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- Decoding Traditions at Yale-NUS - November 19, 2019
Having received permission from all participants in the forum, here are the full notes from the forum the Panopt team held last Friday night, 7 November. We have attached names to arguments only when participants have specially requested so, and all participants have had a chance to look through the notes and make changes if necessary.
Notes for Panopt Forum on 7/11
Panopt members: Joyan, Spandana, Pareen, Yonatan, Kaushik, Kavya, Angela, Dave, Regina, May
Non-Panopt students: Andy, Nik Carverhill, Wei Jie, Anshuman Mohan, Jay Lusk, Tamara, Jon Ho, Cheryl, Sean Saito, Mollie, Yongzhi, Feroz
After forum: Melody, Tiffany Sin, Carmen
Representatives of Panopt team (Dave, Kavya, Joyan Tan, Spandana) explained Panopt’s mission, stakeholders and interpretation of name.
Panopt’s mission as of 5 Nov is: An autonomous student-run publication in Yale-NUS College that is dedicated to free speech and critical discourse. The interpretation of ‘Panopt’ goes back to its Greek roots where ‘pan’ means everything and ‘opt’ means to see. Together, this means to ‘see everything’.
Open Discussion. Below is a broad summary of issues brought up.
1. Who founded the publication?
The Panopt website currently states that ‘Panopt was founded by Joyan Tan Tan and Spandana Bhattacharya on 8 Oct, 2013’. Anshuman Mohan called this statement into question:
● Joyan Tan and Spandana applied for positions of editors, responding to an open call from the VR’s office.
● Filling out a position does not count as founding.
● Panopt first started out as an academic newsletter under the VR’s office; no student founded Panopt from its very roots.
The response given by the Panopt team was that while the idea was first conceived by VR Lage-Otero and Indrani, Joyan Tan and Spandana were arguably the ones who conceptualised every part of the paper, including content, distribution, layout. Also, the argued that no content was ever censored by the VR and he only checked through grammar and vocabulary at the very most. As Panopt was registered as a student organisation earlier in 2014 by both of them, they considered themselves to be founders.
Nik Carverhill noted a “sly” shift on the part of the Panopt team when they changed the date that the website claimed the publication to be founded from 9 October to 8 October 2013. Nik Carverhill noted that making claims of ‘founding’ the publication when the co-editors applied for positions along with the kind of behaviour noted above plays a major role in the student perception of the nature and character of the organization. Nik Carverhill also noted that in the Forum the co-editors also claimed that the date of founding was actually in April of 2014.
2. Is Panopt ‘a’ or ‘the’ student publication? Will there ever be competition?
As clarified, the Panopt team does not view Panopt as ‘the’ Yale-NUS student newspaper. Jay Lusk challenged this and asked asked why the Panopt team is unwilling to accept the responsibility of being the student newspaper.
Firstly, the Panopt team claimed it is too early to determine that Panopt is the student newspaper because it is an unfair responsibility to put on the team who did not initially start out wanting to be the official student newspaper. Secondly, the team argued that they want to see competition and to not establish a monopoly. The Panopt team used Affairs, Tanlines, etc. as examples of competing publications. Panopt claimed that they want to be able to publish controversial views on issues and this is less possible if it is always considered to be the voice and face of Yale-NUS. Thirdly, they argued that if Panopt is branded as THE student newspaper, this necessitates a higher level of accountability to the students which is not desirable because the Panopt team wants to make decisions on content and the paper independent of external factors. They claimed that the content of the paper should not be influenced by its readers and Panopt should only be accountable for upholding its mission statement.
Jay Lusk argued that Panopt is currently, at least in practice, THE publication at Yale-NUS:
● Panopt has no competition. While other publications have been named, none of them addresses issues that concern the Yale-NUS community as a whole. Affairs and Tanlines are poor examples of competition, since they are always going to be limited in scope: they shall always be published by particular student groups, and shall never address broader issues at Yale-NUS. Panopt remains the only publication that claims to publish for the college in general.
● Jay Lusk: Panopt is unlikely to have competition. Given Yale-NUS’s size, it is unlikely that there will ever be enough people to effectively run a publication that can compete with Panopt. It is unlikely that there will ever be enough people to regularly write for, edit, design, and distribute multiple publications on a scale similar to Panopt. Further, DOS is unlikely to want to fund rival publications as lavishly as it currently funds Panopt, since it might simply not have the money.
