As I was doing some house cleaning this afternoon in preparation for the delivery of my books tomorrow, I chanced upon one of my university admission letters dated 14 March 1994. It was from one of the universities in California which I didn’t end up enrolling in. What struck me, which I had never noticed before, was this paragraph:
“From your first week on campus, you will also have the opportunity to apply your talents in areas outside the classroom. You may wish to get involved in student government, service and political organizations, academic clubs, support groups and more.”
I guess that’s one line that you’ll never see in an NUS, NTU or SMU admissions letter as long as the PAP is in power. In the University of Southern California (USC), where I eventually enrolled in, they had on campus the College Republicans and College Democrats. I’m sure there were similar student organisations for other minor political parties. Although the political atmosphere on campus at the time I was there was far more apathetic than it was in the 1960s, there was still a core group of political activists who made their voices and views known. And it was not limited to Americans or just the political parties. I recall when former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is now the President, visited to give a keynote address at Bovard Auditorium on campus, the Muslim Students’ Association took it upon themselves to stage a protest outside the auditorium entrance, presumably against the treatment of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. (And no, the campus did not erupt into violent riots as a result of that small protest. In fact the protest itself was considered a non-event, as it was so common.)
Contrast it with our local universities, which have all but banned political activity on campus. As I understand it, student organisations are not allowed to align themselves to any political party (read: opposition parties). Students (or anyone else for that matter) are not allowed to go around campus canvassing for a political cause–for some reason that is seen as deviant behaviour in Singapore.
This is a dismaying state of affairs, when you consider that many of the great political movements in history had their roots in campus activism. Perhaps this is precisely why the PAP stifles political activity on university campuses. Without a vibrant political atmosphere on university campuses, it is an uphill task to get our leaders of tomorrow to see the value in investing time to fight for causes that have national impact.
It is my hope that despite the practical restrictions, with better access to alternative political ideas through the Internet, more of our undergrads will have their political awakenings while on campus, just like I did 13 years ago while studying at USC.