NTU says foodcourt signage incident was a supervisor's mistake

A drinks stall with a bilingual menu at a foodcourt in Nanyang Technological University.
A drinks stall with a bilingual menu at a foodcourt in Nanyang Technological University.ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - The move to replace bilingual signs at a foodcourt at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with English-only ones came about because of a supervisor's misunderstanding, the university said on Friday (Aug 4).

Following the incident in June, NTU appointed a five-member investigation panel comprising the university's senior management.

It has completed its investigation and concluded that the issue arose from instructions from an NTU staff member to food stall operators that was not approved by NTU senior management nor sanctioned by any university policy.

In June, there was an outcry among members of the public, when the media reported that stall operators at North Spine Food Court had received a notice telling them to remove all Chinese words from their signage and leave only English ones.

The foodcourt is one of 12 at NTU.

After investigating, the panel established that a supervisor at the NTU leasing unit had inserted a clause in the tender documents and commercial lease agreements in 2013. This clause stated that signage at food stalls must be in English only. The supervisor did not consult or seek approval from the university's senior management.


At that time, some stall-holders complied and others did not.

In 2016, NTU learnt that a vendor had been told to use English only on his signs, but did not verify it or take action. As the stall-holders' contracts would be up for renewal in August this year, the supervisor later insisted that they adhered to the clause, he added.

A statement from NTU, released on Friday, said that its broad principle has "always been to have English as the working language for the common understanding of all faculty, staff and students on campus. However, this does not mean the exclusion of other languages".

It added that "the staff of the leasing unit had misunderstood this need to have communications in English to mean that all other languages were to be excluded. The head of department overseeing the leasing unit also did not provide the appropriate level of guidance".

Moving forward, NTU has taken steps to ensure all its leasing staff understand its position on the use of languages and reminded them of "the importance of exercising care when dealing with such matters".

NTU said that the supervisor who inserted the English-only clause has been given a stern warning.

The university clarified that "on the use of languages in commercial spaces, it has told the vendors that English should be prominently displayed and that other languages are permitted within the same standard-size foodcourt signboard and notice".