Yale-NUS cancels programme to introduce students to 'modes of dissent and resistance in Singapore'
SINGAPORE - A Yale-NUS College programme that was meant to introduce students to various modes of dissent and organising resistance here has been cancelled two weeks before it was due to start.
The course - originally called Dissent And Resistance In Singapore - was to have been led by Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa'at in collaboration with programme manager Tan Yock Theng of the university.
Mr Alfian, resident playwright at local theatre company Wild Rice, is a poet, playwright and short story writer known for his work which has delved into topics of race, sexuality and politics.
An online write-up that is no longer accessible stated that the programme was expected to run from Sept 29 to Oct 5. The Straits Times understands that it was called off early last week.
Its proposed activities included film screenings and dialogues, and an early outline for the programme said it would look into modes of dissent from "citizen journalism to artistic works, from 'accommodationist' tactics such as pragmatic resistance to 'radical' strategies of civil disobedience".
There were plans for a screening of Singaporean independent film-maker Jason Soo's 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy, which focuses on detainees arrested under the Internal Security Act in 1987, a workshop on designing protest signs and a panel discussion with freelance journalist Kirsten Han, veteran journalist P.N. Balji and historian Thum Ping Tjin. Later plans included showing a documentary on Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong.
Explaining the decision to pull the plug on the course, Yale-NUS College president Tan Tai Yong told ST on Saturday that the decision to withdraw the project - later named Dialogue And Dissent In Singapore - was not taken lightly. He said the university reviewed the proposed itinerary and found that it did not align with learning objectives earlier approved by the curriculum committee.
"The project in question does not critically engage with the range of perspectives required for a proper academic examination of the political, social and ethical issues that surround dissent," he added.
"The activities proposed and the selection of some of the speakers... will infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus."
He also said the proposed activities included "elements that may subject students to the risk of breaking the law, and incurring legal liabilities".
"This is not acceptable to the college as we are committed to operating within Singapore laws - a position set out by our founding president back in 2012."
In a statement on Sunday, Yale President Peter Salovey said that he expressed his concern to the president of the National University of Singapore and the president of Yale-NUS when he learnt of the impending decision.
“In founding and working with our Singaporean colleagues on Yale-NUS, Yale has insisted on the values of academic freedom and open inquiry, which have been central to the college and have inspired outstanding work by faculty, students, and staff," he said.
"Yale-NUS has become a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia. Any action that might threaten these values is of serious concern, and we at Yale need to gain a better understanding of this decision,” he added.
President Salovey has asked Pericles Lewis, Yale University’s Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Strategy, and the inaugural president of Yale-NUS (2012-2017), to conduct a fact-finding.
“I am grateful to Professor Lewis for the work he will do to gather all the facts central to this matter. Once we have a full understanding of what happened, I will determine the appropriate response,” he said.
A National University of Singapore spokesman said it supported the Yale-NUS decision as the project did not meet objectives of the Learning Across Boundaries (LABs) programme. The cancelled programme was one of 14 LABs projects, which involve faculty-led programmes of short durations. The Education Ministry also said it supported the college's decision.