Faculty senate questions Yale’s relationship in Singapore

Debate continues over the withdrawal of a “dissent” course last year at Yale-NUS 

January 26, 2020
Yale-NUS College sign
Source: Yale-NUS College

The cancellation of the “Dialogue and Dissent” class at Yale-NUS College in Singapore has prompted the Yale University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate to recommend changes to the handling of “episodes involving free speech and academic independence”.

The suggestions were made in a resolution shown to Times Higher Education by one of the two people who had requested a response on the issue.

The class at Yale-NUS, a collaboration with the National University of Singapore, would have included discussions of censorship and the screening of a documentary about Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong. After it was cancelled last autumn, Alfian Sa’at, a poet and the course’s convenor, was singled out for criticism by government officials.

Linda Lim, a Yale alumna and professor emerita at the University of Michigan, told THE that she was “glad” the senate acknowledged the problem, saying that it had “undermined the credibility of the administrations of both institutions”.

However, she was “disappointed that they did not express explicit regret that, due in no small measure to this flawed institutional process, the victim Alfian Sa’at was publicly pilloried, including in [the Singaporean] parliament by the minister of education”.

“Yale needs to recognise that its actions within the ivory tower have consequences for vulnerable others outside, including in Singapore,” she said.

Pericles Lewis, vice-president (global strategy) at Yale, authored a report last autumn saying that the Singapore class cancellation was due to a lack of academic rigour and was not dictated by government interference.

However, the faculty senate later heard from staff who questioned Professor Lewis’ ability to be objective in this matter; he was previously Yale-NUS’s founding president. They also voiced suspicion that a short course would be held to those standards of academic rigour.

The senate resolution said that the incident “raised important questions about some aspects of Yale’s ongoing relationship to Yale-NUS”. It recommended the establishment of clear criteria and procedures for these cases, including recommendations for which parties should be consulted and who should act as independent fact finders. It called on Peter Salovey, Yale’s president, to appoint an ad hoc committee with faculty representatives from Yale and Yale-NUS.

“The Yale FAS Senate stands ready to defend freedom of expression, especially on campus,” the resolution said.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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