Quartz is an American digital news site that started in 2012.
Recently, one of its writers Amy X. Wang published an article on the site with some supposedly critical points about Singapore’s Yale-NUS college, which was set up as a partnership with the National University of Singapore.
Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a backlash from the students here.
This was because Wang had written about several contentious points about the college, which includes:
1) How “Yale’s six-year-old Singapore campus” is harder to get into than the 316-year-old Yale University due to the 5 percent global acceptance rate that it has.
This point appears to suggest a shift in values, or simply because they’re different places with different systems in place?
2) The idea that “many predicted” that Yale-NUS is “now struggling to reconcile Yale’s individualistic values with the country’s restrictions on free speech”.
The reason for this? The “fact” that in 2014, the college “found itself in particularly hot water” because they decided to screen the controversial To Singapore, With Love film.
3) The course curriculum is apparently “superficial” and “fails to deliver”, based on a Today article from 2015.
Wang adds if these concerns were “well-founded”, it could raise the questions of ethics, as it would mean Yale had “set up a campus in another country, lure students there with its brand name, and then offer a diluted caliber of teaching”.
Students refute assertions
To Yale-NUS students, the article talked about outdated issues and glossed over many of the finer points.
Here are some reasons the article didn’t paint an accurate picture of what’s actually happening at Yale-NUS, from the students themselves:
1) Yale-NUS is neither a victim of state overreach nor censorship.
Terence Anthony Wang, writer and arts editor for student publication The Octant, talked about how the Quartz article incorrectly doubted Yale-NUS’s ability to protect free speech.
The Quartz article had suggested that there was a strong authoritarian presence in the college, causing the expected “struggle to reconcile Yale’s individualistic values with the country’s restrictions on free speech”.
This was a wrong assumption, as firstly, the screening didn’t even take place because the filmmaker Tan Pin Pin would not allow for the screening of To Singapore, With Love to take place at Yale-NUS. So, it was not because active objection took place against the film.
According to Wang, Yale-NUS also continues to regularly broadcast other controversial films for discussion.
2) Yale-NUS is neither NUS’s nor Yale’s college.
To say that Yale-NUS belongs to Yale, that it’s under Yale’s branding is kind of factually inaccurate. It’s something that Singaporeans tend to misunderstand as well.
Yale-NUS is an autonomous college. It runs independently from NUS and Yale, meaning that policies and practices have space to vary and change from that of NUS.
That being said, they maintain a “collaborative, supportive and mutually enriching” relationship with both universities. Yale-NUS uses NUS’ facilities to better meet the needs of their students and faculty.
At graduation, students will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours, or a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours from Yale-NUS College, awarded by NUS.
So, Yale doesn’t own the college.
3) There’s no such thing as low academic rigour in Yale, when students participate in competitions, go on self-embarked projects, conduct scientific research and is part of conferences.
Wang emphasised that the claims of low academic rigour as suggested by the example of an old TODAY article are inaccurate.
The academic workload can be gleaned from Capstone projects (final-year projects) created by the graduating 2017 class, built upon the college’s curriculum.
One student embarked on writing creative non-fiction on Hanoi, about the effects of the Vietnam War and Agent Orange on its victims, another developed a full game instead of writing a paper, and one pursued research on migrant workers, suggesting changes to the regulation to help them access and utilise their rest days meaningfully.
The fact that Yale-NUS students have also attended and presented a paper at a global conference in Vienna and also contributed to contemporary academic and scientific research, serves to rebutt the claims of a superficial curriculum.
4) The liberal and liberal arts can thrive in Singapore.
Contrary to the Quartz article which subtly suggests that liberal values didn’t fit well with Singapore, third-year student Daryl Yang, writing for Popspoken, talked about how the university is very much the opposite.
This is because Yale-NUS has a diverse community. For example, it has a growing and vibrant LGBTQ community, with their very own gender and sexuality alliance, The G Spot.
Yang continues to articulate that liberal arts should, precisely, not only remain in areas considered liberal. He quotes a line from another Octant article that “kites have no need for designated parks”.
The metaphor suggests the college’s urge to challenge and question in supposedly rigid Singapore, instead of Yale’s liberal spirit being diluted in any way.
“To suggest that the liberal arts should be reserved only for already “liberal” societies seems strangely self-defeating and no more than chronological snobbery. A liberal education that avails itself only to those deemed worthy because they subscribe to certain “liberal” values is perhaps more illiberal than it likes to think itself to be.”
It sure looks like, to the students, Quartz’s research didn’t have the depth and discussion that they said Yale-NUS’s curriculum was lacking.
Top image via Yale-NUS’ official Facebook page