A picture of an email sent by Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) to its final-year students has garnered a strong reaction from students and netizens.
In the screenshot of the email, which was first uploaded by final-year student Mr Joel Chong on Wednesday (4 April), the email asked undergraduates to provide the school with inspirational stories to appear across various communication platforms, including the mainstream media, Hey magazine, mini and lamp post banners, and NTU social media platforms.
The email mentioned the “categories” of story examples that students could fall under.
Towards the second part of the email, it said that the university is also looking for interesting graduating students who need not be top students, but have good inspirational stories. The email then went on to give examples of the kind of students the university is looking out for.
The line that catches everyone’s attention about an example of what the university is looking out for reads, “A graduating “VIP” student from an important/well-known family, sons/daughters of politicians, professors, celebrities, etc.”
Commenting on the example written by the university, Mr Chong wrote, “So according to NTU, an ‘inspirational story’ or achievement is having overcome great personal odds to do well in school, being a child prodigy, having received many jobs offers before graduation… or just being a politician’s child.”
“Yay, meritocracy is real and working, how dare we plebeians doubt it!” he added.
Many also expressed their anger and disappointment.
Mr Jonathan Ang, 23, a third-year student at HSS, told The New Paper (TNP) the surname should not even matter.
“That group shouldn’t even be there at all, it’s not about phrasing but the subject matter itself that is wrong,” he stated.
Miss Emi Morihata, 21, a third-year student at NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information, also told TNP that the university’s view of ‘inspirational stories’ is so superficial, saying, “The fact that they are setting these narrow-minded measurements as indicators of an eligible candidate already shows that they are just doing it for the sake of publicity to showcase the school.”
“Graduation is a celebration of the students who have worked hard through the years. If they really want to highlight these hardworking people who overcame challenges during their academic life, such indicators won’t be on the e-mail in the first place,” she added.
A spokesman for NTU responded to Mr Chong’s Facebook post last week.
He stated that he felt it had been unfair in singling out the particular line, causing “the spirit and meaning of our open request for nominations” to be “misinterpreted and distorted”.
He then told TNP, “We understand the concerns raised and it was never our intention to focus on only individuals of certain backgrounds. The highlighted line could have been better phrased.”
He then added that convocation is a celebration of students’ achievements and knowledge and the university will be as inclusive as possible and portray this by featuring stories of students from all walks of life.
According to sociologist Mr Tan Ern Ser, the line in the email suggested elitism.
He stated that in a meritocratic society, Singaporeans should celebrate achieved status – that is, achieved through individual merit, ability and diligence – rather than social background, which is not within one’s control.
“Highlighting a person’s social background is not only elitist but also contrary to our core values. Perhaps, the ones who penned those requirements have good reasons for doing so, and I am sure many would like to know what those reasons are,” he added.
However, some said the issue should not have been overblown.
Mrs Lee Siew Yeen, 43, said that the university was probably just trying to catch some eyeballs, adding that their only mistake was not phrasing it in a politically-correct way.
Miss Lydia Lee, 22, a third-year linguistics student from HSS also said that if one were to look at the other categories, they are just looking for people with interesting backgrounds to feature.
“I don’t think they are saying these people are more important in any way,” she said.