Monday, May 09, 2011

Yale, Singapore, Academic Freedom

Academic freedom at Yale-NUS College, Yale's proposed joint campus with the National University of Singapore, is the subject of this hard-hitting Chronicle piece by Christopher L. Miller. I'm excerpting here some of the stinging blows:


See also: Elizabeth Redden's Inside Higher Ed piece from October 2010: Habitats for Academic Freedom, and Eric Weinberger's TNR piece from December 2010: Will Academic Freedom Be Protected at Yale's New College in Singapore?.

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Most immediately troubling to me as a gay faculty member, male homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. Section 377A of the legal code bans consensual, private male homosexual activity as "outrages on decency," in effect making it illegal to be gay. Enforcement is not the issue here; this is a question of principle. Yale has no business establishing a campus in a state where some of its own faculty members are subject to arrest because of who they are. By doing so, the university has, in effect, violated its own nondiscrimination clause, which protects sexual orientation. Yale could have stayed away from Singapore until the repeal of Section 377A but chose not to. As a consequence, Singapore's discrimination becomes Yale's.


As plans for Yale-NUS were being reviewed last year, a 75-year-old British author, Alan Shadrake, was imprisoned and fined in Singapore for writing a book (Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock) that is critical of Singapore's death penalty. Provost Salovey claimed to be "greatly concerned," but he also said he was "not surprised by the result. ... I would have hoped for a different result, but Mr. Shadrake's book openly challenged the country's legal constraints on public criticism of identifiable government officials and institutions." Thus to a prisoner of conscience, Yale says, in effect, "What did you expect?"


To see these issues in concrete terms, consider the following: I am able to write this essay because I am protected by the United States Constitution and by Yale-New Haven's forceful policy on freedom of expression. Will the professors and students at Yale-NUS have that same freedom?


  1. Dilip D'Souza said...

    Good questions to ask about that city-state and Yale's presence there. I hope Yale plans to answer them in some reasonable fashion.

    But I was struck by the mention of 377A. Is it just a coincidence that India's law that made homosexual activity illegal has the same number? Or it attributable to the colonial heritage we share with Singapore?