Silenced on campus

By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  June 26, 2013

YALE UNIVERSITY

Yale University has cheerfully accepted restrictions of academic and political freedom on its new Singapore campus. Named "Yale-NUS," the Singapore campus is a joint venture with the National University of Singapore and is the first new campus to bear the Yale name in 300 years.

Singapore — known for its broad restrictions on speech and assembly rights — is not an ideal place in which a university supposedly committed to academic freedom should open up a namesake branch. Though Yale President Pericles Lewis asserts that students "are going to be totally free to express their views" at Yale-NUS, he adds the caveat that they "won't have partisan politics or be forming political parties on campus." Perhaps sensing Lewis's misunderstanding of what "totally free" means, the Yale faculty adopted a resolution detailing their concerns with the university's opening a campus in a country where homosexuality is criminalized and the authoritarian government restricts speech, assembly, and the press to create what it calls order and harmony. Human Rights Watch also excoriated Yale, asserting in a press release that Yale's "acceptance of Singaporean government restrictions on basic rights . . . shows a disturbing disregard for free speech, association, and assembly."

Universities such as Yale (and NYU, which Human Rights Watch has also criticized for kowtowing to censorship on its foreign campuses) should be using their international influence to promote academic freedom. If they are not up to the task, they should contain their excessive franchise-building to places whose laws do not flagrantly violate the basic principles underlying American higher education.

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