Professor excluded from panel raises academic freedom fears

by MMC
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A Filipina academic invited to speak on a panel on “Public Intellectuals, Populism and Power” at a conference at the National University of Singapore (NUS) early next year, said she had been excluded from the next panel and accused the university of undermining academic freedom by not inviting her.

Sol Iglesias, assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines and senior member of the Network for the Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom in the Philippines, said she was invited to the conference in Singapore, organized by NUS, and was on the list of speakers. However, she said she was informed this month by the panel organizer that he had been asked to drop it.

The two-day Global Research Forum is organized by the Faculty of Arts and the NUS Social Sciences Research Division.

“I was scheduled to speak on the second day, on a panel on “Public Intellectuals, Populism and Power: Perspectives from Southeast Asia.” The NUS has since disinvited me from the panel without any official explanation,” she said in a statement released on November 11.

“From what I have been told, I understand that this is because I am married to Dr Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”), a Singaporean historian and democracy activist whose work and integrity have already been violently attacked by the Singaporean government. ” she says.

Thum, a prominent critic of the Singapore government now based at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, was attacked in 2018 when he was asked to give an expert opinion at a hearing of a Singaporean parliamentary committee on “fake news”, while a bill was being examined. prepared at the time. Instead, he faced bullying, personal attacks and cross-examination about his own historical research by Singaporean politicians.

Thum said News from the academic world at the time that his historical research on Singapore’s colonial period had an impact on his academic career in Singapore.

“An official at NUS (National University of Singapore) told me that I would no longer be able to work in Singapore,” he said.

Iglesias now claims that, perhaps because of her ties to her husband, her “academic freedom was violated by the National University of Singapore, as part of a continuing failure by the university to protect and uphold academic freedom.

Iglesias, who completed his doctorate at NUS, said News from the academic world that, although she and the panel organizer could not be certain, they believed it was due to her association with Thum, and that the decision to exclude her from the panel came from higher ups at the university.

“It has nothing to do with my job. As a woman, this means I have been reduced to being someone’s wife, regardless of my own achievements,” she said.

It’s not about “content”

Although the topics discussed at the upcoming panel are sensitive, she noted that the topic she intended to speak on had already been approved and confirmed and she was already at the stage of talking about flights and logistics .

“So clearly it wasn’t the content of what I was going to say – the content is the very reason I was relevant as a speaker at the conference, and they sought me out specifically for that “, she said.

“I had discussed with my colleagues at NUS that I would probably talk about academic freedom activism here in the Philippines,” she said, highlighting her work analyzing the 2020 Philippine elections. Others Panel members would talk about Thailand and Indonesia.

“These are potentially very sensitive issues within our own countries. But one of the benefits of working in Singapore with Singaporean academic institutions is that it is a regional hub,” she said.

Support from other academics

The wider implications of speaking out on regional issues is also one of the reasons why she says she received a lot of support from academics in the region, including the NUS, after releasing her statement on 11 november.

“I draw strength from a very strong network, especially here in the Philippines, but also throughout Southeast Asia, and I feel very supported to speak out because everyone understands the price to pay to speak out against such a powerful and, frankly, very well-resourced institution. like NUS,” she said.

“The theme of the conference is academics facing the public, that is, highly political issues or very sensitive issues of politics and policy,” she explained. “The question is how sensitive does it have to be to cross a line between what is acceptable to discuss in an international forum at the NUS and what becomes too sensitive in terms of the Singapore authorities who can monitor activities academics at NUS,” she added.

” All alone. It’s an incident. But the reason I am speaking out is because this is part of a series of such incidents,” she said, referring to some NUS academics who are currently being pressured to take a stance particularly on the Palestinian question.

She said in her November 11 statement: “I cannot remain silent. Neither I nor he (Thum) should bear the terrible burden of keeping the secrets of the NUS so that it can maintain its facade as a “world-class”, “global” university.

“Having been at NUS as an undergraduate and graduate student, I have seen first-hand how the university quietly fosters a culture willing to sacrifice academic freedom without a fight. I understand that what happened to me is relatively minor. I did not lose my job nor did I receive a promotion; I am physically safe. However, the NUS’s rejection is part of a broader pattern of failure to respect and enforce academic freedom.”

She said News from the academic world that she accepted that speaking out probably meant she “could never work with the NUS or Singaporean academic institutions again”. Despite this, it was still “a very big shock to experience this,” she said.

News from the academic world has contacted NUS for comment.

However, in a recent example, NUS President Tan Eng Chye wrote to university faculty and staff after an order under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (also known as the name of the law on “fake news”) has been adopted. issued by the Singapore government at the Australian National University’s East Asia Forum regarding a commentary written by NUS Professor Chan Ying-Kit.

Tan wrote on September 20: “NUS is committed to and defends academic freedom. Faculty members are free to express and share their views and opinions on any subject, provided that this is done in a professional, responsible and responsible manner, without contravening the laws of Singapore.

But Iglesia maintains that the university president’s message was not just a reminder to follow the law but a warning not to criticize the current Popular Action Party government.

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