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Sacked NUS professor had 'intimate association' with undergrad; university makes police report

Sacked NUS professor had 'intimate association' with undergrad; university makes police report

File photo of the National University of Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Jeremy Fernando, the Tembusu College professor who was sacked by the National University of Singapore (NUS), had “an intimate association” with an undergraduate, the university said in a statement on Wednesday (Oct 21).

NUS added that it made a police report on Wednesday. In response to CNA's queries, the police on Thursday confirmed a report has been lodged and that investigations are ongoing.

“The university received two complaints alleging that Dr (Fernando) had behaved inappropriately as a teaching staff. All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously, and the university stands firmly against all forms of inappropriate behaviour. On receiving the initial complaint, the university immediately placed the staff member on suspension and started investigations,” NUS said.

“The university’s internal investigation established that Dr Fernando had an intimate association with an undergraduate.”

This was a “serious breach” of the university’s code of conduct for staff members, and it “acted swiftly” to dismiss Dr Fernando, said the university.

"The two students were advised to report the allegations of sexual misconduct to the police, in the company of an NUS staff," said the university in the statement.

READ: Student group calls on NUS to show 'transparency and accountability' in handling case of professor sacked for inappropriate behaviour

According to the NUS Code of Conduct for Staff, staff members must not engage in an intimate relationship with an undergraduate student, and ensure that they do not place themselves in a position of conflict of interest. 

The university first received a complaint against Dr Fernando on Aug 27, and he was suspended on Aug 31. 

Dr Fernando was interviewed by the university regarding the first complaint on Sep 1, and this investigation was concluded on Sep 5. On Sep 7, NUS received a second complaint from another student, it said in its statement. 

In both cases, a no contact order was issued to prohibit him from contacting the complainants. 

The students were also interviewed regarding their complaints on 31 Aug and Sep 9 respectively.

NUS’ Victim Care Unit (VCU) care officers “explored” the option of making a police report with both students, and assured them of “continued support” by the VCU if they chose to do so. This would include accompanying them to the police station. 

The director of Tembusu College also advised the second student similarly, said NUS. The students both later decided not to report the matter to the police. 

NUS completed its internal investigation of the first complaint on Sep 5, and the second complaint on Sep 21. 

Dr Fernando was informed of the alleged misconduct on Sep 21 and given seven working days to “respond with additional information/mitigating factors”, said the university. He responded on Sep 30. 

On Oct 7, NUS informed Dr Fernando that he was dismissed following internal investigations on his conduct, and the two students were also informed of the outcome of their complaints in separate sessions. 

The VCU care officer again “explored” the options of making a police report with both students and assured them of “continued support” if they chose to do so. 

“The students decided not to report the matter to the police,” said the university, adding that academic staff were informed about Dr Fernando’s departure on the same day. 

On Oct 18, Tembusu College sent out an email to all staff members and students to inform them about Dr Fernando’s dismissal, said NUS. The next day, the care officer contacted both students who had filed the complaints to “check on their well-being”. 

“As one of the students was formerly a student at Tembusu College, two of the college’s directors have been providing direct additional support to her, and are continuing to be in touch with her,” said NUS in the statement, adding that the college master had also engaged different stakeholders on the matter. 

”In addition, the college took prompt action to ensure that there was no disruption to students’ learning following the dismissal of Dr Fernando. A group of student leaders at Tembusu College have also started a ground-up initiative to form a community support working group to facilitate deeper dialogue and discussion within the college community.” 

READ: Tembusu College students form group to 'rebuild', 'strengthen' trust following dismissal of college fellow

Responding to criticism of NUS’ handling of the dismissal, the university noted that it “has to balance interests of privacy and confidentiality”, especially for the victims involved. 

“We recognise that we could have shared information about the dismissal with Tembusu staff and students in a more timely manner and we endeavour to do better.” 

The university has also published the Code of Conduct for Staff, which was not previously available to the public, in response to a request from the NUS Students’ Union, said the statement. 

“We will continue to remind our staff to uphold high standards of professional and personal conduct. We will also continue to work closely with our students, staff and stakeholders to build a safe, inclusive and respectful community.” 

Source: CNA/hw(rw)


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