Yale-NUS will guarantee academic freedom: college president

Kai Fong

Students and professors of the Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) College will enjoy academic freedom, its newly-appointed president promised.

But that would be to the extent allowed by the laws of the city-state, which has been criticised by some quarters for curtailing human rights on freedom of speech and assembly.

“We’re going to guarantee academic freedom on campus and the right of students and scholars to talk, do the research they want to do, obviously within the laws of Singapore,” said Yale professor Pericles Lewis on Wednesday, when he was named inaugural president of the liberal arts college opening next year.

His assurance comes after the Yale faculty, voted in April, 100 to 69, to pass a resolution expressing concern over Singapore’s “lack of respect for civil and political rights”. This was despite opposition from the U.S. university’s president, Richard Levin.

The resolution also urged the Yale-NUS College, Yale’s first overseas branch in its 300-year history, 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”.

Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore after the media conference held at NUS’ new University Town, Lewis, who’s been a Yale faculty member since 1998, explained that the relevant concerns raised by his peers have already been addressed.

He said, “The Yale faculty had an opportunity to express some of their concerns and we’ve addressed them in terms of academic freedom, in terms of non-discrimination and in terms of the principles of the college.”

"Things are changing here (in Singapore) rapidly, and a lot of people in the U.S. have a sense of it only from old newspaper reports,” the english and literature professor added.

He said he’d learnt from colleagues at NUS that there’s “wide ranging free discussion in NUS classrooms”.

The new president emphasised, “Yale, in partnering with NUS, made an agreement about academic freedom – which NUS also strongly supports – to say that students could talk about whatever they want, professors can teach whatever they want and can pursue research that might be controversial.”

“It’s a situation now where Yale is deeply committed to making this succeed and where I think we’ve now got the goodwill of the Yale faculty behind us,” he pointed out.

Also present at the unveiling of the college’s leadership team was Yale’s Levin, who said that the governing board’s decision to appoint Lewis as Yale-NUS’ president was a unanimous one.

“Professor Lewis is a naturally talented academic leader,” Levin said, before adding that he has also displayed an “impressive mastery of the needs of the new college and an infectious enthusiasm that will motivate others to work for its success”.

The college's governing board also appointed NUS Professor Lai Choy Heng as executive vice president for academic affairs.

Both Lewis and Lai will take office this July.

Yale-NUS College will welcome its inaugural cohort of 150 students in August next year.