How Yale's Singapore Venture Imperils Liberal Education (Opinion)

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, March 19, 2012

You could have heard a pin drop among the 150 professors -- three times more than usual -- in attendance at a closed-door, March 1 meeting of the Yale College Faculty as one of them told president Richard Levin something he didn't want to hear. The message was that his administration shouldn't have collaborated with an authoritarian, corporate city-state to establish a new college -- "Yale-National University of Singapore" -- without most of the Yale faculty's knowing of it until the basic commitments had already been signed and sealed.

"You are this university's highest executive officer, and we're grateful for what you and the Yale Corporation do," the professor said. "But in political philosophy there's a living, unwritten constitution: Yale is really what we do -- our research, teaching, and conferences. Without that, there is no Yale to take abroad or anywhere else. The faculty are the collegium" -- a company of scholars that, to do its work well, has to stand somewhat apart from both markets and states.

Liberal education probably couldn't survive without markets and states, but Levin was being reminded, in effect, that in a liberal capitalist republic like ours, markets and states can't survive without liberal education because they have to rely on citizens' upholding certain public virtues and beliefs that -- as you may have noticed lately -- neither markets nor the state can do much to nourish or defend.

A liberal state, after all, isn't supposed to judge between one way of life and another, which makes it hard to distinguish bold entrepreneurs from sleazy free-riders. And markets certainly can't draw that distinction, because their genius lies precisely in approaching consumers and investors only as narrowly self-interested actors

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