Following several recent sexual misconduct cases involving faculty members and a review on the processes in handling such cases, the National University of Singapore (NUS) said it is taking further steps.
In an email to students, staff and alumni on Thursday (17 December), NUS President Tan ENg Chye outlines these measures that will be implemented by the institution in the coming months in order to further tighten its processes in handling sexual misconduct cases. This including training for staff and bystanders on spotting sexual misconduct and taking the appropriate action in those situations.
The circular noted plans to develop a policy which would apply to both staff and students, and provide the NUS community with a report every six months regarding sexual misconduct cases involving students and/or staff.
However, it added that facts of these cases, if any, will be redacted in order to protect the identity of victims.
Another measure is the introduction of a refresher course on respect and consent for staff and students as well as workshops to “build an inclusive and respectful culture on campus” and train staff who are likely to be first responders in such cases.
Professor Tan said in the circular that the Victim Care Unit—which was set up to support student victims of sexual misconduct—will be rechristened the NUS Care Unit. The Unit will also be given resources to support NUS staff in the matter by the second quarter of 2021.
The President added that the University has also tightened its internal processes to make sure that the reporting of arrestable offences is done within two weeks after the Board of Discipline or Committee of Inquiry concludes its investigations.
If the circumstances call for it, a police report may be filed, as stipulated in Section 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code which compels NUS to report arrestable offences such as voyeurism, outrage of modesty and rape.
Beyond that, Prof Tan acknowledged that more openness and transparency in dealing with sexual misconduct cases is critical in order to build trust and a culture of respect on the NUS campus, adding that the University will continue to be proactive and timely in sharing relevant information about allegations and investigation findings with the rest of the community. Again, he reassured that this will be done in a way that would not compromise the privacy and well-being of victims.
In the email, Prof Tan said: “Regardless of whether these incidents took place on or off campus, such behaviour threatens the safety and well-being of our NUS community. It desecrates the campus atmosphere, which is precious to all of us.
“The sad truth is that no matter how hard we try, sexual misconduct cannot be completely eradicated. Yet, we must be unrelenting in our desire and effort to tackle the issue head-on. Our approach has to be holistic, just, transparent and sensitive.”
Noting that sexual misconduct has become a growing concern for universities around the globe—500 complaints at Harvard University, 298 complaints at Yale University, and 187 reported incidents in Stanford University in 2019 alone—he pointed out figures in Singapore as well.
In 2019, a total of 1,605 cases of outrage of modesty were reported to the police.
Between 2015 to 2017, six local universities handled 56 student-related sexual misconduct cases, 14 of which occurred outside of campus, according to the Ministry of Education (MOE).
Prof Tan said that the NUS has also seen more students come forward to file reports of such allegations.
“Even though it may not augur well for the image and reputation of the university, I feel it is a good thing that more individuals are stepping forward. It shows a certain level of trust in the institution,” he added.
“No student or staff should suffer in silence. NUS will continue to strive to provide a safe and conducive platform for affected parties to verbalise and share their experiences and come forward in confidence.”
One of the recent cases involving NUS staff was when Professor Theodore G Hopf, the provost chair professor in the department of political science in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was dismissed on 1 December for sexual misconduct with a student.
In November, the former director of the East Asian Institute at NUS, Professor Zheng Yongnian, was reported by the University to have behaved inappropriately with a subordinate when he hugged her without consent during a work meeting.
In October, Dr Jeremy Fernando was fired following allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by two students.
In 2019, a student called out NUS on social media for the way they—as well as police—handled her sexual misconduct case and the seemingly light punishment dished out to the perpetrator who was sentenced to counselling and community service and was made to write a letter of apology to the her after filming her in the shower without her consent.
This sparked a massive debate in the country as many called out the institution for the way it handled the case, leading to a review of the universities disciplinary and support frameworks for sexual misconduct cases as well as the establishment of the NUS Victim Care Unit.