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It Will Be Different Teaching The Liberal Arts In Singapore: No Pizza, and The Occasional Caning

September 23, 2010, 10:47 pm

I don’t know who else cares about the deal to start a new liberal arts college by 2013 that Yale is cutting with the National University of Singapore , but as a loyal Old Blue and a Shoreline neighbor, Tenured Radical is interested.  What is particularly odd is that the Yale faculty couldn’t care less.  According to Nora Caplan-Bricker at the Yale Daily News (otherwise known as the Oldest College Daily), when invited to a special meeting to discuss the new venture, “Of the more than 2,000 professors who received an e-mail invitation, roughly 25 attended the event, which was closed to the press, and several of those were on Yale-NUS planning committees. Eleven of the 17 professors contacted about the proposed college said they had not read much of the University’s literature about it, did not know enough to comment or did not have reservations about the plans.”

President Richard Levin is a little concerned about academic freedom, “since the Singaporean government does not guarantee free speech for all its citizens.”  Well make that any of its citizens, Rick, and according to the State Department, caning is “a routine punishment for numerous offenses.” Preventive detention is also routine. For you DKE bros considering a rampage on your semester abroad? That means being jailed indefinitely without being charged.  Just saying.  If you go to prison for any length of time, expect conditions to be “Spartan,” although they will “meet international standards.” That said, “a member of an opposition party who served a 5-week prison sentence in 2002 said after his release that he and other sick bay inmates had been chained to their beds at night. The Government responded that the inmates were restrained to minimize the risk of hurting themselves, medical staff, or other inmates.”

Any more questions from the faculty on this one?  OK, let’s move on then.

Item two on the agenda:  should Yale be doing business in, and sending its employees to,  a country where being gay is illegal?  No one seems to be asking this question, but it does seem relevant unless the university simply plans to use NUS as a cash cow and send no Yale students, administrators or faculty there.  Although rarely prosecuted, homosexual acts, otherwise known as “gross indecency,” are punishable by two years in prison, and probably a good caning too (the caning for homosexuality wasn’t mentioned on the British High Commission website, undoubtedly because it would cause English travelers to go there in droves.)  In 2007, the government considered voiding that law and didn’t, despite good advice from the first Prime Minister of independent Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, that “homosexuals are creative writers, dancers. If we want creative people, then we have to put up with their idiosyncrasies.”  I’ve never heard anal sex described as an idiosyncrasy, but you know what?  I like it!

Freedom of the press?  Not really, so don’t expect a branch of the OCD any time soon. The last State Department report noted that “Government pressure to conform resulted in the practice of self-censorship among journalists. Government leaders continued to utilize court proceedings and defamation suits against political opponents and critics. These suits, which have consistently been decided in favor of government plaintiffs, chilled political speech and action and created a perception that the ruling party used the judicial system for political purposes.”

Other than that, Singapore is a lovely country, with the fastest growing economy in the world, where everyone can be expected to pay full tuition — er, I mean, the Yale spirit is sure to thrive.  And don’t get me wrong:  I would go there in a shot.  But does anybody but me think it strange that so many universities are starting branches in wealthy, semi-totalitarian countries and nobody is talking about the lack of civil liberties as a real problem?

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