NUS accepts recommendations by review committee on sexual misconduct

NUS accepts recommendations by review committee on sexual misconduct

The National University of Singapore's (NUS) Board of Trustees said on Monday (Jun 10) that it accepts "in full" the final recommendations made by the review committee on sexual misconduct, which were submitted earlier in the day. Lee Li Ying with more.

SINGAPORE: The National University of Singapore's (NUS) Board of Trustees said on Monday (Jun 10) that it accepts "in full" the final recommendations made by the review committee on sexual misconduct, which were submitted earlier in the day. 

The school convened the review committee in mid-April after undergraduate Monica Baey called for "justice" against a fellow student who filmed her having a shower at her hostel. 

"The Board accepts the Committee's recommendations in full," said board chairman Hsieh Fu Hua in a statement. "We feel that the recommendations are informed, balanced and robust. 

"It reflects our community's common desire for tougher penalties for offenders and greater support for victims, and for fostering an enduring culture of respect and support on campus."

READ: "Change has finally come" - Monica Baey on NUS handling of sexual misconduct cases

The committee shared its preliminary recommendations last month, such as tougher penalties on offenders, including a minimum one-year suspension, a notation reflecting the suspension on the offender's transcript and expulsion for severe offences. 

The committee also said it was reviewing the university's proposal for a dedicated care unit for victims of sexual misconduct cases. 

A summary of the committee's final recommendations, which was disseminated to NUS students, staff and alumni on Monday, provided updates on these items.

There were 10 recommendations in total, the first of which was the aforementioned tougher penalties for sexual misconduct. 

The committee reiterated the proposal for a minimum one-year suspension, which it elaborated cannot be overridden or removed by the Board of Discipline (BOD), as well as immediate expulsion for "severe instances or aggravated forms of offences of sexual misconduct". 

It was also recommended that offenders have a notation of the length of their suspension on their academic transcripts, which can be expunged three years from the offender's date of degree conferment. 

READ: NUS' penalties for sexual misconduct case were "manifestly inadequate", says Ong Ye Kung

READ: 56 cases of sexual misconduct by university students in past 3 years, says Ong Ye Kung

To guard against reoffending, offenders must also be certified fit by a counsellor and/or medical professional before they are allowed to return to campus after suspension. 

In addition, a "no-contact protocol" would be established "to ensure that the victim and offender do not come into contact with each other ... for example, ensuring that they do not take the same classes or non-academic programmes". 

In its recommendations, the committee said it supports NUS' plan to launch a new compulsory module, Respect and Consent Culture, which will begin in the 2019/2020 academic year. 

"The Committee notes that the University will conduct first responder training commencing in June 2019 to ensure that all first responders know how to communicate and help victims. This would involve campus security officers, masters, resident fellows and residential advisers," said the committee. 

On top of these, the committee also recommended that past cases on which the BOD had formally ruled and for which sanctions have been meted out, "cannot be reopened". 

"Our recommended changes will form the basis of the University's tougher stance on sexual misconduct and discipline going forward," it said. 

BETTER VICTIM SUPPORT

At least four of the recommendations were related to victim support. 

In a bid to "give victims a greater voice in the disciplinary process", the committee recommended that they be kept up-to-date on the proceedings, allowed to fill a statement of facts before the BOD hearing, allowed to fill an impact statement and offer clarifications on it in front of the BOD, and given an avenue to request for a review of BOD outcomes in exceptional circumstances. 

The committee also recommended that the BOD composition be reviewed to ensure adequate gender balance among members. 

One of the recommendations involved the assignment of a care officer to each victim at the point an incident is reported, after the committee found that a single point-of-contact for victims had been lacking, "therefore risking a lack of continuity in victim care". 

The care officer will accompany the victim in dealing with law enforcement, as well as support the victim through the disciplinary process and interface with other support units across the school. 

READ: More secure shower cubicles, guards as NUS steps up security on campus

The committee also said it supports the establishment of the victim care unit, adding that care officers must have relevant experience in counselling, social work or psychology. 

It also highlighted the need for a dedicated website providing information and advice for sexual misconduct victims, including clear reporting and support mechanisms like essential contact numbers and whistleblowing channels. 

Additionally, the committee proposed that NUS streamline the number of units involved in the disciplinary process, as well as provide a timeline for such processes outlining when each stage of the process should be completed. 

CAMPUS SECURITY

In early May, an email outlining measures to step up campus safety was issued to students by the school's senior deputy president and provost Professor Ho Teck Hua. 

Among these measures were more secure shower cubicles, new restroom locks and at least 300 new cameras. 

In its summary of recommendations, the committee said it "agrees that these tools should significantly enhance campus safety and security". 

But the committee also said: "Beyond infrastructure and security, the Committee would like to reiterate the importance of imbuing a culture of safety and mutual care among NUS staff and students, particularly as to the issue of non-resident’s ability to gain unauthorised access to hostels. 

"Safety cannot be compromised and everyone must be mindful to uphold and observe safety measures."

Mr Hsieh said that the board will conduct a follow-up review of the disciplinary and support frameworks in two years to ensure that they "remain effective and relevant". 

He thanked students, staff and alumni for their contributions, calling them a "significant part of the review process". 

"The University is committed to your safety and well-being, and with these new measures, we will build a stronger system that our entire community can stand behind," he said. 

EDUCATION MINISTER WELCOMES "ROBUST SET OF MEASURES"

The recommendations constitute a "robust set of measures" which will "provide better support for victims, take the offenders to task, deter future offenders and improve the safety of the campus", Education Minister Ong Ye Kung wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

The minister had previously said the penalties imposed on the perpetrator in Ms Baey's case were "manifestly inadequate". He had also asked other universities to review their frameworks for similar offences.

Thanking the NUS review committee for their hard work, Mr Ong said: "It has been a difficult period for the NUS community, but by taking swift and decisive action, NUS will emerge stronger and better.

"The other institutes of higher learning are also conducting their reviews, and (the) Ministry of Education, Singapore will continue to work with them to help ensure a safe and supportive environment for our students."

Source: CNA/hs

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