Economist and academic Donald Low spoke up in support of playwright Alfian Sa’at following the Yale-NUS saga, where a different version of events were painted by the school.
In his Facebook post on October 6, the former Associate Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) wrote that the issue was more important than a spat over differing versions between an academic institution and a playwright, and that it was also of more importance than the state of academic freedom in local universities.
Low explained, “As Alfian says, he doesn’t care if the college cancels the programme; that’s the college’s prerogative. Alfian simply wants the Yale-NUS leadership to assume responsibility for its decision to cancel the module and not scapegoat him with some dubious and unsubstantiated accusations about the lack of “academic rigour” or “putting students at legal risk””.
Comparing Sa’at’s situation to that of NTU’s denial of tenure to Cherian George, Low added that “Ultimately, it’s about the kind of academic leadership we have. Are they accountable for their decisions/actions? We’ve seen this sort of unfounded accusations, scapegoating and blame-shifting before”.
When news of the cancellation of the module broke, “It was an ugly collective display of political vilification, pitchforking and whistle-blowing in which these (perceived) opponents of the PAP were branded and accused of all manner of sins, including that of wanting to bring the HK protests (or worse, a colour revolution) to Singapore. The mainstream media, true to form, repeated these accusations dutifully”.
Low questioned that since there was clarity on the circumstances that led to the cancellation of the module, he asked for accountability from Sa’at’s accusers. He added that this was especially crucial because of the information that it was Yale-NUS that had originally asked Sa’at to put together the module, and that Sa’at had been responsive to their concerns. He called for the playwright’s accusers to retract their comments.
However, he rather ominously said that “We know that this episode will be swept under the carpet. The stain on the reputation of these individuals will not be removed; the rifts they have created will not be repaired. Why? Because the confirmatory biases and the stories/stereotypes that these establishment figures have formed of these individuals are so deep and ingrained that no amount of facts will change their minds that these dastardly activists are out to undermine Singapore”.