By Dr Liew Kai Khiun
From professors in universities to kindergarten teachers at the frontline of education, as educators we interact with countless students constantly within professional and institutional frameworks. Through varying levels of scrutiny in terms of formal declaration of conflict of interests, disciplinary boards and committees of enquiries, educators are rigourously made accountable in order to maintain public trust and integrity. Increasingly, universities and schools are strengthening the regulatory structures for complaints and other whistle-blowing cases to be heard more readily. Staff have been disciplined and counselled for transgressions after often administratively exhaustive and emotionally draining investigations, and cases that are found to criminal, have been made public. In fact, even as it sounds awkward, universities are evening stating “no sex” and “no romance” between academics and students across the board.
With the online publication of the alleged affair of Worker’s Party candidate Associate Professor Daniel Goh with his graduate student first by Lianhe Zaobao on the evening of 27 August 2015, academia and the education service in Singapore have felt a chilly gust of wind. We find that institutional mechanisms listed above can be conveniently overridden by a quick decision in the newsroom. The issue was not only a “dark day for journalism” as described by an ex-Straits Times journalist Peh Shing Huei. It has also turned into a dark day for educators like myself. We are suddenly made potentially highly vulnerable by our own profession when the mainstream media sees no problem in openly and almost instantaneously publishing articles based on sporadic anonymous emails. While it has been the reason for the poison letters, Professor Goh’s public limelight has probably also enabled him to refute and clarify matters more concretely. It may not be that fortunate for the countless educators who are not in the limelight, especially when now aspersions and aspirations have been cast upon the entire teaching profession.
Hence, careers, reputations and families are at stake here, and those in the mainstream media cannot simply walk away and claim “learning experiences” or “no malice intended” when their pot-shots do not succeed. The damage has been done to not just one individual, but educators in general. Those responsible must be made to pay heavily for the repair if we want public trust for our teachers and professors to be restored.