NUS students write an open letter to university leadership calling for more transparency and accountability following disappointing town hall on sexual harassment

Following the disappointing town hall between students and management of the National University of Singapore (NUS) which was supposed to be an open dialogue about sexual harassment, over 300 fro NUS and tens more from other universities have issued an open letter to the NUS president, Chair of Board of Trustees, and Chair of the Review Committee of Sexual Misconduct to voice their disappointment.

The students say they were disappointed with the the absence of members of the Review Committee at the town hall, the lack of accountability from the administration, the lack of transparency regarding the review process, and the senior administration’s lack of knowledge or understanding about student life. The students, in their letter, urged NUS to ‘build a more consultative and collaborative relationship’ with between the administration and students.

They also noted the Provost’s email following the town hall which promised more sessions in the coming weeks with members of the review committee themselves.

The letter in full:

Dear President Prof Tan Eng Chye,

cc: Chairman, NUS Board of Trustees Mr Hsieh Fu Hua; Chair, Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct, Mdm Kay Kuok; NUS Senior Deputy President & Provost Prof Ho Teck Hua

As concerned NUS students, we regret the unsatisfactory Town Hall held on 25 April 2019 with Vice Provost (Student Life) Prof Florence Ling, Dean of Office of Students Affairs (OSA) Associate Prof Peter Pang and Ms Celestine Chua from the University Counselling Services.

While it was encouraging to see the university leadership commit to making NUS a safer community, we are troubled by three issues which surfaced during the Town Hall:

1. The absence of initial members of the Review Committee of Sexual Conduct;
2. The lack of accountability on the part of the administration, and transparency regarding the review process;
3. The senior administration’s lack of knowledge about student life.

1. The absence of initial members of the Review Committee of Sexual Conduct It was disappointing that the main response which students received was either that the feedback will be directed to the Review Committee, or to email our views and recommendations to the given email address ([email protected]).

Given that Vice Provost Prof Ling and Dean OSA Pang repeatedly emphasised the important role of the Review Committee, it was troubling that none of the initial members were present during the Town Hall to listen to and address students’ concerns and recommendations.

In the absence of the Review Committee members and the panellists’ reluctance to provide direct assurance in response to our recommendations, students have expressed a lack of confidence that their recommendations would be communicated via the panel or through email will be taken seriously. This raised the question among some students as to whether the Town Hall was merely an exercise in rehabilitating the university’s public image.

To demonstrate that NUS is serious and sincere about working with students to address this issue, we urge that another Town Hall be convened with the initial members of the Review Committee before the end of the semester to address the many student concerns that remain unaddressed. These concerns are highlighted below. This is in addition to the already scheduled Town Hall after the Review Committee report is released.

2. The lack of accountability on the part of the administration, and transparency about the review process

The issue of accountability on the part of the NUS Administration was not adequately addressed, although it was raised by many students during the Town Hall. There remains no measure or follow-up action for the student body to hold the Administration accountable to its promises.

As one student highlighted, the NUS Office of the Provost had previously reported that it was “working to develop a course for all NUS students on… sexual respect and consent, respect for diversity…” after public uproar over sexualised orientation activities in 2016. However, this has not been implemented and it has taken another national controversy for the university to revisit the implementation of this course.

Further, there remains a lack of transparency about the review process. It is unclear who will be included in the Review Committee, why and how they were selected, when the Review Committee will begin and complete the review process, and how the recommendations of the Review Committee will be implemented.

We are concerned that there are insufficient measures for students to hold our university administrators accountable during and after the review process. To address this, we propose the following recommendations that President Prof Tan should adopt:

1) Clarify the process by which members of the Review Committee are selected;
2) Increase the number of student representatives on the Review Committee, in particular, representatives who are survivors of sexual assault and sexual minorities;
3) Commit to a timeline made publicly known to all members of the NUS community;
4) Provide regular and timely updates to the NUS community through both emails and Town Halls on:

a) the progress of the Review Committee’s review process;
b) the progress of the implementation of its recommendations; and
c) the minutes of every meeting convened by the Review Committee.

3. The senior administration’s lack of knowledge about student life The Town Hall revealed a clear knowledge gap on the part of the senior administrators about the concerns and experiences of students.

During the Town Hall, Vice Provost Prof Ling and Dean OSA Assoc Prof Pang expressed that they were “disturbed” by the testimonies of survivors of sexual misconduct who have been failed by our university. Given that both senior administrators are directly responsible for student life, it was shocking that this Town Hall was the first time they seemed to have heard about the serious shortcomings of the university’s sexual misconduct policies.

To address these issues, we urge the senior administrators take a more proactive approach in engaging with students and collecting student feedback. This may include regular student engagements, stronger feedback channels and a demonstrated willingness to listen to students. This will rebuild trust between the student body and NUS Administration, that the Administration sincerely values and wants to work with its students to make NUS a safer community for everyone.

In closing, we urge NUS to take this opportunity to build a more consultative and collaborative relationship between the Administration and its students. Failing which, the hitherto lack of engagement with the student body will only become more entrenched and it will only be a matter of time before yet another public uproar erupts over another student life issue.

Thank you for your time. We value your work in making NUS a safer community, and look forward to concrete steps taken by the University to address our concerns.

Yours Sincerely,

Concerned Students

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