NUS President Tan Eng Chye: 'Every victim of sexual misconduct is one too many'

The president added that staff will be held to the "highest standards."

Matthias Ang | December 17, 2020, 07:18 PM

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has issued a statement addressing several sexual misconduct incidents in universities which have come to light.

Email to alumnus

In an email sent to alumnus on Dec. 17, NUS President Tan Eng Chye said:

"NUS gives the highest priority to creating a safe learning and working environment on its campuses. Every victim of sexual misconduct is one too many. The University takes a zero-tolerance approach towards sexual misconduct. We have instituted strict policies and regulations to tackle such misconduct. Enforcement will be swift, firm and unwavering."

He added:

"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."

As such, he says the university is taking a "holistic approach" towards addressing sexual misconduct.

Such steps have included a review of the university's staff sexual harassment and misconduct policies, carried out by the Office of the Senior Deputy President and Provost, and the establishment of a cross-campus committee on sexual misconduct by university staff, which has since made recommendations that the university is currently reviewing.

"It is a good thing that more individuals are stepping forward"

Tan also pointed out that more victims coming forward to file reports was a sign of trust in NUS, in spite of issues that such reports could cause for the university's reputation.

As per Tan:

"We are seeing more individuals coming forward to file reports against alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct. 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. No student or staff should suffer in silence."

Victims will be also be provided with support in the form of the Victim Care Unit (VCU), which provides a central point of contact for all NUS students who are or have been affected by sexual misconduct.

Elaborating on the unit's expansion, Tan added that the VCU will be renamed NUS Care Unit (NCU), while the resources provided for the unit will be increased to ensure it can extend its care programmes to staff as well, by the second quarter of 2021.

Staff to be held to the "highest standards"

Meanwhile, a common sexual misconduct policy applicable to all staff and students will also be developed, according to Tan.

In addition, staff will also be subjected to "swift" disciplinary action should they breach the NUS Code of Conduct for staff.

Tan highlighted:

"There are instances of sexual misconduct involving the interplay of unequal power relations, which are more egregious. This is why the University must treat them very seriously. The recent dismissal of two teaching faculty members who were found to have behaved inappropriately towards students is evidence of this."

Details of the offence in question, such as the name of the staff offender, may also be made available to the NUS community, once disciplinary sanctions have been determined, and on the condition that the victim's identity remains confidential.

The NUS Code of Conduct for staff will also be made public, at the suggestion of the NUS Students' Union.

NUS community to be provided with report on sexual misconduct every six months

As for other measures that will be progressively introduced over the following months, Tan said this will consist of:

  • Having both staff and students undergo refresher courses on matters of respect and consent,
  • Ensuring that a police report is made no later than two weeks upon conclusion of deliberations by the university's Board of Discipline (for students) or the Committee of Inquiry (for staff). A police report may also be filed earlier if circumstances warrant,
  • Continuing to share information about investigations and allegations where pertinent, without compromising the privacy and well-being of victims, and
  • Providing the university's community with a report on sexual misconduct among both staff and students every six months, with the facts redacted to prevent the victims from being identified.

As for the number of cases reported thus far, Tan noted that MOE had a total of 56 student-related disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct among the six local universities for the academic years of 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Of these 56 cases, 20 were from NUS, two were from Yale-NUS College, 20 were from NTU, six were from SMU, while SUTD, SIT and SUSS had one case each.

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