NUS Tembusu College rector Tommy Koh backtracks less than 2 hours after saying he will offer to resign over Fernando incident

Singapore
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SINGAPORE: The rector of Tembusu College Tommy Koh changed his mind about offering to resign from the National University of Singapore (NUS), less than two hours after he said he would do so. 

Responding to a Facebook comment calling for his resignation over the university’s handling of Dr Jeremy Fernando’s dismissal, Professor Koh said at about 1pm on Saturday (Oct 24) that he would offer his resignation to NUS. 

Less than two hours later, he responded again to the person who had posted the original comment: “I am afraid that most of the people do not agree with you. I will abide by their sentiment that I should not resign. Thank you for your suggestion anyway.” 

He told TODAY on Saturday that he was “joking” when he said he would offer to resign, TODAY reported.

The comments were made on a Facebook post on Prof Koh’s profile page, in which he addressed the delay by NUS in announcing the dismissal of Dr Fernando. 

READ: NUS has ‘fallen short’ in handling Jeremy Fernando’s dismissal, says Tembusu College rector Tommy Koh

“The delay in informing the students and faculty of the college was wrong because the students (have) a right to be informed about the dismissal of one of their teachers before learning about it from the mainstream and social media,” he wrote on Saturday, adding that the last few weeks have been “a very difficult time” for Tembusu College. 

“At yesterday’s town hall meeting with the students and the press conference, we agreed that in future NUS would be open, transparent and share information with its stakeholders in a timely manner.”

Speaking to journalists at Tembusu College on Friday, Prof Koh said that NUS had “fallen short” in its handling of the dismissal of Dr Fernando. 

Dr Fernando was dismissed by NUS on Oct 7, after it was found that he had “an intimate association” with an undergraduate, said Prof Koh.

The college wide email to students and staff informing them of Dr Fernando’s dismissal was sent on Oct 18.

READ: Sacked NUS professor had ‘intimate association’ with undergrad; university makes police report

“The university can learn from the Singapore Government from the way it dealt with SARS in 2003 and COVID-19 in 2020 … The policy is to be open rather than closed, to be transparent rather than opaque, to give timely information to your stakeholders rather than withhold such information,” Prof Koh said on Friday. 

“So using these two, three criteria, in my view, NUS has fallen short,” he added.

Acknowledging that there was a “considerable gap” between the date the university dismissed Dr Fernando and when the rest of Tembusu College was informed, Prof Koh noted that NUS had a “rather conservative culture” – and felt that when a staff member was dismissed, HR practice would be “don’t tell the world that somebody has been sacked”.

READ: Student group calls on NUS to show ‘transparency and accountability’ in handling case of professor sacked for inappropriate behaviour

He added: “But the point I made to NUS is that this HR practice is applicable in the private sector, but not applicable to a public institution like this. 

“And Tembusu College is a public institution, I have many stakeholders – I have 600 students, I have a faculty, every one of them has a right to know. And in this respect, I think NUS has fallen short.”

NUS confirmed on Wednesday that it made a police report regarding the sexual misconduct allegations against Dr Fernando, and the police on Thursday confirmed a report was lodged and that investigations are ongoing.

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