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Yale-Singapore zingers sling on

The faculty of Yale’s fledgling offshoot in Singapore has taken a firm stand for “free expression of ideas.” But it is still unclear what will happen if that expression collides with the laws of the island nation-state.

In its “first vote as a collegial body,” the faculty of Yale-NUS College unanimously approved a “Core Statement on Freedom of Expression.” The college is a joint project of Yale University and the National University of Singapore; it will open next fall in Singapore under the presidency of former Yale English professor Pericles Lewis.

“We are firmly committed to the free expression of ideas in all forms—a central tenet of liberal arts education,” the three-sentence statement says. “There are no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated. This principle is a cornerstone of our institution.”

Yale-NUS College has drawn criticism at Yale and elsewhere because Singapore’s government—which runs the National University—restricts speech and activities that are permitted in the US. Defamation and homosexuality are crimes, for example, with bloggers and journalists subject to prosecution for criticizing the government. The college’s own speech code will ban “defamatory language concerning race or religion,” according to a 2010 agreement (pdf) between Yale and NUS. The chairwoman of the Yale-NUS governing board told an interviewer that the “liberal” in “liberal arts” means “broad, rather than free,” and added: “It’s freedom of thought; I’m not necessarily saying freedom of expression.”

In a Yale Alumni Magazine interview in July, Yale-NUS president Lewis said he expects “a robust political culture on campus,” but “obviously, we will also obey the Singaporean law.” Asked what kind of political expression will and will not be allowed, he responded: “There are gray areas, and we’ll have to face specific questions as they arise.”

Last week, the American Association of University Professors issued an open letter to the Yale community, expressing “growing concern” about “academic freedom and the maintenance of educational standards” at Yale-NUS. This week, twenty-five of Yale-NUS’s 41 faculty members replied with their own open letter to the AAUP, essentially saying: “Hey! Why didn’t you talk to us first?”

“We welcome the AAUP’s interest in our educational mission,” the letter says. “At the same time, we wish to state publicly that no representatives of the AAUP consulted with us, as faculty members and colleagues, about any of our own assessments of, concerns about, and active efforts to promote and secure (i) academic freedom; (ii) the rights of faculty, staff, and students; and (iii) shared faculty governance at Yale-NUS College. In the spirit of collegiality and solidarity . . . we invite the AAUP to be informed of our efforts and to consult with us in the future.”

This post was first published on December 13 on This Just In's predecessor blog, 06520.

Filed under Yale-NUS College, Singapore, AAUP
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