Yale-NUS President: Dissent & protest legitimate objects of study

The Presidents of Yale-NUS College & Yale University communicated on the issue once the College decided to cancel the course.

Andrew Koay | September 20, 2019, 06:05 PM

Despite the recent cancellation of a week-long compulsory course on dissent in Singapore, Yale-NUS College President Tan Tai Yong said that the topics remain viable within the university's liberal arts program.

Responding to Mothership.sg's queries, Tan explained that "dissent and protest are legitimate objects of study and investigation in university".

The programme, led by Singapore playwright Alfian Sa'at, was cancelled on Sep. 13, two weeks before it was due to start.

It included a workshop on designing protest signs and a tour of the topography of protest.

The professor of humanities said earlier that the proposed activities would expose their students to “the risk of breaking the law, and incurring legal liabilities”.

However, he reiterated the college's desire to remain "fully committed to academic freedom - the freedom to open inquiry, discussion and study".

"That said, any proposed course on dissent and protest must adequately cover the range of perspectives required for a proper academic examination of the surrounding political, social and ethical issues."

Tan further explained that any proposed courses or experiential learning projects would be reviewed by the college's curriculum committee.

When judging the appropriateness of a course, the committee will take into account factors such as academic rigour and curricular balance and fit.

Yale University expresses concern

Meanwhile, according to The Straits TimesYale University responded to the cancellation of the programme by expressing its concerns that such an action might threaten the values of academic freedom and open inquiry.

The U.S. university's president Peter Salovey has also commissioned a fact-finding into the matter, with Yale's Vice-President and Vice-Provost for Global Strategy, and the founding president of Yale-NUS Pericles Lewis to conduct the exercise.

Tan confirmed that he and Salovey had communicated on the issue once the Yale-NUS made the decision to withdraw the programme.

He added that the college would be working with Lewis to assist his fact-finding.

Not designed to train students to protest

Alfian, who in collaboration with programme manager Tan Yock Theng of the university would have led the course, has also responded to news of the cancellation.

In a post on his Facebook page, Alfian clarified that the programme was "not designed to train students 'to stage protests in public'".

"Any comparisons with what is happening in Hong Kong right now is off the mark."

Alfian further shared that he had hoped to guide students to think about dissent in Singapore and that this would have been achieved by giving students unfiltered access to so-called dissidents.

Top image from Yale-NUS Website