A suitable fit? Yale-NUS

Opposition and concern regarding the collaboration between Yale University and Singapore's National University of Singapore isn't abating.

The Yale-NUS College is set to start offering Liberal Arts courses in Singapore as of next year.

The college told inSing News that it has so far received about 2000 faculty job applications from all over the world and 40 to 50 candidates are expected to be hired before the college opens.

The controversial choice of Singapore to plant the Yale name overseas for the first time in 300 years is garnering much heated criticism from Yale professors and faculty members.

Opponents of the collaboration say Singapore doesn't reflect the same values that Yale does and fear that academic freedom will be compromised.

Voices opposing the collaboration have grown loud. At a faculty meeting held at the beginning of March, Yale President Richard Levin was been accused of going ahead with the NUS deal without a proper consultation process.

The meeting saw more than 140 professors in attendance, one of which, was Yale's Political Science Lecturer Jim Sleeper who, in an op-ed published in The Huffington Post, said the message to President Levin was clear.

"The message was that his administration shouldn't have collaborated with an authoritarian, corporate city-state to establish a new college -- "Yale-National University of Singapore" -- without most of the Yale faculty's knowing of it until the basic commitments had already been signed and sealed," he wrote.

Criticism and controversy is not new to Levin. He gave former US President George W. Bush an honorary doctorate and was also part of a committee formed by Bush to review the government's investigations into weapons of mass destruction.

Adding to the debate is Yale's News, Film Studies and American Studies Professor Charles Musser. In an email to some faculty members, he suggested that the university should conduct a review in about six to 10 years to find out if Yale should give out Yale-NUS degrees and if the American institution should still stick its name in the project, according to an extensive feature report on the issue by Yale Daily News.

Besides debating if Singapore is suitable to be partnered with Yale, the whole debacle has brought out a myriad of views from purists who argue that universities cannot be run like a corporation – a view that many disagree with.

Referring to the fact that a formal and official vote by the Yale faculty if it should set up shop in Singapore has never been held, Yale-NUS College's Dean of faculty Charles Bailyn said on www.insidehighered.com : "Technically that's appropriate since Yale-NUS will not be giving Yale College degrees."

Certificates for graduates will have the NUS logo and the words, 'Yale-NUS College' but they will not have the official Yale seal.

But come 5 April, a vote on the resolution to challenge the collaboration is expected to take place.

Dean of NUS's law faculty Simon Chesterman pointed out that "whether the resolution is passed or not" it questions the relationship between freedom in academia and the current political climate.

Chesterman agrees that the Singapore's political climate is different from New Haven and is aware of critics who say this could stymie expression and debate in the upcoming Yale branch.

However he added in his commentary, "One might equally argue that political correctness in the US stifles debate on issues such as gender and race.

And that conservative political forces limit teaching and research in areas from evolution to stem cell."

It's also a case of déjà vu for Chesterman who helped to cement a collaboration between New York University's law faculty and NUS to introduce a successful new masters programme in 2007.

Similar concerns were raised by the faculty in NYU then with NYU staff teaching subjects like human rights and the death penalty – "just as they would in New York."

When asked for comments by inSing News regarding criticism that a liberal arts education scene cannot flourish in Singapore due to its political climate, a Yale-NUS College spokesperson said society in Singapore is changing.

"It will likely continue to change. And with the great strides Singapore institutions have made in higher education, a Yale-NUS degree will address a real need for liberal arts learning in Asia.

The liberal arts curricula and rigorous pedagogy, we believe, will prepare our student to analyse, adapt, categorize and synthesize in the Information Age. Global companies are seeking graduates who have sharpened these skills," he said.

Perhaps best summarising the view of the supporter of the collaboration is Stephen Darwall who serves in the faculty search committee for the Yale-NUS College.

Writing in the Yale Daily News, Darwall says the Singapore venture is not about extending the Yale brand.

"It is about fostering liberal arts education in a way that can make it more evidently vital and relevant in today's world, at home no less than abroad.

The idea is not to clone Yale in Singapore but to create something distinctive and comparative in an Asian context that can also enrich what we do in New Haven."

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