Yale-NUS College will open in 16 months. No amount of criticism from faculty, alumni or others will stop Yale’s first-ever international franchise from welcoming its inaugural class of students in fall 2013.
The school’s opening will be the keynote of University President Richard Levin’s efforts to globalize Yale. It is also clearly a boon for Singapore. The city-state’s government wanted a way to train a diverse group of students to help Singapore thrive, and it wanted a brand name to anchor the new college. It received everything it could have asked for by signing a name as big as Yale. Both sides have expressed their excitement about the partnership with speeches and press events.
But the truth remains that Yale will henceforth be closely linked with an authoritarian regime, and the University will have to find a way to balance partnership and pushback. It will not be enough just to advance the frontier of modern education or to build an excellent, rigorous college. The University must use all its weight to keep the new institution true to Yale’s values and to the needs of future students at Yale-NUS.
Yale was founded to teach moral fortitude and leadership in civil and religious spheres. Now, lux and veritas point to acceptance of all students and points of view. Yale teaches students to question standard practices and to uncover what is right. All that is crucial to the academic environment, and it — not the U.S. News and World Report rankings — is the true Yale brand. Yale-NUS may be on track to help Yale’s commercial and global prestige, but it has to promote Yale’s commitment to equality and freedom, too.
Yale is dedicated to public service and fighting injustice. Singapore’s regime allows dissent within the classroom — but only within the classroom. Ideas are not meant to be fenced off in safe spaces. Imagine a Yale where debates could not spill out of classrooms and into dining halls, train cars and the speeches of politicians across the country. That school would not be Yale, and it would not be able to live up to Yale’s educational values. Education does not lie solely in the academic sphere. Academic freedom is worthless without social and political freedom.
In the self-censoring atmosphere at NUS, where current students can neither protest freely nor register an official LGBTQ group, holding a liberal arts education to Yale’s standards is impossible. It is Yale’s duty to fight for the same freedom for the students at Yale-NUS as for those in New Haven.
The students who arrive at the new college will be searching for a kind of education that doesn’t yet exist in Singapore. They will want the challenging discussions and the political activism and the chance to question their fundamental tenets. Once these students enroll in a school bearing Yale’s name, it will be Yale’s responsibility to ensure that they get what they’re signing up for.
Should Singaporean policies interfere, Levin must lead the way in standing up for his students. If Yale cannot ensure the rights of the students at Yale-NUS, its presence in Singapore will be a disgrace.