September 2019 – Yale-NUS College cancelled a programme on dissent and resistance, reopening the debate over whether Yale University had sacrificed academic freedom in order to open a joint venture in Singapore. Below is a selection of articles on the incident, as well as several articles on liberal arts education written prior to the latest controversy.


‘Academic rigor’ in service of the state

By Wee Yang Soh – This piece addresses Yale-NUS’s position as an institution of knowledge production, arguing that claims to a putatively neutral “rigor” allow a hypersensitive state to use the College’s stances in ways that end up going against values of pluralism, respect for diversity, and academic rigor. In The Octant, 18 October 2019.

Safeguarding the spirit of academic freedom and open inquiry in Singapore

By Harpreet Singh Nehal – This episode raises an important issue of public policy in Singapore – the proper scope of academic freedom and open inquiry at our universities. There is no question that there are limits. The real question is where should those limits be drawn? – Read Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal’s analysis on this website.

Statements by key players

February 2020 statement by Alfian Sa’at

By Alfian Sa’at – Alfian has published some further personal reflections on Facebook regarding the incident with Yale-NUS. These have been reproduced on this website, with the author’s permission.

LATEST: Yale faculty resolution demands more oversight over Yale-NUS

10 December 2019 – Yale University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, a 22-member elected body, has demanded that Yale faculty be given more say when handling future episodes involving free speech and academic independence at Yale-NUS. Its resolution is an implied rebuke of the Pericles Lewis investigation. Download from the Yale FAS Senate site.

Report on cancellation of LAB module on “Dialogue and dissent”

By Pericles Lewis – The Vice President and Vice Provost of Yale’s report into the incident. On the Yale website, 28 September 2019.

Further statements by Alfian Sa’at

By Alfian Sa’at – Through public Facebook posts, Alfian offered an account of various interactions with Yale-NUS regarding the development of the course, including discussions pertaining to risk and balance. These were first posted on Alfian’s Facebook profile over the course of 3-5 October 2019 and have been compiled and reproduced on this website on 6 October 2019 for ease of reading.

Statement by Alfian Sa’at

By Alfian Sa’at – The author states that the narrative produced by Yale and Yale-NUS regarding the cancellation was at odds with his own experience of interacting with the college. In Facebook, 2 October 2019, and reproduced on this website, 3 October 2019, with the author’s permission.

Speech by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

By Ong Ye Kung – A speech given by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung to Parliament, reproduced in full. In The Straits Times, 7 October 2019.

Dissent & Resistance at Yale-NUS College

By Andrew M. Bailey – An Associate Professor at Yale-NUS offers his personal views on the incident. On his website, 21 September 2019.

News reports

Faculty senate questions Yale’s relationship in Singapore

By Joyce Lau – The cancellation of the “Dialogue and Dissent” class at Yale-NUS College in Singapore has prompted the Yale University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate to recommend changes to the handling of “episodes involving free speech and academic independence”. In Times Higher Education, 26 January 2020.

FAS Senate debates Lewis’ report

By Matt Kristoffersen – A discussion of the notes published from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate meetings in December 2019. On Yale Daily News, 22 January 2020.

Academic freedom warning after Yale-NUS ‘dissent’ course scrapped

By Joyce Lau – While there is no evidence that the Ministry of Education directly told the university to cancel the course, critics have asked if self-censorship was at play. In Times Higher Education, 12 October 2019.

Instructor of Canceled Yale-NUS Course Speaks Out

By Elizabeth Redden – This article describes some of the points of dispute between Alfian Sa’at and Yale-NUS, and includes a response from former founding president of Yale-NUS, Pericles Lewis. In Inside Higher Ed, 7 October 2019.

Instructor of Canceled Yale-NUS Course Speaks Out

By Elizabeth Redden – This article describes some of the points of dispute between Alfian Sa’at and Yale-NUS, and includes a response from former founding president of Yale-NUS, Pericles Lewis. In Inside Higher Ed, 7 October 2019.

Decision to cancel Yale-NUS module on dissent made without government interference: Yale president

By Rei Kurohi – While a number of mostly administrative errors were made in the process of considering the module, the Yale Faculty Advisory Committee found that the evidence does not suggest any violations of academic freedom or open inquiry. In The Straits Times, 30 September 2019.

At Yale’s venture in Singapore, a canceled course on dissent prompts censorship claims

By Shibani Mahtani – The decision has revived a debate on whether American liberal arts colleges and other Western universities compromise their values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas when they expand into places with restrictive political climates. In the Washington Post, 27 September 2019.

Academic freedom concerns as Yale-NUS course is scrapped

By Yojana Sharma – The scrapping of the course has caused much debate in Singapore over whether suspending such an event contravenes the liberal arts college’s claim to uphold academic freedom. In University World News, 16 September 2019.

Singapore Yale-NUS College’s class on dissent ‘not training for Hong Kong-style protests’

By Dewey Sim – This article presents a range of views from academics, speakers, students and others on the cancellation of the course and its implications for political debate. In SCMP, 16 September 2019.

Yale-NUS College Cancels Course on Dissent

By Elizabeth Redden – The president of Yale, Peter Salovey, expressed concern about the cancellation of the course and said Yale would review the decision to cancel the program. In Inside Higher Ed, 16 September 2019.

Pre-2019 commentaries and papers

Liberal Arts for Asians

By Petrus Liu & Colleen Lye – The essay analyses the curricular design process of the college’s ‘literature and humanities’ common curriculum course, as well as one faculty member’s experience of teaching a course on modern Chinese literature and film, to highlight both the potential and the challenges of liberal arts education in the context of Singapore’s postcoloniality and neoliberal economy. Published in Interventions (2016) 18:4 DOI: 10.1080/1369801X.2015.1126194. PDF available at Academia.edu

Is Yale a Reliable Partner for NUS?

Michael Montesano turns on its head the question of whether Singaporean universities are worthy partners for the Ivy Leagues. A long-time Singapore resident, Yale alum, and former NUS faculty member, Montesano shows how Yale was reckless in its pursuit of the partnership, raising doubts about its ability to be a responsible long-term partner for Singapore. In Global Higher Ed, 3 April 2012.

Why 1 + 1 = 3 at Yale-NUS

Daryl Yang, a student of Yale-NUS, suggests that liberal education should not avail itself only to societies that already subscribe to liberal values. – In Medium, 12 March 2018