Yale University, one of the leading centres of liberal education in the United States, on Friday defended controversial restrictions on protests and political parties at its new Singapore campus.
Yale-NUS College, a partnership with the National University of Singapore, was launched with "full awareness" of the city-state's laws governing freedom of expression, Yale University President Richard Levin said.
"We should not expect that our presence in Singapore would instantly transform the nation's policies or culture," he said after New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned restrictions. "The result will speak for itself."
Yale-NUS bills itself as Singapore's first liberal arts college. The first batch of students will start classes in August 2013 at an NUS facility before the new campus officially opens in 2015.
Despite its tradition of political control and censorship, affluent Singapore has become a leading centre of advanced education in Southeast Asia.
Pericles Lewis, president of Yale-NUS, said: "Any college or university must obey the laws of the countries where it operates.
"We are aware that there are restrictions on speech and public demonstrations in Singapore."
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, accused Yale on Thursday of "betraying the spirit of the university as a centre of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students" at the new campus.
"Instead of defending these rights, Yale buckled when faced with Singapore's draconian laws on demonstrations and policies restricting student groups," he said.
Yale-NUS is the first college established by the elite Ivy League school outside its campus in New Haven, Connecticut.
Singapore's education ministry told AFP on Friday that student demonstrations and protests will not be allowed on campus without the approval of the Yale-NUS administration.
Students and faculty should act in a manner "sensitive to Singapore's context", it said, but maintained that the college would "diversify Singapore's education landscape and provide more choices for our students."
The debate over the restrictions drew mixed reactions from the public.
"It's like setting up an engineering campus and not allowing students to use any tools," said a reader on Yahoo! Singapore.
But another said: "If you want to form a political party, join one outside the campus. Freedom of speech is not an open cheque book and this needs to be measured with certain controls in place so that things do not go out of hand."
Singapore opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who said he had been barred twice from speaking at NUS, said Yale "seems a rather willing partner" in the ruling party's efforts to "safeguard its authoritarian control in Singapore".
In a resolution passed in April, the Yale faculty expressed "concern regarding the history of lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore".
It called on Yale-NUS to uphold civil liberties and political freedom on campus and in broader society.
Political demonstrations in Singapore are only allowed at Speakers' Corner, situated in a downtown park, but organisers have to seek approval from park administrators.
They are not allowed to speak on topics "which may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups". A police permit is also be needed if non-citizens are to speak.