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Ngee Ann Poly to sack lecturer over racist comments to inter-ethnic couple, Islamophobic remarks in class

SINGAPORE — Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) will terminate the employment of a lecturer who confronted an inter-ethnic couple and made racist remarks to them earlier this month.

A view of Ngee Ann Polytechnic (right). Mr Tan Boon Lee, a lecturer from the polytechnic, was captured in a viral video having an argument with Mr Dave Parkash.

A view of Ngee Ann Polytechnic (right). Mr Tan Boon Lee, a lecturer from the polytechnic, was captured in a viral video having an argument with Mr Dave Parkash.

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  • Polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee was captured in a viral video making racist remarks to an inter-ethnic couple
  • Allegations also surfaced that he made Islamophobic remarks in class in 2017
  • Ngee Ann Polytechnic said it has completed its investigation into the incidents
  • It officially charged Mr Tan with serious breach of its staff code of conduct
  • A former student said she is grateful that action was taken but hopes discussions on racism will continue

 

SINGAPORE — Ngee Ann Polytechnic will terminate the employment of a lecturer who confronted an inter-ethnic couple and made racist remarks to them earlier this month. 

In a statement on Thursday (June 17), it said that it has completed its investigations into the incident between the lecturer Tan Boon Lee and the couple, as well as allegations by a former student that he had made Islamophobic remarks in class. 

It has officially charged Mr Tan, a senior lecturer at the polytechnic’s School of Engineering, with serious breach of its staff code of conduct and is “proceeding to terminate his service”. The code sets out guidelines on personal and professional conduct. 

The former student, Ms Nurul Fatimah Iskandar, 22, told TODAY that while she is thankful action has been taken, she said that more changes need to be made to the education system to protect students.

Recently, Mr Tan was captured in a viral video having an argument with Mr Dave Parkash, a Singaporean who is half-Indian and half-Filipino, about Mr Parkash dating a woman who is half-Chinese and half-Thai. 

He also accused Mr Parkash of being racist for not “marrying” an Indian girl.

The polytechnic said that its staff members were expected to respect cultural, ethnic and religious differences in society.

“They must uphold secularity and impartiality at all times. This is in line with our staff code of conduct, which includes strict guidelines on personal and professional conduct.

“The disciplinary action meted out against the staff in question reflects our commitment to provide a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for our campus community.”

ISLAMOPHOBIC REMARKS IN CLASS

On the allegations that Mr Tan had made Islamophobic remarks in class, the polytechnic said that it had reached out to Ms Nurul immediately to express its regret for her experience in 2017.

The account against Mr Tan surfaced when Ms Nurul, now an electrical engineering undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, took to social network Instagram last week to claim that she was on the receiving end of Islamophobic comments made by Mr Tan in class. 

She did this after the video of Mr Tan confronting the inter-ethnic couple went viral on social media.

The polytechnic said that it immediately offered counselling support to Ms Nurul once it heard of the allegations and met her to get more details about her experience with the lecturer. 

Police investigations are under way.

“We will fully cooperate with the authorities,” the polytechnic said.

As part of its investigations, it also sought to understand why Ms Nurul’s feedback had not been acted upon when she submitted it to the school in 2017.

It added that Ms Nurul told the polytechnic that she could not recall whether she had submitted her feedback via email or raised it during a focus-group discussion after the course ended.

Such focus-group discussions are typically held at the end of every semester to seek students’ feedback on courses and lecturers.

“We have conducted a search of our various feedback channels, and worked with our alumna for her to check her mailbox archives (with the school), but have not been able to locate any records of the feedback.   

“Nonetheless, we are committed to preventing a similar incident from occurring again and will ensure that students are made aware of the appropriate channels for them to provide feedback in a safe manner.”

Ngee Ann Polytechnic has plans to advise its staff members on how to manage and report feedback that they may receive outside the official channels.

The school also has various channels for students to provide anonymous feedback, including an email address for whistleblowers.

Students may also submit their concerns to a general “AskNP” email address, voice them during dialogues on course experience as well as raise them during various student surveys conducted periodically.

“In addition, students can share their feedback with their staff advisers at any time. We would like to assure students that all feedback will be taken seriously and handled in confidence,” it said.

Moving forward, the polytechnic said that it would make all feedback channels more accessible and visible on its website, and publicise them on its campus digital screens.

“We will review our internal feedback-monitoring processes to identify and resolve any gaps in teaching and learning practices, and to ensure that matters of concern can be flagged in a timely manner,” it said. 

“We also remind all staff to strictly adhere to the staff code of conduct and create a safe learning environment for all in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.”

‘WE MUST CONTINUE TO SPEAK UP FOR MINORITIES’

Asked by TODAY about her thoughts on the move to terminate Mr Tan’s service, Ms Nurul said: “There is still more work to be done, but this is a good first step and I am thankful.”

She said that her intentions were “never to fight against one lecturer or one institution”. 

“My purpose was not, like, let’s get Mr Tan fired, and we are done, we are done with racism,” she said. “There are so many more changes that need to be made to our education system in order to safeguard and protect our students.” 

For instance, she said that systems in companies and educational institutions should be made more transparent to give assurances to the minorities that they should not fear filing a complaint regarding discrimination. 

It is also imperative that conversations around race and racism are sustained, she added, so that the minorities are spoken up for and people will be willing to unlearn their internal biases and change their mindsets and behaviour. 

“I urge everyone to use your voice to continue these conversations. I sincerely hope that the energy we all created over the past week does not die down.”

Related topics

racism Ngee Ann Polytechnic Islam religion

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