Yale, Money Lust, Academic Freedom & Singapore

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/20/2012 03:19:00 AM
There's much talk about how American academia differs from British academia. Separated by a common language and all that as applied to the ivory towers. To me, nowhere is this more evident than in views about revenue generation in academia. Unlike in the US, nearly all quality UK institutions of higher learning are government-funded. This situation cuts both ways: On one hand, British universities appear underfunded relative to their American peers. What's more, often lacking real incentives to "market" themselves, they have not been as active in the global craze to establish satellite campuses in places such as the Middle East or Singapore. On the other hand, they may be truer to such things as academic freedom in not pursuing extensions that go against deeply-held principles.

All this brings me to the recent news that Yale University has set up shop in Singapore in partnership with NUS, together with attendant controversies arising over academic freedom in the city-state. It's not as if Yale needs more cash; I believe it's down to an attitudinal difference between American and British academics.As I've mentioned before, Americans are generally easy to understand in seeking their material interests first and foremost. Despite staying in Britain for quite some time, I cannot necessarily say the same of the British, who have eccentric preoccupations and hang-ups that are not easily understood--alike profiting off higher education, for instance. (Sociologists like suggesting that they're still searching for a identity after loss of empire though I have my doubts.)

So, even if Yale has the second largest endowment among American universities at a whopping $19.4 billion, it is not particularly surprising that it has sought to parlay its name in spinning even more cash in Singapore despite the obvious risks to its reputation for academic freedom (whatever that is):
[The Yale] Singapore campus won't allow political protests, nor will it permit students to form partisan political societies. The venture has come under sharp criticism from Yale professors and rights advocates who say the New Haven, Conn.-based school's mission as a haven for free thought and expression is incompatible with Singapore's tightly controlled political system, which includes restrictions on public assembly, limitations on free speech, and laws that criminalize homosexuality.

Students at the new school "are going to be totally free to express their views," but they won't be allowed to organize political protests on campus, said Pericles Lewis, the college's new president, in an interview last week.
While I am amused by the spin, the honest truth is that the Yale folks would not have to apply so much of it if their Singaporean students didn't have to toe the government line so much. Certainly I'm not much of a stickler about academic freedom, but some people who trumpet it far more seem to have an uncanny ability to paint themselves into a corner.

In contrast to Yale, consider the UK's Warwick University. Especially given its emphasis on the social sciences, it had reason to believe that its reputation would be damaged by setting up shop in Singapore. And so unlike Yale, it scuttled its Singapore dream when it had the chance to set up a full-fledged university there and not just a piddling satellite campus:
Meanwhile, many people are asking what went wrong with Warwick? That may be best answered by how Warwick's supreme governing body - the senate - expressed its displeasure through its 48 members. It would appear the snub was all about the school's lifestyle and reputation - in essence the "Warwick way of life".

The bottom line was that Warwick's senate was concerned about academic freedom, Reuters news agency reported. "In the absence of a positive commitment from the academic community, [the council] resolves not to proceed with the plan for a second comprehensive campus of the University of Warwick, in Singapore," the university said in a statement.

Thio Li-ann, a Singapore law professor who drew up an advisory report for Warwick University, warned the school that "the government will intervene if academic reports cast a negative light on their policies", Reuters reported. Singapore requires foreign educational institutions to abstain from interfering in its domestic affairs.
Well there's one surefire way to deal with the matter of academic freedom in a way that doesn't put one's reputation at stake: don't go to Singapore altogether if that's what concerns you. Again, I believe it boils down to a matter of attitudinal difference. Despite all the lip service to academic freedom, Americans will ultimately follow the money. Meanwhile, the more complicated British will often be...more conflicted about putting profit ahead of principles (among those who care about such things at least).

And no, I don't believe anyone is particularly convinced by Yale's apologetics. It's all about the money, though some are more ashamed to admit it than I would be for instance under the pretence of academic integrity.