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Overseas TT

I realize this wasn't the commenter's main point, and I don't want to derail the conversation, but I wouldn't call Singapore "autocratic". It's a parliamentary republic with free elections, albeit with a some (for Western standards) serious restrictions on personal freedoms. Democracy Index classifies it as a "flawed democracy", tied with Romania at #66 (out of 167 countries), somewhat below Croatia and somewhat above Mexico - none of which are model liberal democracies, but none of which are "autocratic" regimes either. (Again, sorry about this somewhat off-topic comment - I just think the perception of Singapore as an autocratic regime is distorted.)


I worry about the implicit idea here that we should expect to see important similarities between universities in places (and political regimes) as diverse as Singapore and China.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Rob: I'm not sure how Arthur was thinking of things, but I'm not sure the query presupposes that there are or should be important similarities. For all the query assumes, it could well be that jobs in different places and regimes may well be very different.

This is in part why I think it is such a good query! It might be good to learn what similarities there are, if any, and what differences there are--by hearing from people who work at different places.

Singapore Academic

I would advise you not to bother applying for any positions in non-Western countries if you have a simplistic understanding of the world that divides countries into democracies and autocratic regimes and a bias in how you apply these labels to Western vs. non-Western countries. Singapore is not an autocratic (or semi-autocratic regime). It is a flawed democracy and when you look carefully at these flaws you find something comparable to the level of flaws in US democracy.

Putting aside this complaint, I agree that there is a relevant question here about what it's like to be an academic in an autocratic country like China or Kazakhstan. My impression is that there are not many useful generalizations and that this question is best asked on a country by country basis.


I used to live in Australia, where the philosophy world sort of includes Singapore: people from Australia would give papers in Singapore and vice versa, and I knew one philosopher who left a job in Australia to take a position in Singapore. One Aussie philosopher who was in touch with colleagues in Singapore said that more than one of them deliberately used a non-Singaporean bank account, to prevent the possibility of the government ever seizing their funds if it didn't like something they wrote or did. I mentioned that to the guy I knew who took up the job in Singapore and he said he thought such a step was probably not necessary, although his reason was not totally reassuring. "They [the government] don't care what you write in academic journals, only what you write in the papers." I understand that a person can still have a rewarding life as an academic in Singapore, but I would want to know stuff like that before taking a job there.

Malcolm Keating

Setting aside the issue of how to characterize Singapore's system of governance, the original question contained another important assumption to challenge. The mention of "American colleges" suggests that the educational approach would be recognizably from the United States (I assume the term is meant in that restricted sense and not to encompass all of the Americas). However, Yale-NUS College, for instance, may have many American faculty and administrators, but a large number of them are international. Likewise the student population is primarily international/Singaporean. In many ways, the college is not run like most US liberal arts colleges, but has a more British-US-Singapore hybrid feel (with divisions and heads of studies rather than departments and department chairs). I can't speak to NYU-Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, etc.

If the question is about how teaching philosophy might differ to the US from these contexts, with the implication that the "regime" would interfere, I can state that I have never had any government interference in my classroom, and our students all take a Philosophy and Political Thought course their first year, which often involves discussion of systems of governance, freedom of speech, and so on.

As to the experience itself, I would characterize it as positive. I have students from the world over in my classrooms, usually multilingual, and I have had to learn to speak to, and understand, students from vastly different experiences than my own. Likewise for my colleagues. This comes with its own set of challenges, of course--navigating cultural differences is not always easy. But it's been very rewarding.

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