Two seemingly unrelated articles in the Straits Times caught my eye on 14 October.
The first article was yet another scathing Forum letter ("Don wasn't non-partisan in his analysis") by Chen Hwai Liang, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary. Once again, NTU academic Dr Cherian George was lambasted for certain views that he had expressed about how the Singapore government manages civil disobedience.
The second article that caught my eye was "Warwick's S'pore plan hits uncertainty". At the invitation of the Economic Development Board, Warwick University had been looking seriously into setting up a branch in Singapore. But now Warwick's senate has voted 27-13 against the idea. Why?
According to the Straits Times, the Warwick senate's "overriding concern" was the issue of academic freedom in Singapore. In particular, Warwick's arts and social studies departments expressed "overwhelming opposition" to the idea of Warwick setting up a branch in Singapore.
Taking the Chen-vs-George episode as an example of the way things are done in Singapore, are we surprised to hear about the Warwick professors' grave concerns? Surely not. There is a lesson to be learned here and I hope that our government can see it. Till then, Singapore is the loser.
For more background, read these Singapore bloggers' posts and commentaries:
Singapore Classics - I Not Stupid.
Mr Wang Says So - Calibrated Coercion.
Zyl (Ringisei) - By the Will of the Heavens.
The University of Warwick has a student newspaper, the Warwick Boar, which has been reporting on the Warwick-Singapore issue. In comparison to the Straits Times, the Warwick Boar articles give the reader a more direct sense of the university staff's concerns about the proposal to set up shop in Singapore. Here is an excerpt from one of the articles:
Human rights are an issue that ought not to be ignored when thinking of Warwick in Singapore - the cannabis issue that is still so controversial here in Coventry will be incredibly more so in Singapore, with the penalty for being found with cannabis in the country being death. This is one emotive example of the inconsistencies and problems that will have to be properly thought of and considered when a move to Singapore takes place.
And here is an excerpt from another article:
Many academics were concerned over the realities of academic research in a country where political protest is banned, censorship is a reality and homosexuality is illegal. The harshly worded message asks for guarantees that "its campus in Singapore should enjoy the same degree of academic freedom as its campus in the UK."There are also concerns about issues such as the financial costs of setting up in Singapore.
It also asks for "specific exemptions" from a range of Singaporean laws including those that limit freedom of speech and association. It explicitly cites examples of a Gay Pride society or students campaigning against the death penalty as activities that it expects Warwick students to be able to do without government interference.