Alumni on the Singapore spinoff

Yale's proposal to cofound a liberal arts college in Singapore ("Singapore Spinoff," November/December) is almost unique in its history—the closest analogues are the Yale-in-China hospital and schools founded in the early 1900s—and it involves potentially profound risks and benefits. Many alumni have responded with letters and commentaries of unusual length and depth. We excerpt three here. All alumni comments sent to the magazine are posted at yalealumnimagazine.com/extras/singapore/.—Eds.


"Potential for a conflict of wills"

The risks are quite tangible. Most notable are the limitations on academic freedom and the potential for conflict with the Singapore government because of its strict laws about libel and sedition. I think it's inevitable that such conflicts will arise. Sooner or later some Yale professor will produce a paper or make a statement in class that will upset the Singapore government. Further, when will a student gathering be deemed a prohibited public protest?

Surely there is potential for a conflict of wills between Yale and the Singapore authorities. President Levin doesn't indicate clearly how he will respond or, perhaps more importantly, what he will do if he can't find a way of resolving the conflict in a manner that protects Yale's reputation for independence, openness, and freedom of inquiry. There may well be provisions in the agreement between Yale and Singapore for such contingencies; but that won't eliminate the risk that Yale may feel compelled to terminate the relationship. While that would be embarrassing for Yale, I'm sure the university would survive. I think the loss of face for Singapore would be much greater and hope that possibility will minimize the likelihood of such an eventuality.

All these risks notwithstanding, I support President Levin's plan. If it succeeds, it will likely greatly expand Yale's opportunity to influence the course of higher education in Southeast Asia and in the process greatly enhance Yale's ability to learn from that part of the world—home to at least half the world's population and to rapidly growing economies. It is conceivable that the long-term consequences may help shape the political future of the world by bringing to bear the power of Yale's tradition of free inquiry and open discussion to societies that do not currently favor it. Even if the venture fails, the lessons learned should be immensely valuable to Yale and to the rest of the world.





"Among the great nations"

Those who question this proposal do so primarily because they wonder about the level of freedom in Singapore. They may feel that Singaporeans do not enjoy the same freedoms that we Americans do.

Those who have lived or worked in Singapore understand that Singaporeans enjoy a combination of prosperity, freedom, opportunity, mutual friendship and respect, diversity, and tolerance among citizens that place it among the great nations of the world. In resolving the ongoing tensions in every society between preserving the rights and liberties of the individual, as opposed to preserving the rights and liberties of the society as a whole, different societies are going to draw the lines differently. It would be unrealistic to expect Singapore to have exactly the same laws and societal rules as the United States.

For many of us who have lived and traveled extensively in Asia, Singapore, of all the nations of that continent, is the one most likely to be hospitable to the great educational experiment upon which Yale may be embarking. The nation of Singapore, the National University of Singapore, and the students of Singapore and Asia will learn much from Yale, but we also will learn much from them.

Attorney Otto H. Chu '76 is CEO of Chu Financial Management Corporation. He has spent some three years in Singapore. (The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of any organization with which he is affiliated.)



"A high level of self-censorship"

I am a Singaporean and a Yale alum. I care about Yale's academic reputation and I think Yale stands to lose more than it stands to gain with this venture. It is an indication of the political controls the Singapore government imposes on its citizenry that I do not feel comfortable writing this comment under my own name.

Yale will be joining its name to a regime that has long muzzled the media and the political opposition. Singaporeans cannot engage in dissent without fear of repression. They cannot take part in peaceful demonstrations nor make critical comments in the blogosphere. There exists a high level of self-censorship.

I'm not convinced that guarantees of academic freedom inside the classroom can justify the compromises that professors and students have to make once they step outside the classroom. Yale faculty in Singapore will be constrained from speaking out publicly on issues the government has defined as out of bounds.

In suggesting that Yale faculty and staff will have to be sensitive to Singapore's domestic politics, President Levin is already undermining Yale's reputation, the integrity of its faculty, and the spirit of the liberal arts.

The Yale Alumni Magazine verified the identity of this alumnus, but agreed to withhold the writer's name for publication.—Eds.

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