Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Campus Activism banned at Yale-NUS Liberal Arts College

In Singapore Politics on July 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I was at first delighted at the prospect of a new liberal arts college in Singapore. The Yale-NUS campus symbolized that Singapore was moving towards freedom of expression and intellectual rigour, and it was testament to the notion that we were becoming a more genuine democracy, where young citizens like myself could engage in political discourse.

However, the average reasonable person would be able to see the blatant hypocrisy that exists in Yale’s new Singapore campus. It is meant to be a Liberal Arts college, but it’s not at all “Liberal”. It is hilariously yet painfully ironic how Yale, an Ivy League University that comes from a country that prizes liberty above all else, has accepted Singapore government’s limitations on campus activism. Students will not be allowed to form political clubs and parties, and demonstrations will be prohibited on campus, just like in any other part of Singapore. So much for feeling optimistic about becoming a more genuine democracy. Campus activism and political discourse on campus is the epitome of freedom, and if we can call ourselves a first-world country, why can’t we become a first-world democracy?

Singapore is known for being pragmatic, and I believe it would be very practical for us to invest in campus activism. The ruling party constantly bemoans the fact that we have a shortage of good, talented political leaders (and it’s because they’re so scarce that we have to attract them with million-dollar salaries). If this is true, let us begin a culture of political discourse and allow boisterous youth brimming with fresh ideas to come forth and speak freely. The problem that our country is facing now is that we don’t have enough young people who are interested in politics and will be open to the prospect of entering the political scene. Why? Because to them, their political views don’t matter and everything is going to be taken care of by the “gahmen”. Also, even if they do have strong political views of their own, they are far too afraid to speak up (except in anonymity on the internet), because they know our country is not one that values freedom of expression. That is an extremely unhealthy political scene, and our supply of talented politicians will soon dry up. It is in our country’s interests to encourage youth to think, to speak and to care about politics, and that will allow for a new generation of talented political leaders to emerge. That is the kind of Liberal Arts culture that we should be trying to promote.

Yale’s agreement to prohibit any and all forms of campus activism is a cause for great disappointment. It will only serve to make our political scene duller, when, in fact, this college was meant to make it more vibrant. Moving forward, I hope Yale and the Singapore authorities will continue to find a way to facilitate campus activism without disrupting the social harmony that we enjoy. I am not suggesting that we allow for political demonstrations on the streets of Singapore, but at least on university campuses, youthful idealism should be allowed to flow freely and unhindered.

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