TITLE OF TALK
The First Vice-Chancellor’s Last Days: Uses of the University in Singapore
Prof Philip Holden, Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore
Prof Jonathan Rigg, Asia Research Institute, and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
My talk explores the background to and consequences of the resignation of B.R. Sreenivasan as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore in October 1963, after a public clash with the People’s Action Party State government, led by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Sreenivasan’s resignation has been the subject of radically different historical interpretations. It has been celebrated by some nationalist historians as part of a process of cultural decolonization, but criticized by others as precipitating a two-decade long erosion academic freedom in Singapore. Careful attention to the event and its context, however, offers a powerful heuristic concerning the place of higher education in the process of decolonization, and the manner in which colonial universities came to be symbolic repositories of nationalism with some degree of autonomy from the state. Debates on the role of the university that arose in Singapore after the resignation were plural, and diverse, and have much to teach us not only of the past, but also a future in which international research universities such as the National University of Singapore embrace contradictory roles, and yet still strive for new forms of academic autonomy.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Philip Holden has taught at tertiary level in Singapore since 1994, most recently as Professor of English at the National University of Singapore. He researches in two major areas of literary studies. He has published widely on Singapore and Southeast Asian literatures, is the co-author of The Routledge Concise History of Southeast Asian Writing in English, and one of the editors of Writing Singapore, the most comprehensive historical anthology of Singapore literature in English, as well as author of articles in, among others, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Interventions, Textual Practice, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, and Ariel. His work in auto/biography studies includes the book Autobiography and Decolonization: Modernity, Masculinity and the Nation-State, and a number of scholarly articles in major scholarly journals such as biography, Life Writing, a/b: Auto/biography Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. Outside the university, he has served as the Vice President of Singapore Heritage Society, been active as a newspaper columnist and a book reviewer, and also published short stories, including the collection Heaven Has Eyes.
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Source of image: Malayan Undergrad Newspaper