Michael O’Neil, NCAC Communications Director
[email protected] or 347 788 1646.

Yale University’s first joint campus is set to open in Singapore this August, and the Ivy League school needs to answer some tough questions about how its educational mission, which includes a tradition of respect for academic freedom, and freedom of thought and expression, can succeed in an authoritarian state.

“There’s been a lot of double-talk from Yale officials about free speech and academic freedom at Yale-National University of Singapore College (Yale-NUS College),” says Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship and a consultant to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

AAUP this week issued an open letter expressing concern about Yale’s partnership with the autocratic city-state, known for restricting free expression, limiting public assembly, and criminalizing homosexuality. Members of the Yale faculty, who have concerns about Yale-NUS and complain about a lack of transparency, turned to the AAUP for help.

Pericles Lewis, president of Yale-NUS College, recently told the Yale Daily News that students “will be guaranteed all forms of political expression consistent with Singaporean law.” The Wall Street Journal reports that those laws limit protests to a speaker’s corner in a park—and “even those gatherings face restrictions on what may be discussed.” Without a license from the police, organized cause-related events elsewhere are illegal. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Ministry of Education says faculty and students of the new school must comply with university rules and city-state laws. Academic institutions in Singapore prohibit campus demonstrations and protests unless they’re approved by the university. Lewis’s claim that students will be “totally free” to express their views is incompatible with Singapore’s restrictive laws.

“The statements coming from Yale officials are simply disingenuous and nonsensical,” says Bertin.

NCAC wants Lewis to explain why he doesn’t consider the limits on personal freedom imposed by Singapore law “terribly constraining.”

“Given the inconsistent and illogical statements coming from Yale officials, and the importance of this precedent to the future of academic freedom in the United States and around the world, we thought it was critical for AAUP both to express concerns and call for clarification about what will and will not be permissible forms of expression for faculty, students, and staff at Yale-NUS,” says Bertin. “If Yale can get away with setting up a satellite institution that fails to honor the most basic principles of higher education, we can only expect to see other institutions imitate their actions.”

The AAUP’s open letter urges Yale officials to provide details about how the school plans to protect the freedom of its faculty, staff, and students—and to answer specific questions, such as:

• What risks do students and faculty face over campus speech that may be critical of the Singaporean government? What may be the impact on free speech on campus of any surveillance protocols put in place by Singapore authorities?

• Will all faculty, staff, and students of Yale-NUS (including Singaporean nationals) be guaranteed immunity from prosecution for writings or statements that would be protected under the provisions of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel? Will other protections called for in the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel be implemented on the Singapore campus?

• Are libraries, faculty, staff, and students of Yale-NUS exempt from restrictions on importation of publications or periodicals?

• Will independent Internet access be guaranteed?

• Will the right to invite speakers to campus be compromised by restrictions on visitors to Singapore?

• What risks to students, staff, and faculty with various sexual orientations are posed by Singapore’s laws?

“Yale owes it to members of its own community, and the rest of the world of higher education, to be more candid than it has been to date,” Bertin adds. “It remains to be seen whether they will stop stonewalling and answer the legitimate questions posed by AAUP and their own faculty, students, staff and alumni.”

NCAC is a nonprofit alliance of more than 50 participating organizations dedicated to protecting free expression and access to information.

The AAUP is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, and standards of quality in higher education.