Singapore—Yale University has expressed concern that a programme designed to introduce students at Yale-NUS College to the different forms of dissent and organizing resistance has been cancelled.
Peter Salovey, the President of Yale University, issued a statement regarding the cancellation of “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore,” which was to be led by Singaporean playwright Alfian Bin Sa’at. The programme was meant to be part of Yale-NUS “Learning Across Boundaries” (LAB) initiative.
“When I learned of this impending decision, I expressed my concern to the president of the National University of Singapore and the president of Yale-NUS.
In founding and working with our Singaporean colleagues on Yale-NUS, Yale has insisted on the values of academic freedom and open inquiry, which have been central to the college and have inspired outstanding work by faculty, students, and staff: Yale-NUS has become a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia.
Any action that might threaten these values is of serious concern, and we at Yale need to gain a better understanding of this decision.”
Furthermore, Mr Salovey has asked Yale University’s Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Strategy, and the inaugural president of Yale-NUS (2012-2017), Pericles Lewis, to conduct fact-finding regarding the cancellation of the course on dissent.
“I am grateful to Professor Lewis for the work he will do to gather all the facts central to this matter. Once we have a full understanding of what happened, I will determine the appropriate response,” Mr Salovey added in the university’s statement.
The Straits Times (ST) wrote that according to a spokesman for the institution, Professor Tan Tai Yong, the president of Yale-NUS, and Mr Salovey had communicated regarding the cancellation when the decision was made to withdraw the course.
The spokesman said, “President Salovey would like a better understanding of the factors leading to this decision. We will work with (Prof Lewis) on his fact-finding.”
The course, which was was scheduled to begin in a few weeks, was supposed to have been only a week long. The sixteen students who had signed up for the course have been reassigned to various other courses under the LAB programme.
According to Professor Tan, the institution had determined that Mr Alfian’s course did not meet the spectrum of perspectives needed for a thorough academic discussion on dissent and that the activities of the course were not in alignment with the LAB’s learning objectives and concept that had been approved by the curriculum committee. Furthermore, Professor Tan said that the course would have trespassed the commitment of the institution to not participate in partisan politics and could have put its students at risk of transgressing the country’s laws.
Some of the activities that were scheduled for the course were a panel discussion with historian Thum Ping Tjin and journalists PN Balji and Kisten Han.
“Some points of clarification.
1) The programme ‘Dissent and Resistance’ is not designed to train students ‘to stage protests in public’. Any comparisons with what is happening in Hong Kong right now is off the mark.
2) It is however designed to guide students to think about dissent in Singapore. What is a dissident? Why does the media persist in labelling certain individuals or groups as ‘troublemakers’? Who are they making trouble for?
3) One of the best ways to get these insights is to meet some so-called dissidents face to face. To give the students unfiltered access. So that they can ask questions. Why is your art or cause so important to you? What do you consider acceptable risks? What are the creative tactics you have used to express dissent WITHIN the bounds of the law?” / TISG