● Anshuman Mohan: Panopt’s competitors, should they emerge, will never enjoy the privileges that Panopt enjoyed when starting off. (See Section 5 of this document.)
● Nik Carverhill: Panopt’s actual role at Yale-NUS is independent of what it imagines its role to be. (See Section 3 of this document.) For all practical purposes, Panopt is Yale-NUS’s only publication.
Participants added that student newspapers at Yale, Harvard like the Yale Daily News and Crimson are both student newspapers and publish controversial views so that should not be a conflict.
3. Perception of Panopt
Nik Carverhill argued that no matter what Panopt believes it is, it is immaterial in the face of what people perceive it to be. The reality is that students see Panopt as the student newspaper. This is also the perception that external parties beyond Yale-NUS have of Yale-NUS when they read Panopt. As such, Panopt possesses a far deeper responsibility to the student body.
● This is primarily because the student body is implicated in the choices that Panopt makes. These can be materially damaging to the student body, so Panopt cannot operate as if it is in a vacuum.
● It was noted that current faculty members have been apologized to for coming to a school whose “student newspaper” is named Panopt.
Other participants backed this up arguing that it is unfair because the student body did not vote the Panopt team into power and yet it is still impacted by the decisions made by Panopt in terms of its name and content.
Jay Lusk added that 20% of the readers (student body) had signed a petition saying that “I am concerned about Panopt’s name and would like to have a referendum”. 20% of the student body is a fairly strong call to action about the name. The exact number is 63 students.
As such, Jay Lusk argued that if this perception is false, and that Panopt is unwilling to take up the responsibility of being the student newspaper, then it should not enjoy the privileges that is currently does. It should receive $0 from the DoS. The Panopt team should retroactively apologise for representing itself as the student newspaper on both local and international levels. Panopt should give up the power that it has to the community and “there needs to be suffering”.
4. Relationship between Panopt and the DoS
The Panopt team argued that the only form of accountability Panopt has to the Dean of Students is financial. They say that there is no form of censorship or prior review from the DoS. The team explained that Panopt is currently a student organization, with a constitution, a staff advisor, a DF advisor, and so on.
Jay Lusk requested that he be shown Panopt’s constitution. The Panopt team responded by saying that although they have a constitution, it is not fully updated. They said it would be released for public perusal after being updated. The team claimed that the main parts of the constitution that are outdated are with regards to the roles of different members because that has changed from the original plans since last semester.
Jay Lusk went on to claim that because Panopt has no accountability, and has violated several DoS policies with regard to student organizations, complaints would be lodged with the DoS with regards to:
1. Not having an accessible or updated constitution: A student should be able to go to DoS and ask to see the constitution of any student group.
2. Not honouring the official constitution.
3. Forming a student organization with less than ten people and receiving funding to run the same. There is a DoS policy stating that an organization needs to have at least 10 people to receive funding. This was not always upheld by Panopt.
4. Membership policy: As a recognized and DoS-funded organization, Panopt has to be open to membership from the student body and cannot discriminate based on any arbitrary metric. It is therefore in violation of the constitutional requirements set out by the DoS to have membership (and subsequently, voting rights) denied to students based on the will of the ‘editorial team’ (at the time Spandana, Joyan Tan, May, and Raeden).
Participants argued that if Panopt wants to be autonomous and not take responsibility for the college, it should not be receiving any funding at all from the Dean of Students Office.
5. Privileges enjoyed by Panopt
Participants argued that Panopt, by virtue of having first emerged through the Vice-Rector’s Office, had received “government protection” and so “did not have to go through any DoS tape”. Anshuman Mohan argued that this is an unfair privilege that no other group that tries to start up in the present day will enjoy. Panopt also had huge reach through the VR since it was initially distributed through the VR’s weekly emails. This is a privilege that no other student organisation enjoys.
Participants also argued that Panopt’s current mailing list of all students and staff is an exclusive privilege that it enjoys by virtue of being ‘the student newspaper’.
This point was argued by the team that all members of the mailing list are free to unsubscribe at any point in time by going to https://groups.nus.edu.sg/NUSgroups/ and the mailing list of students and staff is also available on an online portal; hence the mailing list was personally created by the Panopt team and was not handed to the team by the DoS or VR by virtue of it being ‘the student newspaper’.
Anshuman Mohan responded that this is still an infringement of rights because they never subscribed to the mailing list in the first place. When directly under the VR’s editorship, Panopt was, indeed allowed to send out email to everyone. However, this right should have been lost as soon as they became a student organization. No other student organization sends email to staff, faculty, or students without first obtaining their permission.
