Sunday, October 24, 2010

US academic in Singapore casts doubt on Yale tie-up

Over the last year, I've hosted a reasonably robust debate on this blog about academic freedom in Singapore. This has generated some very interesting feedback from readers and others.

An anonymous reader, who says they are an American academic in Singapore, has posted an insightful and balanced comment on the prospects for Yale's proposed tie-up with the National University of Singapore. I have no way of knowing if they are who they say they are but they seem to know what they are talking about.

I will leave you to decide. Here's the comment in full:

I am an American academic who has lived and taught in Singapore for well over a decade, in both local universities and in an American college program here that went under about 10 years back. The latter experience left those of us faculty members who taught in the program and had to be let go severely demoralized. I have serious doubts about the Yale initiative in Singapore for four reasons:

1. An intellectual/psychic time sink: I agree with James Scott that over time, it's likely that the Yale constituency will have to make more and more compromises in order to carry on here. As the situation intensifies, you can bet that at least 50% of the staff/students will spend at least 50% of their time focused on the negativities of this situation, and it will only get worse. The "Yale in NUS" prospect is a potential waste of both faculty and student resources that could better be put towards other kinds of cross-cultural and experiential learning. And if/when Yale pulls out, it will be a very depressing, frustrating experience for all concerned.

2. An inherently status-limiting pursuit for people who are invested in achieving higher and higher status: both the faculty and students involved in the Yale initiative will no doubt have ambitious plans for achieving all that is embodied in the Yale name. They will find out that in Singapore, the humanities and social sciences simply cannot achieve the kind of social recognition and financial reward associated with the science and business spheres. This may be happening everywhere, but it’s particularly acute in Singapore.

3. An uncongenial environment for the personal downtime and reflection that go along with a liberal arts education: try to find somewhere peaceful and quiet to ruminate on the big questions in life in Singapore, away from campus. Good luck. Over the decade-and-a-half that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen the opportunities to go for long, thoughtful walks diminish as space becomes increasingly chopped up and commercialized, and it’s even hard to find a relatively quiet place just to read or discuss off-campus where you don’t have to pay through the nose. These days I think I'm living in a glitzy-glam corporate park, alternating with feeling like a lab rat in a social engineering experiment (well, Singapore has always had that lab-rat feeling, I must admit).

4. An unnecessary reduplication of effort: NUS is already doing as good of a job as Yale probably ever could in the social sciences and humanities sphere for this particular setting, and the other major universities here have much to offer as well. Singapore students can go out, and non-Singaporean students can come in. Really, Yale, what’s the point?

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