Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has weighed in on the mounting controversy over how a sexual misconduct case at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was handled, saying that a strong signal has to be sent.
"Two strikes and you are out cannot be the standard application," he said in a Facebook post, shortly after NUS outlined its "second strike and you are out" policy and said it wanted to give first-time offenders a chance.
Mr Ong said in his post that he had spoken to NUS president Tan Eng Chye and board of trustees chairman Hsieh Fu Hua two nights ago to convey his concerns that the penalties meted out in the recent case were "manifestly inadequate".
"From here on, for offences that affect the safety of students on campus, we have to take a tough stand and send a strong signal to everyone," he said. "NUS has to make its campus safe for all students, especially female students."
The minister added that NUS will review its discipline and sentencing framework swiftly and decisively.
"I am confident NUS' review will result in a more robust process and stricter framework. The NUS board and president are seized with this matter, and are determined to put a stop to such unacceptable behaviour on campus," Mr Ong added.
He has asked other universities to review their frameworks for similar offences, he said.
In a separate statement yesterday, the NUS board of trustees said it viewed sexual misconduct on campus with grave concern.
It has appointed board member Kay Kuok, who also chairs the board's nominating committee, to chair a committee to review the disciplinary process and support frameworks relating to sexual misconduct in the light of the concerns raised. Madam Kuok, a lawyer by training, works full-time in her family business, the Kuok Group of Companies.
The committee will study the approaches taken by other institutions, solicit views from stakeholders, and share findings and follow-up actions in the new academic year, which begins in August. Its initial members are Singapore Management University president Lily Kong; law firm WongPartnership managing partner Ng Wai King; NUS president Tan; and an NUS Students' Union representative.
The statements follow calls from members of the public and students for harsher penalties for a man who filmed undergraduate Monica Baey in a shower at residence Eusoff Hall last year. The offender was, among other things, suspended and got a 12-month conditional warning.
Ms Baey, 23, a third-year NUS communications and new media undergraduate, took to her Instagram account last Thursday and Friday to share that she had noticed an iPhone being held under the door after she finished showering at the hall on Nov 25 last year.
According to her, NUS had asked the perpetrator, whom she revealed to be a chemical engineering student, to write an apology letter to her and undergo mandatory counselling. He was also banned from entering Eusoff Hall and suspended from school for a semester.
NUS has confirmed that the case was investigated by police and the man was given a 12-month conditional warning by the authorities.
Responding to the statements last night, Professor Tan said the "second strike and you are out" policy for sexual misconduct offences will be part of this review.
"NUS will take a hard stand on offences that impact the safety of our students. We must make our campus safe and supportive for all members of our community," he said. "I look forward to working closely with the review committee members to strengthen the disciplinary process and support network for our students."
Earlier in the evening, NUS vice-provost (student life) Florence Ling had told The Straits Times that a student found guilty of sexual misconduct for a second time would be expelled.
"For first-time offenders, because we are an educational institution, we want to give the students a chance. Student offenders who appear before the Board of Discipline for the first time are given a range of punishments, but not immediate expulsion," she said.
But students involved in multiple sexual misconduct incidents, outside NUS for example, who were caught by the university - even for the first time - would be expelled.
MEASURES TAKEN BY NUS
Professor Ling said that NUS is taking measures to "build a safe and supportive campus environment".
These include coming up with proper victim-care protocol and introducing courses for students on how they can protect themselves from sexual misconduct incidents.
Workshops, seminars and town-hall meetings will be held to facilitate conversations about sexual misconduct, she added. NUS will publicise hotlines for students to report instances of sexual misconduct.
"We want to assure the community that all cases will be investigated in a timely manner and there will be confidentiality for everybody," said Prof Ling.
Separately, the university announced it will organise a townhall meeting this Thursday to gather feedback and concerns on sexual misconduct on campus and discuss how to improve its disciplinary and support mechanisms.
Associate Professor Peter Pang, NUS' dean of students, said in an internal circular sent to students, faculty and staff yesterday: "We will also share with you NUS' investigation and disciplinary procedures, and the sanctions framework for sexual misconduct."
CALL TO RELOOK CAMPUS SAFETY
Meanwhile, most students ST interviewed felt the punishment for the perpetrator was not harsh enough. Those staying on campus said they were especially worried as there have been several cases of victims being filmed in the shower.
A 20-year-old arts and social sciences NUS student living in a hall, who did not want to be named, said: "I don't think we'll feel safe. I'll be more aware of my surroundings."
Arts and social sciences student Mysara Aljaru, 25, said there should be better support for victims. "We are not calling for a bloodbath, but it's not fair to let the man off so leniently. What message are you giving people?" she said.
Ms Anisha Joseph, head of Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre, said it is encouraging to see NUS taking steps to review its policies and practices.
"Educational institutions have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for students and staff," she said. "As the response to this incident has shown, today's students are 'woke' about sexual abuse and will demand higher standards of practice and accountability from university authorities."