Dissent module cancelled without government interference: Yale president
He says he is reassured of Yale-NUS' academic freedom after meeting with faculty members in Singapore
The decision to cancel a module on dissent at Yale-NUS College last month was made internally and without government interference in the college's academic independence, Yale University president Peter Salovey has said.
While a number of mostly administrative errors were made in the process of considering the module, the Yale Faculty Advisory Committee found that the evidence does not suggest any violations of academic freedom or open inquiry.
The module, titled Dialogue And Dissent, was to have been led by Mr Alfian Sa'at, a local poet, playwright and short story writer known for his work that has explored topics of race, sexuality and politics.
The module he proposed was slated to be part of a Learning Across Boundaries programme at the college and was to have taken place last month and early this month.
But it was cancelled on Sept 13, about two weeks before it was due to begin, leading to questions being asked about academic freedom in Singapore.
Professor Salovey expressed his concern to National University of Singapore president Tan Eng Chye and Yale-NUS president Tan Tai Yong, and asked Yale's vice-president and vice-provost for global strategy Pericles Lewis to find out the facts of the case.
Prof Lewis flew to Singapore in the week of Sept 16 and met more than 25 faculty members and college leaders, as well as Mr Alfian. He shared his findings with the Yale Faculty Advisory Committee on Yale-NUS College and his report was made public on Sunday.
Prof Salovey said in a statement that members of the committee who have visited Yale-NUS College say they have found a healthy spirit of academic freedom and open inquiry at Yale-NUS College.
The report said the college had three main concerns about the module: its academic rigour, the legal risk to students posed by the experiential component, and the political balance of the syllabus.
It said several revisions were proposed by staff and students, including an inter-group dialogue to allow students to exchange views before taking part in an off-campus activity and a visit by a well-known sociologist.
But the instructor "rejected all such revisions, thus contributing to concerns about whether he intended to offer critical engagement in the module", the report said.
The original syllabus had included designing protest signs and carrying them to Hong Lim Park.
The Curriculum Committee chair emphasised that the committee did not think that engaging in activism was a legitimate credit-bearing activity irrespective of whether the protests were legal or illegal.
Mr Alfian later suggested that these were "simulations" of political protests, the report said.
Prof Lewis said that the college had legitimate academic and legal reasons to cancel the module, but he added that the legal risk assessment should have been done sooner and the instructor should have been given a clearer explanation sooner of the inadequacy of the materials he submitted.
Prof Salovey said that after reviewing the report, he is reassured of Yale-NUS' strong commitment to academic freedom.
"I am proud of Yale's involvement with Yale-NUS and would like to express my confidence in its faculty and leadership," he said.
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