SINGAPORE: The Education Ministry will continue to work closely with institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to "tighten processes where needed", said Minister of State Sun Xueling following the dismissal of National University of Singapore (NUS) professor Dr Jeremy Fernando.
Dr Fernando, who was a Tembusu College professor, was recently sacked by NUS after he was found to have had “an intimate association” with an undergraduate. NUS also filed a police report.
In a Facebook post on Saturday (Oct 24), Ms Sun said there had been "much public discussion" about the dismissal.
She noted how NUS had "responded with a timeline of events and their investigations", adding that "at a press conference yesterday, NUS also acknowledged that they could have done better in handling the matter", she said.
"Now that a police report has been filed, we will let the police investigations run its course," Ms Sun added.
READ: NUS has 'fallen short' in handling Jeremy Fernando's dismissal, says Tembusu College rector Tommy Koh
READ: NUS Tembusu College rector Tommy Koh backtracks less than 2 hours after saying he will offer to resign over Fernando incident
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is following up with NUS and other universities to ensure the safety and protection of students.
"One question we have asked the university leadership: What more can they do to prevent instances like these from happening in future?" said Ms Sun.
She said the ministry recognises that IHLs "must give space for academic pursuit and ideas to flourish".
"But the issues around this case lead us to question: How can we better guard against educators and other individuals who cross the line, and how can we collectively strengthen campus safety?
"At the end of the day, our IHLs have a duty of care to their students. There must be zero-tolerance in our campuses for any form of sexual misconduct, harassment or violence," said Ms Sun.
"On MOE's part, we will continue working closely with all our IHLs to tighten processes where needed, to ensure the safety of the student community at all times," she added.
On Friday, the college’s rector Professor Tommy Koh said NUS had "fallen short".
Prof Koh said: “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.
“So using these two, three criteria, in my view, NUS has fallen short.”
In response to Ms Sun’s Facebook post, NUS dean of students Associate Professor Leong Ching said that when she “admitted that NUS could have handled the issue better”, she was referring to the “less-than-timely communication” of the university’s decision.
“I do not refer to our response to the complaint, which was first, to provide immediate support and care to the students involved; second to immediately suspend and then summarily dismiss the staff, all in just over a month,” she said in a Facebook comment.
Assoc Prof Leong said she believed the response was “the most expeditious possible, while keeping to due process”.
“With respect Minister, this is what zero tolerance looks like. Leong Ching,” she added.