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The real freedom of a real education

Satellite universities jeopardize the value of a liberal arts degree

Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 23:09


Jeanette Chwan, The Spectrum

You may remember the most inflammatory event on campus last year: When Students for Life collaborated with the Genocide Awareness Project to bring an anti-abortion photomural exhibit that displayed graphic images of aborted fetuses.

The exhibit galvanized the student body. It marshaled both vehement defense and passionate protest. Regardless of your response, everyone was able to freely express their reaction – something students’ in certain parts of the world are unable to do.

It is an issue that may be closer to you than you realize.

On Aug. 31, Jim Sleeper, a professor at Yale, published an opinion piece in The New York Times dealing with American universities establishing partnerships with foreign institutions.

The article, “Liberal Education in Authoritarian Places,” calls attention to schools creating joint ventures in nations operating under authoritarian regimes and/or restricted speech rights. The irony, Sleeper claims, is that these schools are operating under the pretense that they are expanding opportunity and providing a broad-based, liberal arts education, when in fact, they are depriving their students the rights a liberal education should aim to impart.

While this may seem like a distant problem, it is closer to home than you may think. UB has a presence in Singapore – a partnership with the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

A year after the faculty expressed “grave reservations” about Yale’s project, the university decided to partner with the National University of Singapore (N.U.S.).

Sleeper finds this disconcerting.

Singapore – an authoritarian city-state – imposes severe restrictions on freedom of speech. When Richard Levin, the former president of Yale, announced the partnership, he insisted students would be free to form associations and would not have limitations on their speech rights.

The president of Singapore’s campus, however, indicated otherwise. He said they would not “be free to form explicitly political associations, much less stage protests of government policies, even on campus,” Sleeper said.

This inability to voice opposition to government officials is troubling. And it is the removal of freedoms. As George Orwell once observed, “Freedom is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”

But Kay Kouk, who leads Yale N.U.S., has insisted those concerned with the nature of the program should re-think the sense of what a ‘liberal’ education means. The campus was built and paid for by Singapore, according to Sleeper. Many have taken issue with this – helping generate commerce to a regime completely out of line with democratic values.

Though when Kouk spoke with Straits Times – a government controlled publication – she indicated ‘liberal’ doesn’t necessarily relate to speech. “It’s freedom of thought; I’m not necessarily saying freedom of expression.”


An education that is designed to cultivate a ‘free’ human being doesn’t involve freedom of expression? That doesn’t involve the intellectual and moral development of citizens who are tolerant and welcoming of opinions other than their own?

Something seems to be missing here.

This line of thinking seems to discourage the cultivation of freely thinking individuals able to narrate their lives into a richer, fuller human tapestry.

The opportunity for students to study abroad is wonderful. And it does expand one’s worldview enormously. But higher education institutions are responsible for the way they influence their students’ worldview. Part of that responsibility comes from the need to provide an environment conducive to the expression of freedom and practice of liberty – the values a liberal education emanates from.

UB has that responsibility to its students, including those who integrate some of their education abroad.

Should UB, a public institution, allow taxpayer money designed to support the education of its citizenship, go towards students receiving a diluted education – removed from the values it seeks to broaden?

Think about it. Post your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. Because some student stationed in Singapore right now might feel like they can’t.



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Sun Sep 15 2013 19:32
You claim to be a student, but your anonymity troubles a cynic.
Fri Sep 6 2013 00:21
As a current student at Yale-NUS, "stationed in Singapore right now", I'd like to address a few big misconceptions and exaggerations that have been recirculating. Firstly, Jim Sleeper has consistently been the major, unwavering voice for criticism of the college. This alone is no issue, he is allowed to hold the opinion and express it openly - my problem arises when he refuses to accept or look at new information or to actually visit us here in Singapore. It is very, very easy to follow the voice of this select, loud crowd and get mixed up with the hype of Singapore's 'authoritarian regime', seeing Yale-NUS as a betrayal of intellectual freedom of thought and expression. However, for Sleeper to assume such a staunch position on the college without taking the time to see, with his own eyes, the student body and atmosphere at Yale-NUS is to close himself from evidence and reality. At a certain point, it feels as though his words are merely for the sake of an argument that he's become too associated with to let die. A small point: I've never heard of Kay Kouk - she has no position in Yale-NUS and certainly does not lead it, as you wrote. Anyway, in closing, I would just encourage a more discerning way of reading Sleeper and similar criticism. Here at Yale-NUS, I feel free to think and say anything, routinely criticize the Singaporean government where it's due, engage with our sexuality/LGBT issues society (called the G-Spot) and in general take part in anything you'd see at a liberal arts college in the US. Look at both sides before you cast the entire college as a "diluted education".

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