It seems that the NUS-Yale University joint liberal arts school is set to open its door next year but not without controversy. A resolution just passed by the Yale faculty professors voted 100 to 69. Yale professor of African-American studies and French, Christopher Miller says, “It might be mainly symbolic but it is an important symbol.”
Why is it that all of a sudden the Singapore government is keen on the liberal arts. It was never interested in liberal arts education. In fact we heard that even top schools or junior colleges discourage their students from taking up literature or history subjects. They are difficult to score. It’s easier to score in the hard sciences and maths. That has been the mentality and mindset of our parents and the education system.
Liberal Arts which covers biological and social sciences as well as humanities can be interpreted generally as not relating to the professional, vocational or technical curricula. Hopefully with the brand name of Yale with more than 300 years of tradition and one of the best learning institutions in US if not the world, tied to our NUS, the government hopes to change this entrenched mindset.
Now back to the question of why the government has suddenly taken a keen interest on liberal arts education?
Science and technology have been promoted for decades and have been key drivers of the economy for this tiny but affluent island-state.
“A liberal arts education is a new thing for most Singaporeans,” said Kirpal Singh, an English literature and creative thinking lecturer at the Singapore Management University (SMU).
“Ours has been quite a sustained ‘pragmatic’ society which, basically, has adhered to a somewhat utilitarian philosophy of education, instrumentalist in its goals,” Singh told University World News, referring to the need for education to be linked closely to economic goals.
But he believes liberal arts education will be vital to ensure Singapore’s continued economic growth.
“Our current socio-political system is fast becoming outmoded,” Singh said. “If we are not careful, we are going to be left way behind the rest of the world in terms of the way citizens think – and consequently feel – about crucial issues confronting a globalised world.”
The liberal arts in the US are seen as developing critical and analytical thinking through literature and the arts, and opening young minds to other cultural traditions, valuable for even scientists in a globalised world.
A liberal arts degree would bring about “much-needed changes, even transformation, in the way Singaporeans think about things”, Singh said.
“The new economy is rapidly moving away from a narrow, traditional focus on science and technology,” he said, adding that “thinking imaginatively” about science and technology will take over from merely using the available tools.
Simply put we are not short of scholars and top brains but they have chosen non liberal arts. Look at those leaders we have. One after another making public statements that seem to incur the ire of the public. Gaffes after blunders one after another followed by ‘misquoted’, ‘misrepresented’, ‘out of context, etc to explain away their faux pas!
After so many decades of government, they now realize that that they need leaders from the liberal arts!
Next why those professors opposed vehemently against us citing our ‘lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore …’ also ‘to respect, protect and further principles of non-discrimination for all, including sexual minorities and migrant workers; and to uphold civil liberty and political freedom …’
The one hundred Yale professors who approved this resolution can’t be that dumb? Don’t forget that they train the best brains the world has to offer! Many became leaders in the country.
There must be something to it. It definitely speaks volume of our reputation in the eyes of those intellectuals in terms of our human rights record and freedom of speech.
Of course we are not as bad as Burma or North Korea. We are much better than those two pariah states. But still there is much to improve on. They didn’t condemn us wholesale. They just feel that we need to do more and not up to their standards which ‘these ideals lie at the heart of liberal arts education.’ They do not want to be associated with us cuz we are definitely far away from them! It’s like comparing between heaven and hell.
FULL TEXT OF THE YALE COLLEGE FACULTY RESOLUTION:
“We, the Yale College Faculty, express our concern regarding the history of lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore, host of Yale-National University of Singapore College,” the resolution reads.
“We urge Yale-NUS to respect, protect and further principles of non-discrimination for all, including sexual minorities and migrant workers, and to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society.
“These ideals lie at the heart of liberal arts education as well as our civic sense as citizens, and they ought not to be compromised.”
Let me give you a recent classic example to substantiate my point.
Yes I’m referring to the Hougang by-election issue.
AGC files appeal on judge’s Hougang by-election ruling
Yahoo! Newsroom – Thu, 5th Apr 2012 11:48 AM
An appeal against a High Court judge’s ruling to hear the case on when a by-election in Hougang should be called was filed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on Thursday, according to various media reports.
Judge Philip Pillai earlier on Tuesday granted the application of Hougang resident Vellama Marie Muthu asking the High Court to determine the Prime Minister’s discretionary powers in calling for a by-election in the single-member constituency of Hougang.
The hearing for her application was set for April 16, but this may be delayed as the High Court cannot proceed unless the Court of Appeal has heard the AGC’s appeal, reported Channel NewsAsia.
Objecting to AGC’s appeal, Vellama’s lawyer, M Ravi, said on Thursday that it should not be heard until after Pillai had issued the grounds for his ruling.
At the heart of the Hougang case are questions of whether the Prime Minister has the option to call a by-election, and when he should call one in situations where a parliamentary seat is made vacant for various reasons.
Last Friday, AGC chief counsel David Chong had argued that since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had already said, on 9 March, that he “intend[s]” to call a by-election in the vacated seat of Hougang, there “is no executive decision that could legitimately be the subject of a judicial review.”
Chong also argued that “a court’s power to intervene in an act of the Executive is premised… on there being a controversy requiring such intervention.” He said that “[there] is no such controversy in the present case.”
M Ravi submitted that the Prime Minister’s words – that he will decide “whether and when” to call a by-election in Hougang – had thrown up questions about his discretionary powers under the law.
M Ravi also took issue with the Prime Minister’s other statement – that he “intends” to call a by-election in Hougang. This showed that the Prime Minister thought he had the option in calling a by-election, M Ravi said.
The PM could, he argued, cancel plans for a by-election in Hougang if the PM chose to. An intention is not the same as a mandatory act required under the law, he explained, which the calling of a by-election is.
Why must the AG chambers file a last minute desperate appeal to strike off the hearing already decided by the High Court judge? Is the AGC the legal personal counsel for the PM or the government of the day?
Since there is much confusion with many interpretations, even our local law academics giving different views and meanings to the intricacies of the law why not let the court decide and interpret the law once and for all? The Judiciary is to interpret the law of the land. They are not interested to “usurp” or “interfere” with the executive arm of government.
Let’s be open hearted about the whole issue. Since a poor resident of Hougang is demanding her right to vote for her own MP to represent her interests why should the powerful state organ obstruct? The honorable high court judge has decided that there is a prima facie case and his lordship is merely acting on the petitioner’s right to be heard. Is it too much? Is it not a waste of time and money?
If the PM had just declared from the onset by election for Hougang to be held within three months this court case need not arise! More procrastination leads to more controversy. With each passing day as the wayang unfolds, the noises also get louder and deafening! So much for decisiveness.
Whatever you may say or argue whether in the High Court or Food Court – until the cows come home, the sacred fundamental right of a citizen – universal suffrage – should never be violated, compromised nor denied! Not at your discretion or whim and fancy.
It is as simple as that! I think the 100 Yale professors will definitely concur with what I just said.
It must be so!