CORRECTED-Yale under fire for new campus in restrictive Singapore

Stephanie Simon

(Corrects title of Keith Darden to professor of social sciences

at Yale-NUS in paragraph 30)

NEW HAVEN, Dec. 29 (Reuters) - For more than 300 years, Yale

University has prided itself on training top students to

question and analyze, to challenge and critique.

Now, Yale is seeking to export those values by establishing

the first foreign campus to bear its name, a liberal arts

college in Singapore that is set to open this summer. The

ambitious, multimillion-dollar project thrills many in the Yale

community who say it will help the university maintain its

prestige and build global influence.

But it has also stirred sharp criticism from faculty and

human-rights advocates who say it is impossible to build an

elite college dedicated to free inquiry in an authoritarian

nation with heavy restrictions on public speech and assembly.

"Yale's motto is 'Lux et veritas,' or 'Light and truth,'"

said Michael Fischer, a Yale professor of computer science.

"We're going into a place with severe curbs on light and truth

... We're redefining the brand in a way that's contrary to

Yale's values."

Yale President Richard Levin describes the new venture as a

chance to extend Yale's tradition of nurturing independent

thinkers to a dynamic young nation at the crossroads of Asia. In

the 19th century, Yale scholars fanned out to launch dozens of

American colleges, Levin noted in a 2010 memo presenting the

concept to faculty. "Yale could influence the course of 21st

century education as profoundly," he wrote.

Levin, who spent years expanding Yale's campus in New Haven

before initiating the Singapore project in 2010, has announced

plans to retire at the end of the academic year. His successor,

Yale Provost Peter Salovey, also supports the Singapore venture.

Working with the National University of Singapore, or NUS,

Yale is building a comprehensive liberal arts college from

scratch. The school will offer majors from anthropology to urban

studies, electives from fractal geometry to moral reasoning, and

a rich menu of extracurricular activities -- sports, drama,

debate, even a juggling club.

Scheduled to open this summer with 150 students, it is

slated to grow to about 1,000 undergraduates living in a

high-rise campus now under construction.

While American universities have been venturing overseas for

decades, they have mostly offered tightly focused degree

programs, often for graduate students. The closest analogy to

the Yale project may be New York University's branch campuses

now under construction in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.

But the new NYU campuses are extensions of the university.

The Yale venture, which targets top students from around the

globe, is an unusual hybrid.

It will be called Yale-NUS College. It will draw some

faculty -- and its inaugural president, Pericles Lewis --

straight from New Haven. Students will spend the summer before

freshman year in New Haven, attending seminars with Yale

faculty. When they graduate, they will be welcomed into the

Association of Yale Alumni.

Yet Yale officials are emphatic that the new school is not a

branch campus. The degrees it issues will not be Yale degrees.

"It is not Yale," said Charles Bailyn, an astronomy

professor on leave from Yale to serve as the founding dean of



The new college will be funded entirely by the Singapore

government, which will also subsidize tuition. Singapore

citizens will pay about $18,000 a year, including room and

board. International students will pay about $43,000 unless they

secure a discount by committing to work for a Singapore company

for three years after graduation.

Yale and Singapore will get an equal number of seats on the

new college's governing board -- but Singapore's education

minister must approve all the Yale nominees.

The arrangement exposes Yale to risk because its name is on

the college, yet the university does not have control over the

end product, said Richard Edelstein, who studies trends in

higher education at the University of California at Berkeley.

One angry member of Yale's faculty, Christopher Miller, a

professor of French and African American studies, has dubbed the

venture "Frankenyale."

Those involved in the project say the novel structure is a

boon that will enable educational experimentation, with an

emphasis on interdisciplinary seminars and student research.

It's a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a new college

program from the ground up," said Yale anthropologist Bernard

Bate, who has signed on to teach in Singapore.

He and others say they will bring the best of their new

approach back to New Haven. And they contend that fears about

censorship in Singapore are wildly overblown.

