Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thoughts on Pomona President Before Singapore's National University

David W. Oxtoby speaks before Singapore's National University. Just what did he say?

Aditya just broke this story just a few hours ago and I thought I would give some thoughts on Oxtoby's speech, which you can find here.

Rarely are we given such a Rosetta stone to decode President Oxtoby’s beliefs as his speech before Singapore’s National University on March 28, 2008.

(We are currently checking on whether or not Gann gave a speech and if so, what that speech discusses. Any help would be great.)

  • Oxtoby says that he is committed to “building a stronger relationship with Asian and with Singapore, as well as our commitment to work together to achieve that.”

And yet, Oxtoby admits illegal immigrants and gives them financial aid at Pomona College. Singaporeans that are admitted to Pomona would have to pay their full way until Pomona changes its policy towards legal immigrants.

  • Oxtoby’s speech is entitled “Liberal Arts and Citizenship” explains the origin of the term “liberal arts,” which he says comes from the Latin “‘artes liberales,’ which can be literally translated as the ‘skills of freedom.’” He then says that “a liberal arts education at its deepest aims to teach students the skills they need to function effectively in a democracy.”

For all his rhetoric on the importance of culture, did Oxtoby fail to note that Singapore is officially a dictatorship without a real opposition party? Admittedly, Singapore’s dictatorship is a benevolent one and may eventually blossom into a liberal democracy, but there are significant grounds for concern.

Freedom of speech is significantly curtailed under the guise of protecting minorities. (Hey, that sounds kind of like Pomona!) Drug offenders face hard punishments. In fact, as of 2005, Singapore has put 100 people to death for drug crimes since 1999. (Nope, all Pomona does is have private companies do drug raids on its students.)

According to the State Department, firearm owners ought to especially careful.

Singapore’s gun ban (which includes many knives) makes D.C. look like the Wild West

And just like at Pomona College, there is no real right to a jury for judges (read: administrators) make all sentencing decisions.
  • Next Oxtoby discussed Max Weber's views on education, which he says are pretty much his own.
Here Oxtoby makes another faux pas. By holding up Weber and his speech on education, Oxtoby is inheriting a lot of Weber's baggage. After all, Weber, author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit, has argued that the reason the West has taken off economically is due to our "Protestant values." As Aditya has noted, Singapore, a non-Protestant country, dismisses this fallacy.

By quoting Weber, Oxtoby shows his ignorance of Austrian School of Economics, which directly challenged Weber's contentions and ignores Schumpeter's analysis of economic liberty.

Indeed, Weber's justification of a social hierarchy that becomes the government directly challenges the very ideas of education and citizenship to which Oxtoby's speech pays homage!

(I'm sure other blog readers have more thoughts on this history, but I thought I would just start the conversation.)
  • Oxtoby also says that the "old model of broad education through high school and narrow training in a single field in our colleges and universities is not adequate for the modern world."
Here Oxtoby makes a great error. As Aditya and I have already mentioned, Pomona does not give aid to legal immigrants. As such, countries that consider sending their children abroad must make a certain calculus: how can we spend the least money and get the most essential education for the children we spend abroad?

Oxtoby never addresses this underlying question. That he does not shows he is ignorant of the situation many Singaporean families face when considering sending their children to the United States.
  • Oxtoby also says after a long paragraph extolling the virtues of teaching religion and culture that "if we are to engage the big questions of the world, we need an education that is as big as those questions, one that will challenge our young people to probe and to learn from one another."
Unless, of course, those young people happen to be believe in free speech and say something impolitic. A December 2007 letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) was heavily critical of Oxtoby's views of free speech. How might we have that probing or learning if we must walk on egg shells?

Oxtoby doesn't say. Too bad.


Skye said...

Please stop linking to my blog. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Pomona does not give aid to legal immigrants"

That commnet is both absurd and false.

Charles Johnson said...

Actually, Pomona only gives aid to six international students each year. It is not need-based.

Anonymous said...

When you say that they give aid to six international students a year, are you talking about complete aid, or some kind of aid?

Anonymous said...

Try fact checking.
All pomona college aid is need based. That includes aid for international students. And, there are more than six international students receiving aid at Pomona.

Charles Johnson said...

Here are your facts checked for you.

The link is from TSL, so it may very well be untrue.

Do your homework next time.