Yale-NUS College cancels course teaching students about dissent & resistance in S'pore

The course would have seen students learning how to design protest signs.

Andrew Koay| September 14, 11:25 PM

16 first-year Yale-NUS students, who might have been looking forward to learning about the various modes of dissent and resistance in Singapore, will have to take other courses instead.

This comes after the college decided to withdraw a course titled “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore”, a decision that Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong says was not taken lightly.

Explaining the cancellation

Explaining the course's cancellation, Tan said that the proposed activities did not align with the learning objectives that were earlier approved by the Curriculum Committee.

Tan also said that the programme did not "critically engage with the range of perspectives required for a proper academic examination of the political, social and ethical issues that surround dissent".

More importantly, Tan was concerned that the proposed activities would "infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus" and expose their students to "the risk of breaking the law, and incurring legal liabilities".

According to Tan, the course — cancelled two weeks before the course was set to take place — was one of the 14 projects offered under Yale-NUS' Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) project.

A write-up of the programme that was previously accessible online reported that the course was expected to run from September 29 to October 5.

Tan further said because the project was due to start within the next two weeks, "we have assessed that there is insufficient time to make arrangements for a fresh set of activities which would meet the learning objectives that were earlier approved".

Watching documentaries and designing protest signs

It would have been led by local playwright Alfian Sa'at in collaboration with Yale-NUS college's programme manager Tan Yock Theng.

According to a Facebook post by Alfian in May earlier this year, the programme would have cover topics "from citizen journalism to artistic works, from 'accommodationist’ tactics such as pragmatic resistance to ‘radical’ strategies of civil disobedience."

"The program will examine the political, social and ethical issues that surround democratic dissent in authoritarian societies," wrote the playwright.

The online outline of the programme had included activities such as a screening of Singaporean independent film-maker Jason Soo's 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy and a workshop on designing protest signs.

1987: Untracing the Conspiracy is a documentary about the detainees arrested under the Internal Security Act for their part in an alleged Marxist conspiracy in 1987.

There was also set to be a panel discussion with freelance journalist Kirsten Han, veteran journalist P N Balji and historian Thum Ping Tjin.

Speaking to ST, Alfian noted that the online outline of the course was a tentative version.

The final version that he had sent to Yale-NUS was eventually rejected.

This final programme outline included some changes, such as Han holding a democracy classroom that did not involve Balji or Thum.

Criticism from Han

Han, who would have been involved in the programme, was critical of its cancellation, sharing her thoughts in a series of tweets:

"In Singapore, anything that doesn't conform to the establishment view can be tarred as 'anti-PAP' and suddenly becomes partisan," she wrote.

"Conversely, the PAP can skew national-level discourse for their party gain — even when they speak in schools and other institutions — and this is never described as partisan but just 'the government view'."

Han also asked if there was "now a tightening of control" over Yale-NUS, which was once "known as a bubble of liberal freedom in Singapore".

Support for the cancellation

However, not everyone agreed with Han.

Some commenters on social media supported the cancellation of the course.

There was also a comment from former nominated member of parliament Calvin Cheng, who proposed a different university collaboration:


Top image via Yale-NUS College admissions Facebook page and Anthony Kwan/Getty Images