NUS confirms former East Asian Institute director had inappropriately behaved towards subordinate

The university had previously suspended Professor Zheng Yongnian, who resigned from NUS in September, following previous allegations of similar sexual harassment allegations

A former director of the National University of Singapore (NUS)’s East Asian Institute (EAI) was found by a Committee of Inquiry (COI) appointed by the university to have engaged in inappropriate behaviour against one of his then-subordinates by hugging her without her consent during a work meeting.

The aforementioned case was one of several allegations of sexual misconduct involving Zheng Yongnian, which the academician had vehemently rejected through his lawyers in September, The Straits Times reported.

He added that his departure from NUS was not connected to the allegations made against him.

The university in a statement on Tuesday (17 November) said that it was made aware of allegations against Prof Zhang in May last year and subsequently suspended him.

This entailed him to stay off-campus and to carry out his work from home, pending police and university investigations at the time. He was also prohibited from contacting the subordinate in question as a result of a “No-Contact Order”.

Police then issued a stern warning to Prof Zheng in April this year for outrage of modesty in relation to the case at hand.

The COI appointed a month later determined that at least one of the staff member’s allegations had occurred, ST reported.

Prof Zheng had admitted to hugging the subordinate without her consent during a work meeting on 30 May 2018 in his office, according to the university.

The COI, however, could not establish some of the allegations made by the staff member, such as that Prof Zheng “had patted or touched her buttocks in the absence of evidence” or that he had held her back while taking a group picture.

It could also not establish if Prof Zheng had placed his hands on her shoulder and head during a meeting between the two of them in his office as she had alleged.

NUS and EAI, said the university, have been “extending assistance to the affected EAI staff member since she had first raised this matter, and we will continue to provide her with the support she needs”.

“We take a strong stand against all forms of inappropriate behaviour. All allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken seriously and internal investigations are conducted to look into such allegations,” said NUS.

The university added that it would have issued Prof Zheng a written warning following the COI’s findings. However, the university decided to record the outcome of its internal review in its staff records as Prof Zheng had left NUS.

According to ST, Prof Zheng is understood to have joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen as the head of its Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies.

Prof Zheng’s case is not the first instance in which an NUS staff member has been accused of sexual misconduct in the university in recent times.

Lecturer Jeremy Fernando was dismissed from his position at Tembusu College last month after complaints arose of his alleged sexual misconduct against students.

A spokesman of NUS was quoted in an article by TODAY stating that Dr Fernando was found to have “fallen short of the standards of professionalism that the university expects of a teaching staff”.

Although the university did not provide details of the complaints, a report by ST disclosed the details of what the lecturer allegedly did to the two undergraduate victims. Both of them did not want to be named.

Commenting on Dr Fernando’s dismissal, the victims said that they were disappointed with the lack of communication and statement of clarification from NUS to the students. They added that the university only did so after the issue surfaced on social media.

Former diplomat Tommy Koh–the College’s rector–offered to resign from his position in relation to the incident, following a Facebook comment that called for him to step down from the role in question.

However, just two hours after his initial announcement, the veteran diplomat decided to backtrack on his decision, which attracted mixed reactions from the public.

While some slammed Prof Koh for “joking” about such a matter and for reneging on his decision, others said that he should not have to resign, as Dr Fernando’s misconduct and subsequent dismissal had nothing to do with him.

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