Oversight led to delay in nod for don's talk: NUS

An administrative "oversight" led to a delay in securing approval for media professor Cherian George to speak at a public lecture, the National University of Singapore (NUS) said yesterday, explaining why the event featuring the academic had to be postponed.

"We regret that our internal administrative process took longer than expected due to an oversight, leading to this unfortunate incident," an NUS spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times. The spokesman, who did not elaborate on the nature of the oversight, added that Dr George has since accepted an invitation to now speak on March 28.

In a blog post last Friday, Dr George, who previously lectured at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said he accepted an invitation last December from Professor Mohan Dutta, head of NUS' Department of Communications and New Media, to deliver a public lecture. The date of the lecture, which was titled Rethinking Censorship In An Age Of Authoritarian Resilience, was fixed for last Friday.

But Prof Dutta asked for a rain check last week owing to the delay in securing approval, and there was no longer time to make travel arrangements and publicise the lecture even if approval was suddenly granted, wrote Dr George, who is a journalism professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University.

He said he was told in February that all visitors to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are subject to screening. That official approval was granted only at 3pm last Friday - the day of the lecture - with no explanation about the nature of the screening or why it had taken so long, he added.

Dr George said that during his time at NTU from 2004 to 2014, he "never encountered any rule requiring us to seek permission before inviting a speaker".

"In my time as an academic, I have given talks on campuses in around 25 countries. This is the first time that an invitation to speak has been, in effect, voided. It's the kind of hitch that I'm mentally prepared for if I need to deal with universities in the People's Republic of China. I wasn't expecting it from my own country," he wrote.

NUS did not address questions asking for details about its screening policy. In his post, Dr George asked NUS to make its policies more transparent, and to declare the screening process that applies to visitors, which NUS told him was standard procedure.When contacted by ST, he declined to comment on NUS' statement. Dr George, a former ST journalist, failed to get tenure twice when he was at NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information - though he was promoted to an associate professor.

NTU's decision led to speculation that it was politically motivated due to his past criticism of the Government. But then NTU president Bertil Andersson has disputed that this was the case. Dr George later wrote on his blog that he was told of a “perception” that his writing could pose a “reputational risk” to the university in the future. The university had since declined to comment further. 

• Additional reporting by Yasmine Yahya and Tham Yuen-C

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Oversight led to delay in nod for don's talk: NUS'. Subscribe