NUS dismisses professor over sexual harassment of student

NUS dismisses professor over sexual harassment of student

The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday (Dec 1) dismissed a professor over a case of sexual harassment against a student. Tan Si Hui speaks with Professor Theodore Hopf, who has denied all allegations.

SINGAPORE: The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Tuesday (Dec 1) dismissed a professor over a case of sexual harassment against a student.

An anonymous complaint was sent to the university in August alleging that Professor Theodore G Hopf, listed on the NUS website as Ted Hopf, had sexually harassed a student, said NUS in a media release.

Prof Hopf was part of the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). NUS did not indicate the gender of the student.

"The university immediately commenced investigations," said NUS.

Setting out the timeline of events, NUS said that a no-contact order was issued to him on Sep 15, prohibiting him from contacting any NUS student. This was done after interviews with the student and Prof Hopf.

He was later suspended and told to stay off-campus while investigations were ongoing.

READ: Recap - Allegations of inappropriate behaviour, sexual misconduct made against NUS staff this year

A committee of inquiry (COI), which was appointed on Oct 7, interviewed the student. The student was accompanied by a care officer from the NUS Victim Care Unit at the interview held on Oct 21.

As Prof Hopf needed to seek treatment for "a serious medical condition", the COI interviewed him on Nov 13 after his medical leave.

The COI concluded its inquiry and submitted its report to the university on Nov 18.

COI FINDINGS

The student alleged that at a meeting on campus in August, Prof Hopf offered and drank alcohol with the student. He also allegedly made "an offensive remark" about certain parts of the student's anatomy.

Prof Hopf admitted to the COI that he made the remark.

At the same meeting, Prof Hopf allegedly "pulled the student forcefully towards him twice, during which the student resisted, moved back and told him to stop", said NUS.

Prof Hopf admitted to placing his hands on the shoulders of the student while facing the student, but denied pulling the student towards him.

The COI found the student’s account of the unwelcome physical contact to be "credible", said NUS.

The university said that the COI also found the consumption of alcohol in the workplace, the offensive remark and the unwelcome physical contact to be in contravention with the NUS Code of Conduct for Staff on professional behaviour.

READ: Institutions must be 'open and timely' when addressing sexual misconduct allegations: MOE

READ: MOE will continue working with schools to 'tighten processes where needed': Sun Xueling on NUS dismissal of professor

The student also alleged that Prof Hopf had sent a "sex-text message" to the student in October 2018.

Prof Hopf admitted to sending the message to the student but explained to the COI that the message "was meant for someone else", said NUS.

"As Prof Hopf did not clearly inform the student that the message was meant for someone else, and he also did not apologise for sending the message by mistake, the COI established that this was a serious professional misconduct," said NUS.

"The COI determined that Prof Hopf had failed to act with propriety, respect, and decorum expected of a staff of the university. He had sexually harassed the student in physical, verbal and written forms. His conduct was a serious breach of the NUS Staff Code of Conduct." 

NUS dismissed Prof Hopf on Tuesday "given the serious nature of the offences", said the university.

POLICE REPORT LODGED

NUS also made a police report on Nov 27, after informing the student that the university would be proceeding to do so "in line with its legal obligations", NUS added.

Responding to CNA queries, the police confirmed that a report had been lodged and investigations were ongoing.

NUS said:"The Victim Care Unit and FASS have been providing care and support to the student since the allegations were first brought to the University’s attention, and will continue to do so."

The university also said that "to protect the privacy and wellbeing of the student, some details of the allegations and findings have been withheld to prevent the identification of the student".

OTHER CASES INVOLVING NUS STAFF MEMBERS

NUS in October sacked Dr Jeremy Fernando, a professor at Tembusu College for inappropriate behaviour. 

The dismissal followed an internal investigation after it received two complaints alleging that he had "behaved inappropriately as a teaching staff", said NUS.

READ: NUS responds to students' complaints that it filed police report on Jeremy Fernando against their wishes

Last month, the university found that former East Asian Institute (EAI) director Zheng Yongnian behaved inappropriately towards a colleague in May 2018.

The finding was made following investigations by a committee of inquiry, which was established after NUS became aware of the allegations in May 2019.

Professor Zheng stepped down as EAI director in June this year.

READ: Former East Asian Institute director hugged colleague without consent, NUS inquiry finds following complaint

CAMPUS SAFETY

Following Dr Fernando's dismissal, Minister of State for Education, and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling commented on the issue of campus safety.

In a Facebook post on Oct 24, Ms Sun wrote: "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."

"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.

Ms Sun later said in Parliament that when allegations of serious misconduct are made, the institute of higher learning will immediately require the accused individual to stay away from campus, and may impose a no-contact order to ensure that he or she stays away from the party making the accusations.

“A police report is typically made for allegations of serious misconduct and where the alleged offender is proven and charged in court, this will be a matter of public record,” said Ms Sun on Nov 3.

She added that the institutes also conduct their own internal investigations to determine if the individual has breached the code of conduct. 

“In the course of addressing allegations, MOE expects institutions to be open and timely in their communications, while taking into consideration the facts of the case, the need to ensure the safety of their communities and safeguard the well-being and privacy of victims and other members of the community who are directly affected, and the need to ensure that police investigations are not impacted."

Source: CNA/jt(ac)

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