Former professor Cherian George challenges NTU to reveal why he was denied tenure — twice

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

Cherian George has had enough.

After almost a year skirting around the issue, the former Nanyang Technology Univesity professor has  challenged his previous employer to lay bare the facts behind his denial of tenure in 2013 that forced him to seek employment abroad.

George, who has been working at Hong Kong's Baptist University as an Associate Professor since last August, wrote on his blog late on Tuesday that he had no choice but to speak up after NTU President Bertil Andersson's latest comments to influential education website Times Higher Education.

"I have moved on, but unfortunately the NTU president’s unprovoked smear left me no choice but to respond with the facts. I have done so and have nothing more to add," said George in an email to Yahoo Singapore on Wednesday.

Andersson said in the interview via Times Higher Education that George's refusal of tenure  a position of full and continued employment with the university  was down to "academic" reasons and not "political".

Dr George “was subjected to the same scrutiny as everyone else” and that “one can have different opinions if that academic decision [by] our tenure committee was right or not. That is an academic decision. But the decision was not political,” said Andersson.

George, through a blog post titled simply as "A Clarification", said he had immediately asked Andersson to "retract his misspoken words" as it cast doubt on his impeccable 10-year academic record during his time with NTU.

Although the NTU president did eventually issue a clarification that “there was no intention to lower the reputation or standing of Dr George in his field of work”, George said it failed to "reduce the sting of his published remarks".

"They amount to a statement by the NTU president that the reason I was forced to leave his university was that I was unable to meet its academic standards required for tenure," wrote George in a post that's been shared over 3,000 times on Facebook.

Cherian George takes issue with NTU president's 'not political' reason about his denial of tenure.

"His comments are thus... incorrect, insensitive and injurious to the reputation of a Singaporean forced to reestablish his career outside his home country by his employer’s failure to treat him like other academics," he added.

He has now challenged NTU to disclose all documents relevant to his tenure case, either to the general public or to education experts.

He has also agreed to waive any confidentiality rights if full disclosure is made, ending his post with "If NTU declines, that is its prerogative  but any embarrassment it avoids would not be mine."

NTU has replied in a statement that it has "already stated its position on several previous occasions and will not be making any further comments", reported The Straits Times.

George, who was a reporter and editor with Singapore's flagship newspaper The Straits Times during the 1990s, joined NTU's school of communication and information in 2004.

A frequent critic of the government during his days at ST and well after, he was promoted in 2009 to associate professor but denied tenure, despite meeting the university's academic and scholastic criteria and consistently high performance appraisals.

He revealed that in 2009 he was only told of a “perception” that his critical writing could pose a “reputational risk” to the university in the future.

A year later, NTU blocked the school's attempt to renew his position as head of journalism, a faculty that trains and grooms potential journalists. He was again denied tenure in 2013 despite being urged to reapply, and his appeal was subsequently rejected. His contract ended in February last year with no possibility of renewal.

When he left Singapore, he issued through his blog a stinging rebuke of the powers that be that denied his tenure twice.

"Let me be clear that the handful of decision-makers who have made it impossible for me to continue on the academic track in Singapore have no say over my sense of belonging to my country or my vocation. That power resides instead in those whom I care about and respect, like the many, many friends, professional peers, students, fellow citizens and strangers who spoke up and reached out," he wrote.