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University at Buffalo 'Spectrum' Points to Problems for Student Rights at Satellite Universities

Last week, University at Buffalo (UB) student newspaper The Spectrum published an editorial warning about the loss of liberty for students who attend schools in some countries abroad, even when the programs are cooperative ventures between American and foreign institutions. As we’ve written before here on The Torch, satellite universities affiliated with domestic institutions often promise the freedom of expression that students in the United States enjoy (or are supposed to enjoy) but deliver much less. The Spectrum’s editorial questions whether UB’s partnerships with the Singapore Institute of Management and the Nanyang Technological University further the goals of a modern liberal education, particularly in light of Yale Professor Jim Sleeper’s recent New York Times article relaying troublesome statements by administrators at Yale­–National University of Singapore. Sleeper wrote, for example: “We must look at ‘liberal’ in the sense of broad, rather than free,” Kay Kuok, a businesswoman who leads the Yale-N.U.S. governing board, told the government-controlled Straits Times. “It’s freedom of thought; I’m not necessarily saying freedom of expression.” In response, editors at The Spectrum are nonplussed: Huh?An education that is designed to cultivate a ‘free’ human being doesn’t involve freedom of expression? That doesn’t involve the intellectual and moral development of citizens who are tolerant and welcoming of opinions other than their own?Something seems to be missing here.This line of thinking seems to discourage the cultivation of freely thinking individuals able to narrate their lives into a richer, fuller human tapestry.The opportunity for students to study abroad is wonderful. And it does expand one’s worldview enormously. But higher education institutions are responsible for the way they influence their students’ worldview. Part of that responsibility comes from the need to provide an environment conducive to the expression of freedom and practice of liberty – the values a liberal education emanates from. The editorial invites its readers to consider this: Should UB, a public institution, allow taxpayer money designed to support the education of its citizenship, go towards students receiving a diluted education – removed from the values it seeks to broaden? The editorial board’s question is a very interesting one. A semester spent under a restrictive regime is not necessarily a “diluted” education, although it certainly isn’t a liberal one. Being afraid to voice an opinion might teach students an indelible lesson about the importance and value of the First Amendment. If UB had advertised its program as a challenging and unforgettable opportunity for students to spend three months without the rights they take for granted, then the situation would be very different. But The Spectrum is correct that universities are being intellectually dishonest when they pretend that things are not meaningfully different overseas, as demonstrated by Ms. Kuok’s assertion about free thought and expression.  In a related story, professors at Wellesley College recently expressed similar concerns about the college’s partnership with Peking University after an economics professor there was fired, allegedly “based solely on his political and philosophical views.” In an open letter sent September 3, more than 130 faculty members urged the school to reconsider Professor Xia Yeliang’s dismissal with due consideration of the importance of academic freedom. If Peking declines to do so, the professors stated that they would urge Wellesley to discontinue its partnership with Peking. Check out The Spectrum for the full editorial, see Jim Sleeper’s New York Times article for more about American universities’ campuses abroad, and head over to Inside Higher Ed for more on the controversy at Wellesley and Peking.Image: Nanyang Technological University 

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