Thursday, November 8, 2012

Silence is golden, NUS? I am disappointed.

Sometimes I wonder if the National University of Singapore (NUS) values good press above doing the right thing. I understand that managing the corporate profile is important, and that for a school such as the NUS that relentlessly chases the rankings, avoiding bad press is important. But there are other ways of managing your reputation than just avoiding difficult issues.

Here the imposed silence on student blogger Alvin Tan's punishment says a lot about NUS character and maturity. I am not interested in the sordid details about what the blogger did, but the consequences of what he did especially while he was a scholarship holder. Whatever NUS's disciplinary decision was, there are important lessons for everyone. Transparency in dealing with such a difficult issue will show to the world the heart and soul of the university. We need to know what value systems, the NUS stands for. If the disciplinary action was fair and honest, why is there a reluctance to make it known? There are lessons for everyone.  As a world class university aspirant, the NUS should not fear engaging in public discussions and debate, even about its own corporate decisions.

But I am disappointed. Because it seems clear that the NUS has opted to hide behind zipped lips and walls of silence rather than bravely engaging the public. This has been how the NUS has chosen to manage previous incidents - from research malpractices to spectacular lab accidents. To date, the public remains in the dark about what mistakes were made and what actions taken. Valuable opportunities to learn from these incidences have been lost. This over-reliance on the strategy of retreating behind walls of silence is very damning, and I believe in the longer term, will stunt the intellectual growth of the university. Perhaps some timely advice from the managing editor of the SPH who sits on the NUS Board of Trustees is appropriate here.

It's time the NUS grew up.

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