Participants concluded this with arguing that the exclusive privileges that Panopt holds have to be stripped away. This includes the mailing list that Panopt has and making a funding mechanism also available to any other organisation that is independent.
When asked to further clarify, Nik Carverhill argued that the history of Panopt as having started out under VR Lage-Otero (essentially ‘under government protection’ and through an ‘official introduction’) is a privilege that cannot be stripped away; no matter how much Panopt tries to divorce itself from those roots, it will always enjoy the legacy of that distinct privilege, unless it chooses to dissolve and rebrand itself completely.
One participant asked why the team did not completely dissolve Panopt and build up a new student newspaper when they first decided to shift away from a VR’s newsletter. The staff claimed that this was not a consideration at that point in time.
6. Panopt’s name and the ongoing discussion on the name
Nik Carverhill argued that Panopt is effectively representing the school especially to anyone outside of the school, hence the name should be revised. He argued that 13 people in the team are making a decision that impacts the rest of the student body, and it is no longer a choice that can be up to the existing 13 member team.
When asked for clarification, participants clarified that desire for consultation of the student body only refers to the name and not the content itself because the name is the most public link and most visceral when others see or read Panopt. (Jay Lusk: This was not the view shared by the entirety of students present).
Anshuman Mohan gave feedback that Panopt’s official response to Nik Carverhill’s Opinion article has been both sloppy and incomplete. The only response that the Yale-NUS community has received from Panopt has been in the form of the cover page of the last issue. The cover page was not accompanied by an article or note. Panopt’s response, though striking, did absolutely nothing when it came to actually forwarding discussion.
The Panopt team responded that they were working on a very tight timeline; the issue was only brought up on Thursday and 7 members of the team of 13 went overseas during the weekend and the issue had to be printed on Monday night. As such they claimed that there was insufficient time to meet to discuss an official response in time for the issue; an official statement was released later during the week.
Participants, including Nik Carverhill, raised concerns about the implications of the name and the publication to people outside the community. Ultimately, Yale-NUS is constantly under scrutiny and having such a controversial name is just unnecessary. At this point, it is also impossible to separate Panopt from Yale-NUS. Whether we like it or not, representation is foisted upon Panopt and this is something it has to take into consideration.
Anshuman Mohan commented on the name itself, saying that all other allegations aside, ‘Panopt’ remains a very bad name. Although the Panopt team claims that their name was derived directly from Greek root words, this does not separate it from current context. Anshuman Mohan raised an analogy using the name ‘Osama bin Laden’: although it probably has beautiful connotations and meanings in Arabic, it is simply not a suitable name to give your son, given the added context it is burdened with. A call was made for the Panopt team to stop being difficult. In light of the rather obvious need for change, Nik Carverhill wondered what was stopping the team from making a revision; “pride or lethargy” were raised as potential culprits.
9pm: The forum ended with the Panopt team thanking participants for taking time out. The team said it would keep everyone updated on future progress on the issue.
9.05pm: Tiffany, Melody and Carmen came to provide their opinions on the issue.
Tiffany said her biggest gripe is the knowledge that Panopt is being read on Yale campus/outside of YNC, and again reiterated that although Panopt did not ask for it, they inevitable do represent Yale-NUS in the eyes of anyone outside of our school. She used the example that of her being asian-american – she did not ask to be asian american nor does she necessarily identify as one, but ultimately she falls under the purview of that category and has to be accountable for influencing the perception of asian-americans from her actions. Likewise, a publication from Yale-NUS is a Yale-NUS publication, regardless of what it claims.
Melody also brought up the problem of Jim Sleeper – the fact that if any ‘critic’ of Yale-NUS gets hold of the name Panopt and uses it as firepower against the school ie “Panopt, or Panopticon is a metaphor of the Singapore state, and Yale-NUS is feeding it” etc, it will affect the school greatly, even if Panopt’s content has nothing to do with it’s name. Ultimately it is a problem of perception that Panopt will have to deal with, and will have to be responsible for.
Carmen then ended the discussion with her point of ‘conscience’ – even though it is unfair that Panopt is foisted with such responsibility, they have to deal with the repercussions if the name of Panopt ends up implicating it’s fellow classmates and the school’s name as a whole. If Panopt believes in it’s cause and it’s conscience believes that it holds no responsibility, then they have all right to do so, but they have to deal with whatever happens in the future.