Overseas expansion is among the current fads in higher education. Despite the failure of Middle East branches of Michigan State and George Mason, other universities have pushed away with ambitious and hugely expensive international initiatives. Yale is the most prominent of these. Next year, it will open a new liberal arts college in partnership with the National University of Singapore.
Yale-NUS, which will issue its own degrees, has been criticized by Yale’s faculty since its inception. In a resolution passed in April, they pointed out, reasonably enough, that Singapore is mildly repressive state whose restrictions on expression and homosexuality are a bad fit with official and unofficial values of the American academy. The Yale administration, led by President Richard Levin, rejects this criticism. Levin and his surrogates claim: 1) that the Singapore government has provided assurances that Yale-NUS faculty and students will have freedoms that ordinary Singaporeans don’t, at least while they’re on campus; and 2) that Yale’s participation in the college will have a liberalizing influence on Singapore.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the government will have more influence on what happens in Singapore than the empire builders of New Haven. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Yale-NUS will ban demonstrations and partisan political societies.
There’s nothing outrageous about the ban in itself. The government of Singapore is bearing the full cost of the college and is understandably reluctant to establish an academic Hamsterdam. What is outrageous is the response of the administration, which is partly drawn from the Yale faculty. Here’s what Yale-NUS president Pericles Lewis, formerly a professor of English and Comparative Literature in New Haven, has to say: students and professors “are going to be totally free to express their views”. They just won’t be allowed to hold meetings or form organizations to discuss and promote them.
Lewis’s statement is worthy of what Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles D. Bailyn has proudly described as “our collaborators.” In cutting a deal with Singapore, Yale’s leadership has shown its indifference to the authentically liberal and, I venture to say, American principle that the freedom of expression is meaningless without the freedom to associate and demonstrate in ways consistent with public safety. This principle may indeed be out of place in Singapore, as minister of education Heng Swee Keat has contended. In that case, Yale shouldn’t set up shop there.
(Image: Screenshot from the Yale-NUS College website.)