NUS' prestige lies in ability to act with integrity too

A signboard at the National University of Singapore.
A signboard at the National University of Singapore.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The disciplinary measures taken by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the police in the case of the student who filmed another showering are too lenient in the light of the perpetrator's severe actions and the trauma caused to the victim (NUS to relook disciplinary processes after student's complaint, April 21).

I am glad Education Minister Ong Ye Kung made it clear that the penalties meted out were "manifestly inadequate".

According to the Singapore Penal Code's Section 509, the insult of a woman's modesty "shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both".

The outcomes arrived at by both the police and the school do not reflect the gravity of the crime.

Particularly, NUS' statutes and student code of conduct are vague and non-committal regarding the university's stance on these crimes.

NUS' statute on discipline with respect to students states that any student who is alleged to have committed "sexual misconduct, racial or religious discrimination, or any other kind of harassment towards any employee or student of the University" may be "subject to disciplinary proceedings", while the code of student conduct states that "students should refrain from all acts (including threats) of sexual misconduct against any staff, student or member of the university community and the wider public".

The university's disproportionately light penalty, along with its ambiguously worded disciplinary framework, suggests ambivalence towards the issue of sexual harassment.

I am not necessarily advocating the imprisonment of the male student. Nevertheless, the university should clearly convey an attitude of non-tolerance towards sexual misconduct, both in action and rhetoric, sending a clear message to all potential offenders about the serious consequences.

The prestige of NUS rests not merely on the school's academic achievements, but also on its ability to act with integrity and transparency in thorny situations.

As part of the community in NUS, I care for it and hope for all students and staff to have the assurance that they are in an environment that will keep them safe and support them when they have been wronged.

Hence, I appeal to the university to reconsider the penalty given to the perpetrator, demonstrating its resolution in condemning sexual misconduct, on top of reviewing the current disciplinary and support frameworks.

Rebecca Seah Qi Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline 'NUS' prestige lies in ability to act with integrity too'. Print Edition | Subscribe