NTU Professor appeals against denial of tenure

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)

[Updated 8 March, 3:45PM]

The NTU Professor whose denial of tenure sparked an outcry amongst faculty members and journalists here has formally appealed against the University's decision.

Yahoo! Singapore was able to receive confirmation from two separate sources close to the issue that Dr George has submitted his appeal ahead of the deadline on Friday and will be awaiting the results.

This comes as faculty members and academics continue to speak out against Dr George's allegedly unfair denial of tenure.

The most recent protest in the form of an open letter published online on March 6 and undersigned by academics from Harvard, MIT, Purdue, and other distinguished US universities.

The letter states that the proceedings behind Dr George's denial of tenure "creates the impression that the principles of academic freedom held in common by our fields have not been upheld at NTU."

"As a group of international peers in the study of the Internet and society, it is our conclusion that factors external to the peer evaluation of research and teaching may have improperly influenced the tenure decision for Prof. George. To dispel this perception would require that NTU clarify the process by which tenure was rejected against the desires of the faculty and academic peer experts," it read.

"Until this is clarified we strongly caution our colleagues working in the area of Internet and society in any dealings with Singaporean universities."

The full letter can be found here

Just a day earlier on March 5, a similar letter, signed by close to 100 of Singapore's foremost civil activists, actors, and political and social commentators protesting against NTU's decision was put up. It can be read here.

A previous meeting was also held among members of faculty at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information to formally convey their concern over the second denial of Dr George's tenure.

Yahoo! Singapore
learnt that a meeting was called among faculty of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) communications school on Monday, where it was decided that a collective formal letter of concern would be written to the school chair, Associate Professor Benjamin Detenber, over George’s implicit dismissal.

A faculty member who attended the meeting told Yahoo! Singapore that “concern has been expressed not only over (George’s) denial of tenure, but also over what this spells for academics at the school seeking it”.
“We’re concerned now because if even he (George) can’t get tenured, what does it take?” said the lecturer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added, however, that not all faculty at the meeting agreed to sign the letter, with some expressing their own reservations over expressly being involved.
Yahoo! Singapore also understands that Detenber met with school faculty on Friday to shed more light on the situation, reaffirming the stance that the school stood behind George on both occasions when he sought tenure.
Outrage ensued when news emerged early last week that George’s second application for tenure was rejected by the University. Four final-year students initiated an online petition, which received more than 900 signatures from Wee Kim Wee students present and past, as well as academia and concerned members of the public.
The students, led by final year journalism student Bhavan Jaipragas, brought hard copies of the petition to the offices of the university president, provost, college and school deans. After speaking with Detenber, it emerged that the school had on both occasions (in 2009 and this year) backed George’s application for tenure, and that his subsequent rejection was decided upon at a higher level.
George’s second denial of tenure means that he will be asked to leave the university a year from now, according to NTU’s “3 + 3 + 3 + 1” policy for lecturers on the tenure track.
Following notification of his rejection slightly more than a week ago, he will have another four days to decide whether or not to appeal the decision. Sources who spoke to George told Yahoo! Singapore that he has “demonstrated his inclination toward” submitting an appeal.
“The real loss (of George) will be to the University, though, beyond that of the school, the college or the students,” the source said.
News of the tenure rejection has since attracted the attention of international media and foreign academics, some of whom have written posts online to express their support for the eloquent journalism professor, widely known for his scholarly analysis and criticism of the state of media freedom in Singapore.

Formerly a journalist with The Straits Times, his most recent book is entitled "Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore".

Related links:
NTU Prof denied tenure may have to leave job
NTU clarifies tenure process after outcry
Commentary: Why didn't NTU renew Cherian George as journalism head?