NUS political science professor sacked over sexual misconduct

University inquiry finds he had harassed student in physical, verbal, written forms

The National University of Singapore said it received an anonymous complaint against Professor Theodore G. Hopf in August. PHOTO: NUS
The National University of Singapore said it received an anonymous complaint against Professor Theodore G. Hopf in August. PHOTO: NUS

A top professor from the National University of Singapore (NUS) was dismissed yesterday for sexual misconduct.

Professor Theodore G. Hopf, who was the provost chair professor at the department of political science at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, had sexually harassed a student "in physical, verbal and written forms", NUS said in a statement.

It is the second time in two months that NUS has had to sack a faculty member over allegations of sexual misconduct involving students. There was also a third incident involving another professor and a staff member recently.

In October, NUS fired former Tembusu College fellow Jeremy Fernando over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Two students alleged he had made non-consensual advances towards them, and Dr Fernando was sacked after internal investigations found he had an intimate association with an undergraduate.

Last month, NUS said the former director of its East Asian Institute, Professor Zheng Yongnian, had behaved inappropriately with a subordinate. He would have been disciplined had he not left the university in September.

Yesterday, in the statement listing the sequence of events and summary of key findings in Prof Hopf's case, NUS said it received an anonymous complaint against him in August and investigations began immediately.

After interviews with the student and Prof Hopf, a no-contact order was issued to the professor on Sept 15, prohibiting him from contacting any NUS student.

The 61-year-old American, better known as Ted Hopf, was suspended and told to stay off campus while investigations were ongoing.

On Oct 21, a Committee of Inquiry (COI), appointed on Oct 7, interviewed the student, who was accompanied by a care officer from the NUS Victim Care Unit.

As Prof Hopf needed to seek treatment for a serious medical condition, the COI interviewed him on Nov 13 after his medical leave, NUS said.

The COI submitted its inquiry report to the university on Nov 18.

NUS made a police report last Friday, after informing the student that it would do so in line with its legal obligations.

"Given the serious nature of the offences, NUS dismissed Prof Hopf on Dec 1," said the university. It declined to reveal any information on the student, including the gender.

NUS said that during Prof Hopf's meeting with the student on campus in August, he allegedly offered and drank alcohol with the student, and also made an offensive remark about certain parts of the student's anatomy. He admitted to the COI he had made the remark.

The COI found that the consumption of alcohol at the workplace and the act of making an offensive remark went against the code of conduct for staff relating to expectations of professional behaviour.

Prof Hopf also allegedly pulled the student forcefully towards him twice, during which the student resisted, moved back and told the professor to stop.

Prof Hopf admitted placing his hands on the student's shoulders while facing the student, but denied pulling the student towards him.

The COI "found the student's account of the unwelcome physical contact to be credible" and that the acts went against the code of conduct for staff.

In October 2018, Prof Hopf had also sent a sex-text message to the student. He admitted to sending the message but explained to the COI that it was meant for someone else.

As he did not clearly inform the student that the message was for someone else and did not apologise for sending it by mistake, the COI established that this was a serious professional misconduct.

"Prof Hopf had failed to act with propriety, respect and decorum... The COI also found that Prof Hopf, who was in a position of authority, had sexually harassed the student in physical, verbal and written forms. The COI concluded that his conduct was a serious breach of the NUS staff code of conduct," NUS said.

"There are strict guidelines pertaining to personal and professional conduct. In particular, the university has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct by staff."

The Straits Times has contacted Prof Hopf for a comment.

He previously served on the faculties of Ohio State University, Ohio University and University of Michigan, and sat on the boards of several institutions, including NUS' Asia Research Institute's management board.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2020, with the headline NUS political science professor sacked over sexual misconduct. Subscribe