That issue came to the fore last spring, when Yale faculty

voted 100 to 69 for a resolution raising concern about the

venture in light of "the history of lack of respect for civil

and political rights" in Singapore.

Human Rights Watch, the international advocacy group,

subsequently accused Yale of "betraying the spirit of the

university." This month the American Association of University

Professors weighed in, expressing concern about the project's

implications for academic freedom.

Singapore, an island nation in southeast Asia, is a

democracy but has been dominated by one political party since

securing independence from Britain half a century ago. In the

name of stability and security, the government restricts public

demonstrations to a corner of one park and heavily regulates

news and entertainment, according to the U.S. State Department.

Last year a British author was jailed for writing a book

critical of Singapore's judiciary. This spring the government

prevented an opposition politician from leaving the country to

speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Still, Yale faculty working on the new college said they had

spoken with foreign professors teaching on other campuses in

Singapore and came away convinced that academic freedom would be


George Bishop, a Yale PhD who been teaching psychology at

the National University of Singapore since 1991, says he has

never felt restricted. In a class on the AIDS epidemic, he and

his students freely discuss how Singapore's anti-sodomy laws

hinder the nation's public-health response.

"We criticize the government all the time in class," said

Bishop, who has joined the faculty of the new college.


Yet Yale-NUS will not be free and open in the way American

students may expect.

Singapore bans speech deemed to promote racial or religious

strife. As long as they toe that line, students will be free to

hear speakers and express views inside campus buildings. But

many outdoor assemblies will require a government permit,

Yale-NUS President Lewis said. Singapore law defines "assembly"

quite broadly, to include a single protester holding a sign or

an open-air debate.

"Can you march on City Hall?" asked Bailyn, the Yale-NUS

dean. No, he answered -- but said that didn't trouble him, as

"that's not really an educational matter." Bailyn said he had

been promised complete freedom with "the core mission of the

college -- researching, teaching, unfettered discussion."

Indeed, Yale-NUS faculty say they expect Singapore to be

cautious about interfering with the new college for fear of

provoking an incident and prompting Yale to withdraw its name.

"We know what a liberal arts education is, what intellectual

freedom is," said Keith Darden, a professor of social sciences

at Yale-NUS, "and we'll accept nothing less than that for

ourselves and our students."

Under the philosophical questions lies a pragmatic one: Will

the new college succeed?

For all its wealth, Singapore has not always proved an ideal

marketplace for higher education. Australia's University of New

South Wales opened a campus in Singapore in 2007 -- only to shut

it after one semester because of low enrollment. This fall, NYU

announced it would close its graduate film school in Singapore

because of financial trouble.

Other American ventures in Singapore have done better,

including a music conservatory developed by Johns Hopkins


Interest in Yale-NUS is running high. Almost 2,600 students

from around the globe have applied for the initial 150 spots.

Several dozen have already been accepted -- among them,

Singaporean students who suggest Yale's faculty might do well to

back off the criticism and trust in the value of the liberal

arts education they hold so dear.

"Ideological purity and moral righteousness from these

critics will not make Singapore a free society, but education

and the spread of ideas will," Jared Yeo, a Singapore native

accepted to Yale-NUS, wrote on the college's blog.

Perhaps the most pointed critique of the New Haven protests

came from E-Ching Ng, a Singaporean who earned an undergraduate

degree at Yale and remained on campus to study linguistics. In a

column in the Yale Daily News last spring, she urged faculty to

respect the rules Singapore has developed to maintain public


"Qur'an burning is illegal in Singapore, and we like it that

way," she wrote. "We prioritize our values differently, and

different doesn't mean wrong. At least, that's what I learned

from a Yale liberal arts education."

(Reporting By Stephanie Simon in New Haven. Additional

reporting by Kevin Lim in Singapore. Editing by Jonathan Weber

and Douglas Royalty.)