Freeman Travels

During this first part of spring break I have traveled to

Photos by Gina Driscoll
Photos by Gina Driscoll

Southeast Asia to meet with the Freeman family and participate in some of the interviews for next year’s Freeman Scholars. This is my first trip to this part of the world, and so I am keeping my eyes and ears open. Last night in Singapore we held a reception for alumni, parents and prospective Wesleyan students. It was so impressive for me to hear about the many different things our alumni are up to. From traditional drumming and performance, to teaching and NGO work, from law and medicine to entrepreneurship, the Wesleyan-Freeman alumni are activating their education in powerful ways.

Although my stay in Singapore was very brief, I did have a very interesting meeting with the leadership team of the Singapore Management University, a relatively young school that is developing a very innovative curriculum. SMU had reached out to Wesleyan because its faculty is developing a new core program in the liberal arts. It seems that the government has recently decided to invest in higher education programs that move away from the early specialization required in the British model long popular here. SMU’s president (who once worked with former Wes prez Bill Chace!) talked about an education that would allow students to access their creativity, prepare them for a changing world. enhance their ability to think about problems using a broad range of disciplines… all the things that we emphasize at Wesleyan! Perhaps we will have some student exchanges with SMU in the future. For now, I am just pleased to know that our vision of the importance of the liberal arts is resonating here on the other side of the world.

Last night I received a strong shot of hopefulness from meeting prospective and former Freeman Scholars. In these difficult times, it is crucial that Wesleyan continues to recruit talented students from Asia, and that we continue to support their work after graduation. The generosity and thoughtfulness of the Freeman family is legendary, and now alumni of the program are continuing that tradition. It’s both a pleasure and a learning experience to participate in these activites of the program. which has given so much to Wesleyan over the years.

We are now in Bangkok, and I’ve attached some photos from Gina Driscoll.

Bankok from the river
Bangkok from the river

[tags] spring break, Southeast Asia, Freeman family, Freeman Scholars, Singapore, Singapore Management University, Bill Chace, Bangkok, Gina Driscoll [/tags]

2 thoughts on “Freeman Travels”

  1. it was very nice to meet you and the Driscolls at the freeman reception tonite in Bangkok. thanks for taking the time to visit!

  2. Hi President Roth,

    As a Wes alum from Singapore, I was naturally excited to read your entry on SMU and your impressions of tertiary education in Singapore, and the possibility for exchanges. This is definitely a far cry from when I started school in 2002 (when few knew of the small liberal arts colleges) – and there is even talk now of the government setting up a liberal arts college in Singapore!

    I would, however, like to caution you against the vanilla impression that you have painted. I think many in Singapore are increasingly understanding / and believing in the need for a general broad-based education in developing critical thinking skills that enable later success – and believe in complementing this general education with a practical specialisation like, say, business.

    However, the prevailing social attitude is still far from embracing a no-holds barred luxury of “education for education’s sake” where one is free to study (and even major in) diverse “impractical” subject areas like art history or dance and be thought of as being intellectually as competent as government/economics majors. The prevailing society still regards such areas of studies as mere electives that pepper a practical subject of study.

    While the authorities are increasingly trying to evolve the tertiary education system toward something along the American “general education” model, there is still a lot of reliance (and competition and pressure from the students themselves) on the examination curve as the key criteria of evaluation. The Confucian scholar ethic to achieve grades ironically negates the true meaning of education – (i.e. latin root word “educo”- to draw forth from within)

    For comparison, I would recommend you to just check out the University Scholars Program at the National University of Singapore ( – a selective Columbia-modelled core curriculum program developed to complement the general British specialized program education model. It’s a precursor program to Peking University’s Yuanpei program.

    I think my main point is that despite changes and developments in Singapore, there is always a practical and utilitarian aim (e.g. developing manpower for the economy, etc) and one does not always find the true freedom from agenda or luxury to learn something for its own sake and its own beauty.

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