Singapore—Contrary to what Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on October 7, Monday, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) has clarified that the organization had not received an invitation to take part in the cancelled module on dissent at Yale-NUS.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) explained this on Tuesday, October 8, in a statement.
Mr Ong had said, as part of his speech in Parliament, “I should add that a talk by AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) was also listed in the programme, but AWARE has since clarified with YNC as well as the media that they had not agreed to participate in the programme, though they had received an invitation,” in the transcript of the speech published in The Straits Times (ST).
The website of MOE, however, seems to have already been amended. It reads, “I should add that a talk by AWARE was also listed in the programme, but AWARE has since clarified with YNC as well as the media that they had not been invited or agreed to participate in the programme.”
A spokesman from MOE said, “AWARE has since clarified with MOE that they did not even receive an invitation and that they were added to the itinerary without their knowledge, and had nothing to do with the project.”
The canceled Yale-NUS module has been in the news for some weeks now. The course, originally entitled “Dissent and Resistance” was re-titled to “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore,” was to be led by Singaporean playwright Alfian Bin Sa’at and was meant to be part of Yale-NUS “Learning Across Boundaries” (LAB) initiative. It had been scheduled from September 29 to October 5 but was cancelled on September 13.
Mr Alfian is the resident playwright at local theatre company Wild Rice. He is known for being a poet, playwright and short-story writer whose topics include race, sexuality and politics.
The cancellation of the module caused the President of Yale University, Peter Salovey, to task Yale University’s Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Strategy, Pericles Lewis, who had also been the inaugural president of Yale-NUS (2012-2017), to conduct fact-finding regarding the matter.
Upon the conclusion of the fact-finding, Profesor Salovey said that the decision to cancel the module was an internal one. He added that it was made without the government interfering in the independence of the institution.
He said in a statement, “Members of the Committee who have visited Yale-NUS College say they have found a healthy spirit of academic freedom and open inquiry there. The committee has made a number of procedural recommendations.”
He added that the report from Mr Lewis reassured him of “Yale-NUS’s strong commitment to academic freedom,” writing, “I myself have observed over my eight years of involvement with Yale-NUS College that it has become a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia. I am proud of Yale’s involvement with Yale-NUS and would like to express my confidence in its faculty and leadership.”
The Education Minister addressed the matter in Parliament on Monday, saying that academic freedom must have its limits.
“Academic freedom cannot be carte blanche for anyone to misuse an academic institution for political advocacy, for this would undermine the institution’s academic standards and public standing.”
The main issue, he said, was that the module “may be used to conduct partisan political activities to sow dissent against the government is not unfounded. MOE [the Ministry of Education] had that concern too when we saw the itinerary of the ‘Dissent and resistance’ project.”/ TISG