SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 23, 2013

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Nanyang Technological University

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Singapore

New or Ongoing:New Incident

Cherian George, a professor of Journalism at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and an outspoken critic of Singapore’s ruling political party, was denied tenure for the second time in February 2013. The denial of tenure sparked criticism among scholars worldwide. Karin Wahl-Jorgensen of Cardiff University in the UK, who reviewed Professor George’s tenure application, publicly spoke out against the denial. Her comments indicated that the decision may have been based on George’s political opinions, rather than his merit as a teacher and scholar. William Ray Lengenbach, head of media at Sunway University College in Malaysia, praised George’s significant academic contributions and cautioned against government pressure on the university’s decision.  

Professor George has previously written and published on issues of media control in his native Singapore, and has criticized the ruling People’s Action Party. According to the university’s tenure-track policy, a professor who has been denied tenure twice must leave the university within a year. In response to this incident, NTU students have launched a petition demanding that the university disclose the reasons for denying George’s tenure, along with details on how it assesses the teaching quality of faculty members seeking tenure. Professor George’s first tenure application was rejected in 2009.

UPDATE May 1, 2013: On May 1, 2013 NTU university authorities reportedly rejected Cherian George’s appeal to reconsider the denial of his tenure. Following the university’s rejection of George’s appeal, journalism professor Ang Peng Hwa and three other senior professors sent a letter to NTU authorities, stating that the controversy over the denial of Professor George’s tenure was causing “serious damage to our academic reputation and professional integrity.” 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the allegation of wrongful denial of tenure in retaliation for the content of a scholar’s academic work. Retaliatory denial of tenure aimed at limiting a scholar’s academic speech constitutes an attack on academic freedom and undermines university values.