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The SDP was prevented from distributing flyers today at NUS. Mr Michael Ng, Director of the Office of Estate and Development, asked leaders of the party not to give away flyers to the students.
“We have to protect the interests of our students,” the official said.
“From what?” Dr Chee asked. “Are you running a university or a kindergarten?”
Another official Dr Peck Thian Guan, Director of the Office of Safety, Health & Environment, chipped in, “It’s not only you but we don’t allow anyone to distribute flyers.”
A staff member walking by could not resist taking a dig at the officers: “Great job, guys. Thanks so much from keeping us safe!” Messrs Ng and Peck could only smile sheepishly.
Just then several students wanted to take a picture with Dr Chee. A few asked for autographs.
Turning to Mr Ng, Dr Chee said: “The students don’t look like they want your protection.”
Several more students came up and started popping questions to the leaders. Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Mr Francis Yong, Mr John Tan, and Ms Chee Siok Chin were soon answering students’ questions ranging from the state of the opposition to the media to the reality of the economy.
“I have been to Japan many times,” one first-year Engineering student said, “and I’ve never seen seventy- and eighty-year-olds sweeping the floor and cleaning tables like in Singapore. It’s so sad.” He added that the University seems to be mass producing graduate robots.
Another student from Political Science who had attended the recent defamation hearing between Lee Kuan Yew and the SDP, told Ms Chee that there was still much fear among students.
A journalism major indicated that she “will never join the Straits Times” after she graduated. She probably learned a thing or two in school that didn’t quite square with the nonsense that was practiced in the state newspaper.
A couple of other students conducted brief interviews with the SDP leaders for the online university newspaper Campus Observer. From the repeated line of questions, it was clear that the students seemed to be sensitive to the fact that most of their college mates were rather uninformed and apathetic about current affairs. Why is this so, they asked.
“That’s not hard to figure out,” Dr Chee explained. “From years of authoritarian rule where students have been cowed into silence, we have bred a very unhealthy university culture. The sad part is that you are being deprived of the type of cutting edge educational experience that your counterparts in the top universities elsewhere are getting.”
Turning back to officialdom, Dr Chee said that all the SDP wanted to do was to raise political awareness among the students.
“Why can’t you guys see that education is not just about hitting the books, taking exams and getting that degree,” he said. “It’s also about developing one’s intellectual and moral character. It’s not just about producing graduates, but also developing leadership.”
Dr Peck said that he too wanted to see students to think beyond their books. He suggested that the SDP write to the student associations and ask them to organise events.
“I’ve been down that road before. The university administration will say no and then what?” Dr Chee asked.
“Then you come back to me and we’ll see what we can work out. You have my word,” Dr Peck assured.
Dr Chee then asked some of the students to take the lead and organise themselves to raise political and social awareness on campus. “In the meantime we’ll write to some of the student bodies and see if they will organise an event,” he promised.
11 September 2008
National University of Singapore Students’ Union
My colleagues and I were at NUS today to distribute flyers to raise awareness among your fellow students about our nation’s politics.
We were, however, told by University officials that such an exercise was not allowed. They suggested that we write to student organisations to see if an event could be organised for us to address and interact with students.
Being the University’s students’ union, I would like to ask if you would organise an event for this purpose. From the reaction of the students today, it seems that there is great interest in what we have to say.
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Singapore Democratic Party