AAUP Letter Outlines Concerns About Yale's Collaboration With Singapore

December 04, 2012

The American Association of University Professors has issued an open letter expressing "growing concern" about academic and personal freedoms at a controversial new liberal-arts campus in Singapore founded jointly by Yale University and the National University of Singapore. It is yet another demonstration of the unease among many academics with American universities' global ambitions.

The group calls on Yale to release all documents and agreements related to the institution, which is known as Yale-NUS College.

The letter draws on a 2009 statement of principles by the AAUP and its Canadian counterpart about overseas branch campuses, a statement triggered by worries about academic freedom and workers' rights at New York University's campus in Abu Dhabi. Addressed to the Yale community, the letter marks the first time since the statement was published that the faculty organization has weighed in on an international campus.

The letter expresses concern with the "character and impact" of Yale's collaboration with Singapore's government to start the island nation's first liberal-arts institution, a partnership that has been the subject of heated debate among Yale faculty members. Approved by AAUP's committee on academic freedom and tenure, the document raises 16 separate issues, many about Singapore's record on political and civil liberties. Among them:

  • Will the campus speech of students and faculty members, including e-mail messages, Internet postings, and broadcast lectures, be protected if the speech criticizes the government, its laws, and its public officials?
  • What risks to homosexual or bisexual students, staff members, and professors are posed by Singapore's laws?
  • Will Yale seek to deal with the separation between academic freedom in the classroom and limits to political speech both on and off the Singapore campus?

"How Yale addresses these issues," the letter states, "has implications not only for the Yale community but also for higher education as a whole."

In addition to requesting the release of all paperwork related to Yale-NUS, the AAUP calls on Yale administrators to hold "genuinely open forums" to discuss the overseas campus.

While Yale's departing president, Richard C. Levin, and supporters of the new college have said they consulted widely, some Yale faculty members have complained about the lack of discussion about the work in Singapore. In April the university's arts-and-science faculty approved a resolution registering concern about Singapore's academic, civil, and political climate.

Although the new institution carries Yale's name, it will neither offer Yale courses nor award a Yale degree. Set to enroll its first students in the fall of 2013, the institution this past summer named its first president, Pericles Lewis, a Yale professor of English and comparative literature.

In an e-mail message on Tuesday, Mr. Lewis wrote that "academic freedom will be a bedrock principle" of Yale-NUS. "Nothing has happened to change my view on that subject," he said, adding that the college is currently drafting personnel practices that protect academic freedom and promote nondiscrimination.

In a telephone interview, Cary Nelson, the AAUP's immediate past president and the open letter's primary author, said the organization had decided to weigh in on Yale-NUS after being contacted by Yale faculty members. In the past year, professors at Yale, which has seen sharp disagreements over shared governance, revived the campus's AAUP chapter, he noted.

Mr. Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the AAUP had not raised questions about other foreign campuses, such as NYU's latest overseas outpost, in Shanghai, because it had not been contacted by concerned faculty members at those institutions. But he did not rule out the possibility of the organization's doing so in the future.

The letter sends a message, Mr. Nelson said, that the AAUP is prepared to investigate potential complaints about academic freedom and discrimination at Yale-NUS. "No one will be able to say the faculty remained quiet," he said.