SINGAPORE – The passing of a resolution last week by Yale College faculty was not out of any disrespect to the Republic and the National University of Singapore (NUS), said the professor who crafted the resolution.
Among other things, the resolution expressed concern “regarding the history of lack of respect for civil and political rights” here. It also called on the planned Yale-NUS college to uphold principles of “non-discrimination for all … civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society”.
Political science and philosophy professor Seyla Benhabib told Today in an email that “the good people of Singapore and our colleagues at NUS should rest assured that we do not mean to disrespect their considerable achievements as a society”.
She added: “But we do have different historical experiences, standards and values when it comes to matters of free speech in and out of the classroom; freedom of assembly; the rights of sexual minorities, the rights of migrants and many other matters.”
Prof Benhabib reiterated that the faculty is “not holding up the USA government or society as an example”. She said: “Many of us are critical of our own government’s violation of these rights and values we hold dear.”
She felt that the faculty’s vocal stance on the matter exemplified the meaning of “freedom of speech”. “This is our duty as educators; and no one – not even our President – can take away our right to express ourselves and to disagree with official policy. This is what makes Yale what it is,” she said.
NUS vice-president (University and Global Relations) Lily Kong had earlier expressed disappointment with the resolution which, as she pointed out, “does not have binding effect” on the Yale-NUS College. Nevertheless, she noted that it is “an expression of the views of a proportion” of the Yale faculty.
The resolution was passed after a two-and-a-half-hour meeting.
Yale College dean Mary Miller, who chaired the meeting, told Today that the discussion was “characterised by civility and mutual respect by the faculty present, reflecting the best traditions of academic discourse and faculty collegiality”.
The professor added: “Several changes were proposed and accepted to the original language, resulting in the final resolution that was voted on.”
Moving forward, the Yale professors are seeking a dialogue with their NUS counterparts, said Prof Benhabib.
While the Yale-NUS college is set to open its doors in August next year, Prof Benhabib said that the Yale College faculty is still in the dark over the “exact terms” of the agreement between Yale and NUS.
Yale president Richard Levin, who had opposed the resolution that was passed with a 100 to 69 vote, had previously said that the faculty had no vote on the project as it would not affect the American college.
But Prof Benhabib said: “Many of us on the Yale College Faculty believe that we should have had a chance to deliberate on matters relating to Yale-NUS; we should have been permitted to vote on agreements between the Yale Corporation, the NUS Administration, and the government of Singapore. We still do not know the exact terms of these agreements.”
She added: “I am hoping that in the months ahead, we can engage in more honest and open conversations on these matters with colleagues in Singapore.”
Responding to Today’s queries, Prof Kong said NUS will be reaching out to the Yale professors who have raised objections to the tie-up and will discuss ways to do so with the Yale leadership.