Resolution on Yale-NUS College passes despite objection

Melissa Aw

Despite opposition from Yale president Richard Levin, professors of the university passed a resolution Thursday night in the U.S. expressing concern over Singapore’s “lack of respect for civil and political rights”.

The final version of the resolution also urged the Yale-NUS college, which will open in the city-state next year, to “uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society” and “respect, protect and further principles of non-discrimination for all”.

The resolution was approved after a two-and-a-half hour meeting attended by some 200 faculty members, who debated the wording of the three-paragraph resolution nearly word for word.

I opposed the resolution: Yale president

Before the final voting began, Levin was quoted by Yale Daily News as saying that he “felt that the tone of the resolution, especially the first sentence, carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming”.

After the resolution was passed, Levin expressed his disappointment in a written statement: “I value the engagement of my colleagues and their commitment to important principles, even though I opposed the resolution because it did not capture the mutual respect that has characterised the Yale-NUS collaboration from the beginning”.

The resolution was passed despite a divided vote of 100 to 69.

“This is a set-back for Levin’s vision of Yale… because of some likely negative reaction from Singapore,” said political science lecturer Jim Sleeper in a blog commentary.

Sleeper, who is also the husband of philosophy and political science lecturer Seyla Benhabib who proposed the resolution last month, added that “everyone [in the meeting] understood the resolution's passage as a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the growing corporatisation and centralisation of governance and liberal education at Yale.”

In a short column posted on Yale Daily News prior to Friday’s meeting, Benhabib also defended her resolution as one to “express faculty dissatisfaction … with Yale’s collaboration with a government that severely constricts human rights, civil liberties and academic freedom but also with the administration’s decision-making process … that should have been decided by a vote of the Yale faculty — if indeed Yale’s name is to be attached to the college in Singapore at all.”

Debate over resolution

Since the collaboration between Yale -- one of the most established universities in the world --  and the National University of Singapore was announced last year, several concerns have been raised.

Charles Bailyn, an astronomy professor who will be the first dean of the Yale-NUS faculty was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that he was worried over “the implied ‘us versus them’ attitude of faculty members at a safe distance of 9,000 miles, telling Singaporeans how to live”.

Political science professor Bryan Garsten also expressed worry that the language of the resolution risks doing “injustice” to his colleagues in Singapore working on the project, as quoted by Yale Daily News.

But he added that he ultimately voted for the resolution because he felt that his colleagues in Singapore are “fundamentally on the same side on the question of intellectual freedom and its connection to the liberal arts”.

Yale-NUS College to open next year

The Yale-NUS college is slated to open in August next year, with a Yales spokesman confirming with The Straits Times that it is “proceeding with its work on the college”.

According to Bloomberg, the college is expected to have 150 undergraduate students which will grow to about 1,000.

It will be the first overseas campus for Yale in its 300-year history.

Full text of the Yale-NUS college resolution:

We, the Yale College Faculty, express our concern regarding the history of lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore, host of Yale-National University of Singapore College.

We urge Yale-NUS to respect, protect and further principles of non-discrimination for all, including sexual minorities and migrant workers; and to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society.

These ideals lie at the heart of liberal arts education as well as of our civil sense as citizens, and they ought not to be compromised.