My prediction about Yale-NUS going six feet under came true.

By Dr Chee Soon Juan

I spoke at Yale University in 2012 and expressed my misgivings about the Yale-NUS project. The closure of the university – and after hundreds of millions of our taxpayer’s funds wasted – has made what I said come true. Below are excerpts of my speech at New Haven:

"When it was first announced that Yale would be setting up a campus with NUS in Singapore, I had my reservations, but I kept my own counsel. My colleagues and I in the Singapore Democratic Party cautiously welcomed the set up.

I fear – and I sincerely hope that I will be proven wrong on this – that the Yale leadership does not, like American multinational corporations that have come before it, cynically look to make that quick and easy dollar from Singaporeans while completely disregard what such actions would do to our society.

My experience with foreign academic institutions leads me to be very skeptical of their claims to want to provide Singaporeans with the best that academia can muster.

I fear, despite all the assurances, and because of what I have seen of what corporate America together with the Singapore state has done to my country, that making money is the be-all and end-all of all that is collaborated. I hope you can see why the Yale-NUS venture leaves me suspicious of Yale's motives – whether you are there to educate or simply to line your own pockets. I have never yearned so much to be proven wrong...

Asian values under the guise of Confucianism, have been used by the Singapore government to steer the people away from democracy which, it argues, will hamper economic progress. I argue the opposite – and data bear me out – that openness and accountability, in other words democracy, is essential for the economic advancement of a people.

But that's not the point.

Others argue that democracy is a Western concept not suited to an Eastern culture like Singapore. The irony is that it was the West that subjugated and oppressed Singapore, together with much of Asia, for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Freedom from colonialism was not given but won; the rebellion was instinctual. In short, the longing for freedom is not Asian or Western – it is primordial.

But that's not the point either.

Humankind must not live in a world where the poor and the elderly live off the crumbs that fall off the rich man's table; where Westerners, with the help of autocratic governments, exploit the locals in the countries that they invest in. Instead, we must work out a way to live in peace and on the premise that human equals human.

That's the point.

For a struggling American worker is no different from a struggling Singaporean worker. We're first and foremost human beings: when oppressed, we long to be free; when exploited, we seek to break that yoke.

And if you care enough that education at this revered institution will prepare you for a life that not just enables you to get ahead but to also improve the lot of those around you, of humanity, then you will also care that Yale University not yield on the principles of higher education on which it is founded.

You will want this proud arena of intellection to care that it upholds its reputation of imparting not just knowledge but wisdom – the wisdom that invites one to enter the door of his or her conscience.

I can only hope that as we progress into the future, as the global community becomes more intertwined and our interests become increasingly linked, that our values – the values that people come before profit, rights before riches and wisdom before wealth – will also become inextricably bound."

This first appeared as a post on the Facebook wall of Dr Chee Soon Juan on 30 August 2021. Do join in the discussion over there if you have thoughts to share.


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