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Jeanne-Marie Ten: Appointment of former NUS Vice-Provost Lily Kong as President of SMU “is very wrong”

Former NUS student in 12-yr entanglement with University disappointed over former Vice-Provost Lily Kong’s appoinment as SMU president after having exercised “poor judgement” in terminating MA candidature

The subsequent appointment of former National University of Singapore (NUS) Vice-Provost Lily Kong as the President of Singapore Management University (SMU) “is very wrong”, given that she “does not appear to have to be accountable for her wrongful actions”, alleges former National University of Singapore (NUS) student Jeanne-Marie Ten Leu Jiun.

Ms Ten began her postgraduate studies as a candidate for the degree of Master of Arts in Architecture by research at the School of Design and Environment at NUS in January 2002, and was due to complete her course by mid-2005.

She had also “entered into a formal Research Scholarship Agreement” with the University the same month she began her candidature.

“The lack of transparency (the university’s refusal to give me a copy of the COI Report) enabled Vice-Provost Kong to essentially lie to me that Dr Wong had been exonerated by the COI,” wrote Ms Ten in a blog post.

“After I (my candidature) was terminated by NUS, Vice-Provost Kong was appointed to positions such as Vice-President of NUS and Executive Vice-President of the Yale-NUS College in NUS,” she added.

Ms Ten noted that as her legal battle against NUS was still ongoing, “Vice-Provost Kong left NUS in 2015” to “join another public university”.

“She was appointed Provost of Singapore Management University (SMU) in 2015,” she wrote.

“In 2017,” Ms Ten recalled, “as my NUS legal case was going on, Provost Lily Kong was identified as the most suitable candidate to lead the Singapore Management University as its University President” following “a publicised global search for a suitable candidate”.

President Lily Kong begins her appointment at SMU this year.

“SMU President Lily Kong’s unreasonable conduct in terminating my MA candidature and protecting a wrong-doer (my then supervisor Dr Wong) reveal her poor exercise of judgment, to say the very least,” said Ms Ten.

However, she lamented, “the powers that appointed her as University President don’t seem to have a problem with that”.

“I strongly feel that this is very wrong”, said Ms Ten, adding: “Singapore can do better”.

Court of Appeal rejected Ms Ten’s Security of Cost waiver application

Earlier this month, Ms Ten’s application to the Court of Appeal (CA) for a waiver of the $20,000 security for cost in the Notice of Appeal was rejected, as she was unable to provide $20,000 security for cost.

The application was made in early Aug last year.

Later on in Dec, she filed an Originating Summons and Affidavit to Court of Appeal to ask the CA to do away with the $20,000 security for cost, plus leave to refile the Notice of Appeal out of time.

However, the application was also rejected.

In the High Court ruling in July last year, Justice Woo Bih Li, in delivering his judgement, reasoned that the claims made by Ms Ten on the tort of misfeasance in public office and bad faith by the university failed, based on the available facts.

It was stated by Ms Ten that Dr Wong Yunn Chii, Associate Professor of the Department of Architecture and Ms Ten’s sole supervisor at that time, had “obtained a grant of S$80,200 for a project to create a digital visualisation of Commercial Square which is today known as Raffles Place (“the Visualisation Project”).

Justice Woo remarked: “For example, in an email from him [Dr Wong] to her [Ms Ten] dated 5 August 2004, he said, “Your work will be an important basis for the digital visualisation work – it is the content.”

In February 2005, Ms Ten alleged, in an email to Vice-Provost of Education at NUS, Prof Lily Kong, that Dr Wong had “evaded her question as to how he was going to acknowledge her thesis in the project”.

He responded instead that he “had the right to use the primary sources from her work in the project because such sources did not belong to her”, according to court documents.

Her candidature was eventually ended by the University in September 2006.

Consequently, Ms Ten filed a civil lawsuit against NUS in 2012 on the grounds of breach of contract, the tort of misfeasance in public office, the tort of intimidation, and the tort of negligence.

Through the hearing of the lawsuit, it was discovered that Prof Kong choose not to provide information to Ms Ten as she felt that the student was rude and difficult while at the same time, provided all information to Dr Wong, including all the findings of the COI. The findings while clearing Dr Wong’s name of plagiarism, acknowledged Dr Wong’s lacking in supervision towards Ms Ten.

Despite having the details of the COI withheld from Ms Ten, Dr Kong ordered Ms Ten to accept the COI findings as an additional requirement to graduate. As Ms Ten felt there is no transparency in the process, she declined to issue a statement to acknowledge the findings which then led to her non-graduation.

In a blog post dated 18 Jul 2017, Ms Ten explained her reasons for initiating legal action against NUS:

This lawsuit is not just about the negligence of Dr Wong as a supervisor or his professional enrichment through the use of my thesis. Most importantly, it is about the wrongful termination of my MA candidature by NUS. The termination of my candidature has affected my life. NUS failed to observe due process in investigating my complaint against Dr Wong, and penalised me for my refusal to accept the NUS’ dubious investigation.

A public body like NUS is financially strong to drag this out in court. The longer it drags, the more painful and difficult it is for an individual like me to seek justice. This lawsuit is also about representing the voice of those who cannot afford to access equal legal resources.

NUS managed to withhold crucial information about facts related to my lawsuit until as late as July 2015, when it eventually disclosed information that would adversely affect its case. To date, I have hundreds of thousands of legal fees to pay and I have already spent more than S$100,000 in fees.

Not only has NUS tried to strike out my case a number of times, NUS had also tried to make me a bankrupt by issuing me a “statutory demand” under The Bankruptcy Act (dated 3 May 2016) to pay the cost orders in the interim applications that I had lost to NUS.

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