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Alfian Sa'at disputes report on cancelled dissent module at Yale-NUS College

Alfian Sa'at disputes report on cancelled dissent module at Yale-NUS College

(Photos: Wild Rice website, Facebook/Yale-NUS College)

SINGAPORE: Playwright Alfian Sa’at has responded to a report by Yale University on the decision by Yale-NUS College to cancel a module on dissent and protest.

Mr Alfian, who was due to teach the module titled Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore, released a statement on Facebook on Friday (Oct 4) disputing claims made by the report’s author, Yale University’s vice-president Professor Pericles Lewis.

In his report released on Sep 29, Prof Lewis had raised three main concerns about the proposed module - its academic rigour, the legal risk to students due to a "simulated" protest and the political balance of the syllabus. Mr Alfian had also rejected proposed revisions to the module made by staff and students, Prof Lewis' report said.

The week-long programme curated by Mr Alfian was cancelled on Sep 13, two weeks before it was due to start.

In his statement on Facebook, Mr Alfian said that he did not resist suggested revisions and had volunteered to take out an activity that the college was "nervous" about.

Responding to queries by TODAY on Mr Alfian's Facebook statement, Yale-NUS College president Tan Tai Yong said there were “correspondences and meetings” with Mr Alfian to revise the content before the start of the module.

However, Prof Tan said that "the changes were inadequate, did not meet academic standards, and still included elements that could subject students to the risk of breaking the law".

According to Mr Alfian’s version of events, he was approached by a staff member at the college on Mar 15 to submit a proposal for its Learning Across Boundaries programme for September and October.

Mr Alfian said he was informed on Jun 26 that his proposed syllabus had been approved by the curriculum committee. He added there was no mention of a “conditional approval”, which was suggested in Prof Lewis’ report.

READ: Yale-NUS underlines commitment to academic freedom after cancellation of course on dissent in Singapore

Prof Lewis' report also said that curriculum committee found that Mr Alfian, while an accomplished playwright, did not have academic expertise in the area of the proposed module. 

On the risk of students breaking the law, Mr Alfian said he was aware of the legal risks involved in having international students take part in activities at Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park.

In his Facebook post he said he was “especially mindful” of holding a workshop there and took steps to address this issue – but they were deemed “unsatisfactory” by the college.

Mr Alfian also refuted claims made by the college he was “unreachable”. In his post, he said he had meetings with several people.

“On Aug 1, I had a meeting with Person A, Person B and Person C,” wrote Mr Alfian.

“The feedback relayed to me was concern over whether the students might be inspired to stage some kind of political action on campus, such as protesting, picketing, having sit ins or pasting posters without authorisation. I assured everyone this would not happen.”

According to TODAY, Prof Tan said Mr Alfian was one “many faculty members whom a staff member had spoken to regarding any potential interest to run projects”.

He added that the college decided to withdraw the project as there was insufficient time to make changes to the programme that were requested by the college.

“(Mr Alfian) showed openness to making additional changes on Sep 11, but he was unable to meet with our staff to develop the substantive changes required as he was leaving for an overseas trip.”

Prof Tan also said that Yale-NUS College recognised there were a “number of administrative errors that were made in the process of considering this project”, which he added were identified by Prof Lewis’ report.

Source: CNA/rw(aj)

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