I just heard about the recent hullabaloo about the canning of the Yale-NUS course on “Dissent and Resistance” or the subsequent iteration “Dialogue and Dissent”. To be honest, this is the sort of module I would register for to “study” and claim my academic credits . . . if I were a student in America or the United Kingdom.
The Yale-NUS partnership is a distinctive and distinguished one. There is no doubt that students both local and foreign, have benefitted from Yale’s outstanding leadership and deep understanding of the liberal arts education in the US. Likewise, NUS’ global and Asian strengths and reputation has enriched many an eager mind. Educational institutions around the world are rich in culture, diverse in thought and varied in social environments. Singapore is no different. Singapore has a different culture, different values and norms, as well as a different balance between rights and responsibilities and between the individual and society.
Instituting such an educational course is clearly glorifying resistance and promotes Hong Kong-style protests. The rule of law is crucial in every society. It is even more acutely apparent for the need of the law in the context of the ongoing protest-situation in Hong Kong where protestors have run amok without any regard for law, liability or lives. Singapore is not curbing dissent or muzzling our citizens, as universities in Singapore are free to hold forums involving political parties for students to discuss issues of the day. Also, Speakers’ Corner enables citizens to demonstrate, hold exhibitions and speak on many issues.
However, Singapore’s educational institutions should not, must not and cannot be encouraging or teaching our children how to engage in unlawful assembly, such as designing protest signs. Singapore wants our subsequent generations to be productive members of society, wherever they may live and work. An educational course on Dissent and Resistance, glorifying illegal acts such as contempt of court or public disorder, is destructive and runs counter to the positive values Singapore wants to instil in our children.
When unveiling the architectural model of the Yale-NUS College in April 2011, Yale University president Professor Richard Levin had said that if Yale was going to engage with the world, it has to recognise that people have different values, cultures and systems. I hope Yale-NUS continues to live this out through its curriculum planning.
I have written to the Wall Street Journal to express my dissatisfaction with their summary of my interview last week. In particular, the following paragraph contains an inaccurate summary:
Wall Street Journal:
“Students at the new school “are going to be totally free to express their views,” but they won’t be allowed to organize political protests on campus, said Pericles Lewis, the college’s new president, in an interview last week.”
Actual transcript of interview shows I said the following:
“People are going to be totally free to express their views on the war in Afghanistan, or anything else if they wanted, but in terms of organized protests heading off campus, they would have to obey Singaporean laws. But I think there will be a lot of opportunities for people to have political debates in the classroom and as well as outside the classroom. People can have groups to discuss politics on campus, you can discuss political parties but not establish political parties on campus.”
Political debate will be part of Yale-NUS campus activity. Academic freedom will be protected, and a non-discrimination policy is in place. Yale-NUS will not place restrictions on political speech or activity beyond those of Singaporean law.
President, Yale-NUS College
Singapore’s first liberal arts college, Yale-NUS, cannot be a carbon copy of Yale in the United States if it is to succeed, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Oct 12).
Instead, it has to experiment and adapt the Yale model to Asia, he said at the inauguration of the college campus.
This is because while countries in Asia and the United States face similar challenges such as income inequality and wage stagnation, each country has different constraints.
Each country has different situations – natural endowments, historical experiences, geopolitical situations, social structures, cultures and values – and so there is no one-size solution and each has to find its own way forward, Mr Lee said.
Picture from All Singapore Stuff