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Former director of East Asian Institute hugged colleague without consent, acted inappropriately, NUS inquiry finds

SINGAPORE — A former professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who was accused of sexual harassment, had acted “inappropriately in a professional setting” by hugging a colleague without her consent, a two-month inquiry by the university has found.

Professor Zheng Yongnian, a former professor at the National University of Singapore, speaking at a conference in 2017.

Professor Zheng Yongnian, a former professor at the National University of Singapore, speaking at a conference in 2017.

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  • An East Asian Institute staff member made public that she was allegedly a victim of sexual harassment
  • She claimed that Professor Zheng Yongnian sexually harassed her in May 2018
  • An NUS review found Prof Zheng hugged the staff member without her consent
  • He left NUS in September 2020 and would have received a written warning were he still employed there

 

SINGAPORE — A former professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who was accused of sexual harassment, had acted “inappropriately in a professional setting” by hugging a colleague without her consent, a two-month inquiry by the university has found. 

NUS said that Professor Zheng Yongnian’s conduct during the incident on May 30 in 2018 breached the varsity’s code of conduct for employees. Had he remained a staff member, he would have received a written warning.

Prof Zheng, who headed NUS’ East Asian Institute (EAI) from 2008 to 2019, left the university in September this year.  

“As Prof Zheng is no longer a staff of NUS, the university will instead place on its staff records the outcome of the internal review,” NUS said in an update on Tuesday (Nov 17). 

The findings of the inquiry were criticised by the victim on Twitter.  Adding that she was disappointed with the university’s investigation, she said: “NUS is trying to blur the boundaries of ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘inappropriate behaviour’.”

The case was first made public in August by the EAI staff member, who identified herself only as Charlotte, on Twitter.

Among other things, she said that Prof Zheng had sexually harassed her in May 2018 and she reported the incident to the police in May 2019.

She also claimed that she had suffered “bullying and retaliations” from the EAI and NUS management for accusing Prof Zheng of sexual harassment.

Prof Zheng, a political scientist, had resigned from NUS and is now director of the Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen, China.

Setting out a timeline of the events that transpired, NUS said that it became aware of the sexual harassment allegations in May last year. 

It suspended Prof Zheng from his duties on May 20 last year. He was required to work from home and stay off-campus for the duration of investigations by the university and police.

He was also issued a “no-contact order”, which prevented him from contacting the staff member who filed the complaint as well as other employees, students, suppliers or customers of NUS without the university's consent. 

In April 2020, the police, in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, issued a stern warning to Prof Zheng over the incident. 

Three months later, in July, NUS appointed a committee of inquiry to look into the complaint. 

The committee, which submitted its report to NUS in September, found that Prof Zheng had given the staff member a hug without her consent at a work meeting.

Owing to the absence of evidence, it was unable to establish the truth of the staff member’s allegation that, at the same meeting, Prof Zheng patted her buttocks.

Prof Zheng had admitted hugging the staff member in his room after the meeting, but denied patting or touching her buttocks, NUS said in its statement.

The staff member had also alleged that in an earlier incident on May 9, 2018, Prof Zheng had put his hands on her shoulder and head.

She also claimed that in another incident in October 2018, he held onto her back when taking a group photo.

The NUS review, however, could not establish the veracity of these claims because of a lack of evidence. 

The committee of inquiry concluded that Prof Zheng had hugged the EAI staff member and that it was “inappropriate for a male senior colleague in a supervisory role to hug a female junior colleague without her consent at a professional meeting in his office”.

TODAY has contacted Prof Zheng for comment.

Related topics

sexual harassment Zheng Yongnian NUS East Asian Institute crime

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