One staff member dismissed, two students expelled after 11 sexual misconduct complaints made in first half of 2021: NUS

SINGAPORE: One staff member was dismissed and two students were expelled from the National University of Singapore (NUS) for sexual misconduct in the first half of this year, the university said on Thursday (Aug 5).

In its second report on sexual misconduct released on Thursday, NUS said it received 11 complaints between January and June this year. Ten of the sexual misconduct complaints were made against students and one involved a staff member, said NUS.

During the same period last year, the university received five sexual misconduct complaints involving students and four against staff members.

“While we note the drop in the number of sexual misconduct incidents involving staff … We are seeing more individuals come forward to file reports against alleged student perpetrators,” the report read. 

“We believe this demonstrates that our approach of greater transparency has increased the level of trust in NUS, that each complaint is taken seriously, investigated thoroughly following due process, and appropriate disciplinary sanctions are imposed for every infringement that is proven.”

NUS on Thursday also consolidated its policies relating to sexual misconduct into one standalone policy on Protection of Staff and Students against Sexual Misconduct, said the university in the report. 

The policy clarifies what NUS considers to be sexual misconduct and provides procedures for reporting and handling an incident. According to the policy, sexual misconduct includes, but is not limited to: Sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual contact.

The policy provides an “integrated approach” for managing sexual misconduct in NUS, and provides a system for reporting, investigation and decision-making, the report read. 

“We continue to strive to offer a safe and conducive platform for affected parties to step forward and share their experiences in confidence.”

The sexual misconduct report, released every six months, is part of efforts by NUS to raise awareness of the issue after a spate of cases involving both staff and students.

Recap: Sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour at NUS

NUS first stepped up its response to sexual misconduct after undergraduate Monica Baey spoke out online about how the institution responded when she was filmed in a hostel shower by a fellow student in 2019. 

NUS subsequently set up a Victim Care Unit  in August 2019 for students who are victims of sexual misconduct

In its first sexual misconduct report published in January this year, NUS said that 71 sexual misconduct complaints involving students were made to the university between 2016 and 2020. The university also received 19 complaints of sexual misconduct involving staff members between 2016 and 2020, the report said. 

NUS saw several allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour against staff members in 2020. 

Lecturer and fellow at Tembusu College Dr Jeremy Fernando was sacked on Oct 7 that year, following an internal investigation of two complaints alleging that he had “behaved inappropriately as a teaching staff”. The university’s investigations established that he had “an intimate association” with an undergraduate.

On Nov 17, 2020, NUS announced that it had completed its review of a complaint made against former East Asian Institute (EAI) director Professor Zheng Yongnian and found that he had behaved inappropriately towards a colleague in May 2018.

The university said that “in the absence of evidence”, the inquiry was unable to verify all the allegations except that Prof Zheng had hugged the member of staff without her permission during a meeting.

As such, the “appropriate sanction” was a written warning.

On Dec 1, 2020, NUS dismissed Professor Theodore G Hopf – or Ted Hopf – over a case of sexual harassment against a student following an anonymous complaint sent to the university in August.

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A new component for bystander intervention will also be integrated into the current Respect and Consent module for all students, the university said in its report on Thursday. 

“This aims to help students understand the roles and social responsibilities of bystanders, thereby fostering a safer campus environment for all,” the report read. 

NUS has progressively rolled out its new bystander training programme to all full-time staff since Apr 2021. 

Feedback has been “positive”, and as of Jun 30, the training for all full-time staff has been completed, while training for all incoming full-time staff will continue, the report said. 

“This will greatly contribute towards raising awareness and building a culture of respect and consent on campus.” 

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