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Academic freedom integral to Yale-NUS’s future

All PostsNewsAcademic freedom integral to Yale-NUS's future

story Yonatan Gazit

YNC Relations
Presidents Pericles Lewis (centre), Tan Chorh Chuan (rightmost), and President-Emeritus Richard Levin. (Yale-NUS College Public Affairs)

A breach of academic freedom on Yale-NUS College’s campus could put its future in jeopardy. In an interview with The Octant, President of Yale University Peter Salovey outlined for the first time that “something of a controversial nature that challenged core academic values” would prompt Yale to withdraw from its agreement with the National University of Singapore (NUS). Academic freedom, or “the ability to teach and learn about anything on campus”, is the most important among these core values. NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan, however, said in an email interview that “NUS is fully committed to the success of Yale-NUS College.” Mr. Tan pointed to other collaborations NUS has had with other universities, such as Duke University and Johns Hopkins University, to express his confidence in the agreement with Yale.

Protection of freedom of speech is included in the contract between Yale and NUS, according to Yale-NUS Governing Board Member Roland Betts. The contract also allows either university to back out at any time if they see fit, but the universities would need to give six months notice before officially withdrawing. Every ten years, the institutions will run a review of their involvement as well, according to Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis. “At any time they could [leave the agreement], but the ten-year review is a moment for stopping and reflecting to say ‘do we want to continue?’” he said. A lack of quality at Yale-NUS as a teaching institution would also factor into the school’s agreement with NUS, Mr. Salovey said.

Mr. Lewis said that if Yale was to pull out of the contract, current students would graduate with a Yale-NUS degree, but the college would cease to exist with this name after the last batch graduates. A “successor institution” would operate on the campus instead.

While Mr. Lewis said Singapore’s government has given certain “guarantees” to protect on-campus academic freedom, this may not extend to student organizations. For instance, he said, the “main press constraints (in Singapore) tend to be things like libel suits” and student-run publications are “in the same media landscape as other publications in Singapore.”

In the context of Singapore, a liberal arts education may prove to be problematic, since it is often associated with free, uncensored discussion on a wide array of issues. Singapore was ranked 153rd internationally of issues on the 2015 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. The Ministry of Communications and Information regulates the media outlets within the country, leading to some censorship.

Despite this, Mr. Salovey said that while working on their agreement there were “reasonable people … very motivated to get to a place of common ground and common understanding” on the Singapore side. Mr. Tan expressed similar sentiments. “An important aspect of commitment is the resolve to work through and address [problems],” he said.

Academic freedom, however, is not synonymous with complete freedom of speech. “There are restrictions on protests and other things that do apply to Yale-NUS students as they do to everybody in Singapore … we never claimed to be able to prevent the enforcement of laws that are on the books in Singapore,” Mr. Lewis said.

Students interviewed said that they did not know about Yale’s condition over their commitment. “I am quite surprised that something like that hasn’t been made very well known,” Dominic Choa Dun Hao ’18 said. Adrian Stymne ’17, currently spending a semester abroad at Yale University, was likewise unaware of the line Yale has drawn. But given the resources Yale has invested in the school and the ramifications of ending the agreement, he was skeptical of how quickly Yale would be willing to pull out of the contract.

All three Presidents, Mr. Tan, Mr. Lewis, and Mr. Salovey, said that so far they have been extremely satisfied with how Yale-NUS has run over the past two years and are excited to see how it progresses. According to Mr. Lewis, the original contract between the schools will not be released to the public.

Spandana Bhattacharya and David Chappell both contributed reporting from New Haven. 

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