S'porean economist Li Shengwu gets tenure at Harvard University

His father Lee Hsien Yang described it as a "major academic milestone."

Keyla Supharta | March 01, 2024, 03:34 PM



Li Shengwu, the eldest son of Lee Hsien Yang, has received tenure at Harvard University.

The 39-year-old economist announced the news on his X account on Feb. 28.

"Tenured," the associate professor of economics said, emphasising the importance of focused work and being kind to oneself while on the tenure track.

"Now that it's no longer tempting fate, let me say this: Be kind to yourself. It's easy on the tenure track to work to the point of negative marginal return," Li said.

"A lot of this job is being at peace with uncertainty. It's about finding a process that works for you, and recognising that insight arrives stochastically, in a way you can't fully control."

Li's academic career and achievements

Li became an assistant professor of economics at Harvard in 2018.

He was promoted to associate professor in 2023 and earned his tenure in 2024.

According to Harvard, tenured professional appointments are reserved for scholars of the first order of eminence in research, teaching, advising, mentoring, and service.

Just last year, Li was awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for 2023— one of the most prestigious awards available to young researchers.

He was among the 125 outstanding researchers in the U.S. to have been awarded.

He received his doctorate in economics from Stanford University in 2016 and was inducted into Harvard Society of Fellows in the same year.

Major academic milestone

Li's father, Lee Hsien Yang, also announced the news of his son's tenure on Facebook on Feb. 29, 2024.

"Shengwu has been granted tenure by Harvard. It is a major academic milestone," Lee said.

Other Singaporeans in the Ivy League

Harvard is part of the "Ivy League" group of higher education institutions in northeastern U.S., including Yale, Princeton and Columbia universities.

Other Singaporeans who have taught at Ivy League universities include Ho Teck Hua, president of Nanyang Technological University, who was an Associate Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Chee Wei Wong, currently a faculty member with the University of California in Los Angeles, was previously a tenured member of Columbia University.

Legal troubles

Back in 2017, Li made a Facebook post that shared a link to a New York Times editorial titled "Censored in Singapore".

Li alleged that the Singapore government is "very litigious" and has a "pliant court system."

Although Li's post was only viewable by his Facebook friends, he was brought to court over the matter, with the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) arguing that Li had scandalised the judiciary with his remark.

In July 2020, Li failed to abide by a court order to appear for cross-examination.

AGC then pushed for either a S$15,000 fine or two weeks in jail.

Low Siew Ling, AGC's representative, said that Li's post "clearly impugns" the impartiality of Singapore's courts and judiciary.

AGC noted that Li's post was made during the Oxley Road dispute between Li's uncle, father and aunt, Lee Wei Ling.

Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling had made allegations of abuse of power against their brother, the prime minister.

AGC added that the timing of the post ensured it would capture widespread public attention and was "particularly inflammatory" by denouncing the court system, which Li's grandfather, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, had "safeguarded his entire public life."

Li was then found guilty of contempt of court and fined S$15,000 or a week's jail, if he did not pay the fine.

Li decided to pay the fine, but said this decision did not mean he admits guilt.

Top image via Harvard University/Facebook and Lee Hsien Yang/Facebook.