberately distributed so that no area becomes an enclave for any single group, and slurs based on race or religion are forbidden. Libel laws are strict and press freedom to criticize the government tightly limited. But this society has other kinds of freedoms, as Otto Chu ’76, a businessman who lived there for three years, points out: people feel safe going out alone any time of night in the city. Few large U.S. cities can provide that sense of safety.

Those of us who aren’t familiar with this society need to learn enough to form educated opinions on Yale’s plan. To start us off, here’s the germ of a reading list: The Economist on the country’s economic miracle; Seth Mydans of the New York Times on government, the governing family, and their use of lawsuits against critics; and the Straits Times, Singapore’s biggest newspaper.

Of course, read our cover story, “Singapore Spinoff”—an overview of the plan, the criticisms, and Yale’s hopes for an innovative East-meets-West curriculum. For Yale’s point of view, see my interview with President Levin, “Eastern Establishment.”

Finally, we are inviting all Yale alumni who have lived in or studied Singapore to post their thoughts. And we invite all other Yale alumni to post questions—and, most definitely, opinions.


The comment period has expired.