Alfian Sa’at tells his side of the story on the Yale-NUS module cancellation –

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In two lengthy social media posts, playwright Alfian Sa’at recounted his side of events with regards to the cancellation of a Yale-NUS module titled ‘Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore’.

Yale University’s vice-president Professor Pericles Lewis, in his fact-finding report wrote that, “In addition to academic concerns, the Curriculum Committee noted that there might be legal risks to students associated with a planned “simulation” of a protest in Hong Lim Park”.

The curriculum committee did not receive timely assurance from Mr Alfian that he understood the risks involved, or that he would mitigate them, Prof Lewis said.

“The instructor confirmed to me in conversation that he had not found a satisfactory way to include international students in his plan,” he added.

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“They felt that the module did not propose to study activism so much as to engage in it, and they did not feel this was appropriate for a credit-bearing college module that is part of a required curriculum,” Prof Lewis said in the report.

In particular, they objected to a sentence that read: “(students) will learn that in spite of draconian regulations and legislation, resistance is always possible, along with its emancipatory potential.”

Mr Alfian rejected multiple revisions and suggestions from both staff and students, “contributing to concerns about whether he intended to offer critical engagement in the module”, Prof Lewis said.

To the above allegations, Sa’at wrote, “On 15 May, I submitted a proposal titled ‘Dissent and Resistance’. At the core of the programme were panel discussions with various personalities whose work challenged dominant narratives in Singapore. These included filmmakers, visual artists, independent journalists, migrant labour activists as well as theatremakers”, adding, “As it was my first time designing a Week 7 programme, I tried to copy the sample provided as much as possible. I included a walking tour of Hong Lim Park, screenings of two documentaries and one play, five panel discussions and dialogue sessions, and visits to an art gallery and a theatre venue.

Believing that the students would also benefit from some hands-on sessions, I also included two workshops: one on making signs for demonstrations to be conducted by a Singaporean who had studied in the UK, and one on Forum Theatre techniques by a Singaporean theatre company”.

Sharing email exchanges between himself and the school, Sa’at wrote that allegations where he rejected revisions proposed by the school was “untrue”.

“The above exchanges prove that I did not resist the suggested revision to include the IGD programme, and in fact had decided to incorporate it on 11 Sept. I had also volunteered to take out an activity the admin was nervous about (the video screening)” he explained.

He concluded his social media post by saying, “It is extremely unfortunate that it has been twisted in the report to paint me as someone who was defiant and instransigent (sic). So you can you imagine how I felt when I first saw the news report: that the institution is sick”. /TISG

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