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: November 02, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):National University of Singapore

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Singapore

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 2, 2023, the National University of Singapore (NUS) disinvited Sol Iglesias, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, from participation in a panel at the National University of Singapore (NUS), apparently because of her relationship with Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, a history, democracy activist, and prominent critic of Singapore’s government.

In March 2023, a NUS faculty member invited Iglesias to join a panel that his department was organizing as part of a two-day conference “Global Research Forum: Towards a Public Asian Studies” scheduled for January 2024 and convened by NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Iglesias agreed, and the conference organizers accepted the panel of three speakers, titled “Public Intellectuals, Populism and Power: Perspectives from Southeast Asia.” Iglesias planned to speak about academic freedom and public engagement in the Philippines.

In August 2023, conference organizers told Iglesias that they were ready to make arrangements for her flight and accommodation for the conference. On November 2, 2023, however, Iglesias’ colleague called her and told her that his dean had informed him that “higher ups” at NUS had rejected her participation as a speaker. NUS authorities gave no official reason for disinviting Iglesias; however, Iglesias alleged, “Based on what I have been told, I understand that it is because I am married to Dr. Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”), a Singaporean historian and democracy activist whose work and integrity had been previously viciously attacked by the Singaporean government.” To support her allegation, Iglesias pointed to the role of NUS authorities in making the decision, the topic of her talk—which had nothing to do with Singapore—and Dr. Tjin’s strained relationship with Singapore’s government.

An NUS spokesperson told Times Higher Education, “Dr Sol Iglesias was approached as a possible panel speaker at the Global Research Forum, planned for January 2024. Up to earlier this month, the conference details were still evolving. On 2 November 2023, we reached out to Dr Iglesias to convey that she did not make the final line-up of speakers.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the cancellation of a planned academic talk on apparently politically-motivated grounds. State and higher education officials should protect academic freedom and take all available steps to ensure the exercise of academic freedom, including during on-campus, academic events. The disinvitation of speakers on political grounds undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.