Students, faculty protest against rejection of Dr Cherian George's appeal

Elizabeth Soh
Elizabeth Soh
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)

[UPDATE: A strongly worded letter of support from NTU Professor Mark Featherstone has been circulating in support of Dr George as faculty and students protest on Facebook]

Faculty members of NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information have taken to Facebook in a show of support for Associate Professor Cherian George, the academic in the centre of a furore over his denial of tenure and the rejection of his subsequent appeal.

A blazing red "Cover Photo" banner, with the words "We Stand With Cherian George" have replaced the regular cover photos of over 50 students and faculty members as they expressed their unhappiness over the recent rejection.

First uploaded by photojournalism lecturer Tay Kay Chin, the photo is fast making the rounds as more and more people have stepped up to make their stand on the issue.

Professor Mark Featherstone, who teachers at NTU's School of Biological Sciences, also wrote a strongly worded letter addressed to NTU's Chair of it's Board of Trustees, Mr Koh Boon Hwee, Professor Bertil Andersson, President of NTU, Professor Freddy Boey, Deputy President and Provost of NTU and Professor Haresh Shah, Chair of NTU's Academic Advisory Council.

In his letter dated 8 March, Prof Featherstone said that the rejections of Dr George's tenure due to interference from outside the University were "beyond serious rebuttal" and called NTU's assertions that the rejection had a purely peer-driven academic review, false.

"It is rather the result of an imposition originating from outside the University," wrote Prof Featherstone.

He called for NTU to make one of two ethically acceptable decisions - to either grant Dr George tenure, or to publicly acknowledge that the decision to deny him tenure had been imposed from the outside.

The full letter can be read here

An appeal made by Associate Professor Cherian George against his denial of tenure had been turned down by Nanyang Technological University.

Yahoo! Singapore has confirmed with two separate sources that the University has rejected Dr George's appeal.

This would mean that Dr George will officially be unable to continue teaching at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications, where he is a journalism lecturer, and has to leave the university within a year.

An adjunct senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies and 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.

Faculty protest

A letter in support of Dr George has already been sent to the University by his colleague, journalism professor from NTU's Division of Journalism and Publishing, Ang Peng Hwa.

In an e-mail addressed to faculty members, Prof Ang -- who is also the director for the Singapore Internet Research Centre -- along with three other Professors, he had signed a letter and sent it to the University on Tuesday in protest of Dr George's rejection.

In the e-mail, Prof Ang wrote that the letter of support was "not an appeal of an appeal" and that the four of them were not appealing for anything.

Instead, he said that the letter of support was written for George and also in the interest that the tenure process be made less ambiguous.

"It is also for those of us who plan to stay so that the environment in the School is conducive to collegiality, research and just good solid academic work," he wrote.

"We are supposed to be in the search for truth. When one is wrong, the only academic response is to admit it and reverse course. In many cultures, East and West, truth tellers have been shunned, ignored, persecuted, killed. It is to protect the scientific research process and those who practice it, that the tenure system has been set up," wrote Prof Ang of his decision to write the letter despite concerns of reprisal.

He added that he had received feedback from other faculty members that they wanted to support the letter but were conflicted because of the fear of reprisals in the upcoming performance appraisals, or when their own applications for tenure come up.

Prof Ang acknowledged their concerns, and said that in view of those fears, only four of the faculty - himself, Prof Eddie Kuo Chen Yu, Prof Hao Xiaoming andProf Schubert Foo Shou Boon would be signing the letter of support despite offers from over 20 faculty members to do so as well.

Together, the four are the most senior faculty members at WKWSCI.Prof Kuo and Prof Ang have both served as Deans at the school, with Prof Kuo as their founding dean. When contacted, Dr George declined to comment.

Related Stories:
NTU professor denied tenure may have to leave job
NTU clarifies tenure process after outcry