To the Editor:
Yale professor Christopher L. Miller criticizes the partnership between his university and the National University of Singapore in establishing Yale-NUS College, Singapore's first liberal-arts residential college ("Yale in Singapore: Lost in Translation," The Chronicle Review, May 1). While Miller's arguments and values as an American educator are understandable, I wish to offer an alternative perspective as an Asian alumnus of NUS who benefited from the university's commitment to global academic excellence. In particular, I wish to challenge what his article implies: that NUS represses free speech and academic freedom.
I went to NUS on a scholarship to study philosophy. I am visually disabled and a citizen of the Philippines. But those personal qualities did not define my intellectual engagement among students and faculty at NUS. If anything, they enabled me to have deeper conversations about marginality and discrimination in Singapore and Asia. The intellectual environment encouraged experimentation in ways to think about the world, particularly about Asia. This experimentation was largely based, I believe, on academic freedom and intellectual diversity. I was encouraged by faculty members to critically question cultural, societal, and political structures in Singapore and beyond. In my own department (philosophy), there was cutting-edge work being done comparing Western philosophical traditions with those of Asia. In other departments and research institutes, conferences, workshops, and courses explored and were constructively critical of various issues affecting Singapore, Asia, and the world.
Yale-NUS College can be a bold experiment comparing what and how the West thinks of the East and vice versa. This experiment might reveal that we share many common values. Professor Miller should consider letting the institutional culture of the new institution flourish on its own, rather than pre-empt what it might be. After all, institutions are made up of people. It is through the new faculty and students that this institution will eventually attract that it will show us whether liberal-arts education in Singapore and Asia will work, and not through the ossified standards pre-set by Western academia.
I see this as an opportune moment for us to examine what liberal education means in a context of global intellectual exchange and dependency—where Asia is not merely following the West, but collaborating with it on redefining the contours and the content of global higher education.
Mark Lawrence Santiago
Department of Geography
University of British Columbia