The National University of Singapore (NUS) has responded to Mothership.sg's queries regarding the removal of Today's article on why arts and humanities academics are quitting the two oldest local universities in Singapore.
An NUS spokesperson said:
"The Today article that was published on Jan. 6, 2019 fell significantly short of our expectations. It also did not adequately represent NUS’ position on the matter, although our clarification was sought."
The spokesperson added:
"The article has unfairly affected the reputation and standing of NUS locally and internationally. It affects not just the institution, but also serving academics and students. Hence, NUS is seeking legal advice regarding these allegations."
In other words, the reason why the article was taken down by Today two weeks ago has finally been revealed.
Today article published and removed within four days
The article, “Opaque policies, fixation with KPIs, rankings: Why arts and humanities academics quit NUS, NTU“, was published on Jan. 6 and removed on Jan. 10.
The article is no longer available for viewing on the Today website.
Mediacorp, which owns Today, told Mothership.sg on Jan. 12 that the article was taken down as it is the subject of "a legal challenge", with its lawyers looking into the matter.
What is the article about
The Today article asserted that opaque tenure and promotion policies, resistance to innovation and a “warped” notion of institutional excellence were reasons for the high academic turnover at NUS and the Nanyang Technological University.
However, its coverage appeared to lean towards the information received from 10 academics who left or are leaving NUS and NTU.
Those who spoke to Today for the piece said there were deeper and pervasive issues affecting the faculty members in fields that cater to the bulk of undergraduates studying arts, social sciences and communications in Singapore particularly.
Some of those interviewed said they had to prioritise research publishing over teaching.
This led to unhappiness and departures of academics, even when the coveted tenure was awarded.
In response to Today's queries, the two universities did say in the article that the turnover rates at the affected faculties were not high, but they did not disclose any numbers.
5 academics stand by comments made in the Today article
Things subsequently escalated over the Jan. 19 and 20 weekend.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, five academics released a statement saying they stood by their comments published in the Today article, adding that what they said was "accurately reported".
The five, John DiMoia, Axel Gelfert, Andrew Quitmeyer, Woo Jun Jie, and Linda Lim, were the ones quoted by Today publicly.
Today interviewed "about 10 academics" in total for its feature.
The five said that they believe that "freedom of expression and active public debate are foundational to scholarly excellence and the advancement of human knowledge".
They added that they were unaware of other situations where media reporting on the opinions of faculty was subject to a “legal challenge” from a university.
They also said that they were "saddened by this apparent intolerance" and urged the situation to be quickly resolved in a manner that will not be discouraging to fellow academics in Singapore.
NUS welcomes robust discourse but wishes media to be impartial and factually accurate
In response to queries, the NUS spokesperson told Mothership.sg that NUS upholds the principles of academic freedom and open inquiry.
She said that NUS "welcomes diversity of views, constructive feedback and robust discourse".
She noted that NUS wishes that any article about the university in the mainstream media should be "impartial and factually accurate", so that the public can come to its own conclusions in a fair and objective manner.
NUS addresses some of the points made by Today
The spokesperson also rebutted some assertions made by the Today article.
The article had reported that the "incessant pursuit of rankings and the relative lack of academic freedom" were reasons for the departures of the academics.
The NUS spokesperson rejected the claim, saying that ranking is not a driver of change at NUS, and noted that NUS does not chart its programme and talent management policies to influence rankings.
The NUS spokesperson also defended the university's promotion and tenure policies, describing the standards demanded of in the tenure process as "comparable to top universities around the world".
Top photo via TODAY & NUS's Facebook pages