Academics Cherian George, Donald Low replaced as speakers in webinar organised by NUS alumni group

Academics Donald Low (left) and Cherian George have been dropped from the webinar titled "Public Discourse: Truth and Trust".
Academics Donald Low (left) and Cherian George have been dropped from the webinar titled "Public Discourse: Truth and Trust".PHOTO: DONALD LOW/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A National University of Singapore (NUS) alumni group has abruptly dropped two academics known for their socio-political commentary on Singapore from a webinar, and replaced them with a new slate of speakers.

The webinar, titled "Public Discourse: Truth and Trust", initially had Hong Kong Baptist University's professor of media studies Cherian George and senior lecturer and professor of practice in public policy at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Donald Low as guest speakers.

It was organised by the Raffles Hall Association and scheduled to be held on Sunday (Nov 1), from 8pm to 9.30pm as part of the Raffles Hall Alumni Learning series. The association is a group for alumni with ties to NUS' Raffles Hall, a residential hall.

On Tuesday, however, another post appeared on Facebook, featuring a new line-up of speakers under the same webinar title: former Singapore Press Holdings journalist Al Ramirez Dizon, NUS communications and new media lecturer Shobha Avadhani, as well as special research adviser at the Institute of Policy Studies Arun Mahizhnan.

Subsequently, Mr Arun said on Facebook on Tuesday that he had not been given a full briefing on what had transpired before he was included in the line-up. He has since withdrawn from the webinar.

Prof Low told ST on Thursday that he has yet to hear back from NUS and Raffles Hall Association on why the speaker line-up had been changed.

"Last Friday, Cherian told me the organiser at NUS/Raffles Hall had told him that she was facing some obstacle, and that she would e-mail us to confirm. But we haven't heard from NUS/Raffles Hall since then; everything we've heard has been from social media," he said.

He and Prof George are co-authors of a new book PAP v PAP: The Party's Struggle To Adapt To A Changing Singapore.

Released in October, the book is an anthology of essays on how the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) should reform its approach to politics and governance. It also weighs in on the implications of the recent general election results for Singapore and the PAP.

Prof George and Prof Low are now based in Hong Kong, and had previously taught at Nanyang Technological University and the NUS' Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy respectively.

A member of the Raffles Hall Association Facebook group, Mr Sonny Yuen, apologised on Wednesday for the changes to the speaker line-up.

All Raffles Hall Alumni learning events are private events for Raffles Hall alumni only, he wrote in a post in the public Facebook group.

"As this is a closed-door community and voluntary event, the programme and its contents are developed at the organiser's discretion," he said. "We continue the important conversations on today's (social) media world, where we apparently can no longer trust what we read, see or hear."

ST has contacted Mr Yuen for comment.

In response to queries, a Raffles Hall spokesman said on Wednesday that the Raffles Hall Association is an "autonomous alumni group" that is not governed by Raffles Hall and NUS.

The abrupt replacement of speakers has caused a stir on social media.

Commenting on the episode, former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng said on Facebook on Thursday that while he disagrees with Prof George's views, his views and that of Prof Low's are "not seditious".

"They are not extremist religious preachers. I do not know what made the Raffles Hall alumni association replace them without notice, but the way it was done was cowardly," he wrote.

Former Cabinet minister Yaacob Ibrahim also weighed in, commenting on a Facebook post about the matter by sociopolitical commentator Bertha Henson.

Said Prof Yaacob: "Very strange and so undiplomatic."