Ivy League divided about going global

Yale University plans to open controversial satellite campus in Singapore

Kate Lieb By Kate Lieb

Yale plans to expand beyond its New Haven campus. (Reuters)

Next year, Yale plans to collaborate with the National University of Singapore to open a new liberal arts college in the Asian nation.

According to the Yale Daily News, many Yale professors and students are opposed to the establishment of Yale-NUS because of the country’s lack of civil liberties. In an interview with the publication, political science lecturer Mark Oppenheimer said, “it puts Yale in the position of administering a campus that’s not 100 percent politically and intellectually free, and that subverts Yale’s values.”

As World Report 2012 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out: ”Government officials continue to maintain that religious and ethnic differences have ‘the potential to cause friction and divide Singaporeans’ and therefore necessitate restrictions on free speech. Outdoor gatherings of five or more persons require police permits.” The report goes on to outline other human rights violations including the caning of prisoners convicted of crimes like rape and drug trafficking and the criminalization of consensual sexual relations between adult men.

However, John Riady, an Associate Professor of Law at the Pelita Harapan University in Indonesia, penned an opinion piece for The Jakarta Globe that offers an alternative view.

“Singapore and Asia are in the middle of great transitions, and Yale has an opportunity to shape that process and put its stamp on a rising continent,” he writes. “In fact, Yale would be doing the cause of liberty a disservice by dropping the project.”

Riady also notes that the country has undergone many changes in regard to freedom. For example, he said the 2011 elections permitted dissenting views and led to the smallest ever margin of victory for the ruling party (a fact acknowledged by HRW). He also cites examples of social control easing up, like permitting bar-top dancing, “Sex and the City” being shown on TV and the sale of chewing gum (with some restrictions).

If Yale does indeed open the school as planned, it wouldn’t be the first time an American university established operations in a foreign country. In fact, the university wouldn’t even be the first Ivy League school to have an international campus.

Cornell’s medical school has a campus in Qatar offering the same degree opportunities as the one in New York City. With its launch in 2002, it was one of the first American universities to establish a campus there. It is also the first American medical school in a foreign country. The school is located in a gleaming glass-and-steel hub of learning outside Doha, the capital, called “Education City.”

Education City

Started as an initiative by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, Education City ”is envisioned as a Center of Excellence in education and research that will help transform Qatar into a knowledge-based society.” A key part of this transformation is collaborating with universities across the globe to bring their resources there. Schools besides Weill Cornell Medical College that have campuses in Education City include:

-       Virginia Commonwealth University

-       Texas A&M

-       Carnegie Mellon

-       Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service

-       Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism

Risky Business

To establish these foreign universities, it takes a huge financial investment. While places like Qatar underwrite funding for the schools, they still have to attract students to their satellite campuses. According to an article by Boston.com, many universities rushed to foreign countries to expand their brands but have lost a lot of money in the process.

Most notably, Michigan State University and George Mason attempted to establish satellite campuses in Dubai. In 2010, Michigan State pulled out of Dubai after just two years because it failed to attract enough students. In fact, it failed to recruit even a quarter of the students it had planned for. As for George Mason, its Dubai campus was shuttered in 2009 before its inaugural class could graduate.

Meanwhile Harvard has announced it will not follow rival Yale’s lead. It has no intention of building any undergrad campuses abroad, according to its student newspaper The Crimson.  Jorge Dominguez, Harvard’s vice provost for international affairs, said the university believes there are better ways of utilizing its resources and said opening campuses abroad is a “fad.”

“I’m not in the McDonald’s franchising business,” he said.