Ex-NTU prof Cherian George accepts Hong Kong position after tenure rejection

Esther Au Yong
Editor-in-Chief, News and Finance
Former journalist Cherian George, the academic whose tenure rejection by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) caused much backlash against the institution last year, has accepted a position in Hong Kong. (Yahoo! file photo)

Former journalist Cherian George, the academic whose tenure rejection by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) caused much backlash against the institution last year, has accepted a position in Hong Kong.

He announced on his blog recently, "This August, I’ll be starting work at Hong Kong Baptist University’s school of communication. It’s a move that will let me continue my journalism research, teaching and advocacy while remaining in Asia. That I can’t do so in my homeland is my loss, but I’m hopeful that this will be made up for by the stimulation of an invigorating new environment."

He also clarified what happened last year — “for the sake of closure” — in the post.

"Unfortunately, by opting to err on the side of discretion [when the incident blew up], I allowed some less-informed opinions to propagate, including the truism that tenure decisions are increasingly rigorous and inherently subjective. It didn’t help that my employer issued this public statement about its general policy: 'The tenure review process is purely a peer-driven academic exercise… The two equally important criteria are distinction in research and scholarship, and high quality teaching',” he said.
"While this may be true in general, the process was not followed in my specific case. For the sake of closure, I should clarify.”

NTU’s tenure process

According to George, NTU’s official criteria for tenure are indistinguishable from its criteria for promotion to Associate Professor – "promotion and tenure go together". He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2009 and was told he had met all criteria for the promotion.

However, in an exceptional course of action, the university withheld tenure from him. “I will only say that I was assured categorically that this had nothing to do with my research and scholarship, teaching or service, and also not because I had conducted myself inappropriately in any way,” he said.

"Similarly, in 2010, no academic reasons were cited when the university leadership decided to turn down my school’s request to re-appoint me as head of journalism."

Then, two years later, in 2012, "when the university suggested that the school put me through the tenure process again, I assented in order to allow it to set right what had been left unresolved in 2009”.

Tenure again was not given and his contract ended in February 2014 with no possibility of renewal.

He added, "When set against the facts of my case, my employer’s public statement that ‘all' NTU faculty go through the same ‘purely’ peer-driven process is inaccurate. Fortunately, peers – including senior colleagues in NTU and the Wee Kim Wee School, external reviewers and others with knowledge of my case – spoke up for me. Thanks to them, foreign universities I dealt with subsequently could see past the cloud of controversy.”

A former journalist with The Straits Times, George has spoken out against media control and has been critical of the ruling People’s Action Party. He joined NTU in 2004.