Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is there student freedom at NUS? Yes? No?


Two overseas students who studied in NUS debate about the academic freedom at NUS. Walker Vincoli is a senior in the UNC-NUS (University of North Carolina-National University of Singapore) Joint Degree Program. He studied in Singapore in the fall semesters of 2010 and 2011 as a Phillips Ambassador. He wrote a letter to Yale Daily News about his experience studying in Singapore claiming that there is no student freedom at NUS.

He writes: "Singapore is not a free country and NUS is not a free university. The litmus test for academic freedom, to me, is the ability of students and faculty to engage their own country’s politics. In Singapore’s case, this happens in PS2249 at NUS: 'Government and Politics of Singapore.' I sat in stunned silence week after week as the professor recounted anecdotes of People’s Action Party interference in previous iterations of the class. Lower your criticism of the PAP, he had been told. Reduce your coverage of opposition parties. These little comments peppered the lectures as he covered the basic function of Singapore’s political apparatus.

When writing my midterm paper on press freedom in Singapore, I toned down criticism of the courts’ decisions in successful lawsuits against The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, partly due to a fear of retaliatory grading and partly because I worried my paper broke the law against scandalizing the court."


Another foreign student disagrees. Joseph Daniels studied at NUS in 2011. He is a junior in the UNC-NUS Joint Degree Program. He counters that academic freedom is alive in Singapore.

He writes: "Singaporean students I talked to when I studied at NUS never said they felt unduly restricted or pressured in their speech or votes. The May elections revealed some Singaporeans’ deep-seated dissatisfaction with growing inequality, the high cost of housing and general disconnect between the state and the people.

Singapore’s ban on spontaneous or non-permitted protest is a legitimate problem, but just because there is an apparent limitation on freedom does not mean that it is a debilitating limit or that Singaporeans do not have other avenues to express their concerns. December train breakdowns that left thousands stranded combined with a general economic slowdown triggered an uproar of dissatisfaction that led to a major review of ministerial salaries at the insistence of the general public.

Singapore, while by no means perfect, is not a country wholly without freedom. Freedom isn’t defined in a world of black and white but in a world of gray that lacks universal logics of societal comparison."

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