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NUS fires professor for inappropriate behaviour towards student — at least 4th such sacking in 18 months; police report filed

SINGAPORE — A professor from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has been sacked after internal investigations by the university found that he had engaged in “inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour” towards a student.

NUS fires professor for inappropriate behaviour towards student — at least 4th such sacking in 18 months; police report filed

Mr Ethan Putterman (pictured) has been sacked from the National University of Singapore following reports of inappropriate behaviour with a student.

  • A professor from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has been sacked
  • Internal investigations by the university found that he had engaged in “inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour” towards a student
  • The faculty did not name the staff member involved
  • TODAY understands that he is Mr Ethan Putterman, an associate professor at the university’s political science department

SINGAPORE — A professor from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) has been sacked after internal investigations by the university found that he had engaged in “inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour” towards a student.

A spokesperson from NUS' Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said on Thursday (April 28) in response to TODAY’s queries: “A police report has been filed and police investigations are ongoing.” 

This is at least the fourth such dismissal from NUS in 18 months.

The staff member involved was not identified by the spokesperson but TODAY understands that it is Mr Ethan Putterman, who was an associate professor at the university’s political science department.

His profile was removed from NUS’ website some time in the last two days. 

NUS said that when it received a complaint regarding allegations of misconduct by a faculty member towards a student, it immediately issued the staff member with a “no-contact order” barring the person from interacting with the student.

He was also suspended from work while investigations were carried out.

“A committee of inquiry determined that the staff’s actions constituted inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour towards the student, hence breaching the code of conduct for NUS staff,” the university said, without elaborating on the person's actions.

“Based on the findings of the committee of inquiry and in view of the serious nature of the misconduct, the staff’s employment with the university has been terminated.”

The spokesperson said that the faculty has been providing care and support to the student and will continue to do so.

It warned that all staff members are expected to adhere to the code of conduct and hold themselves up to high standards of professional and personal conduct.

Those who contravene the code will face disciplinary sanctions, which may include dismissal for serious breaches.       

TODAY understands that the victim made a complaint of sexual misconduct on March 3, alleging that the act happened on campus earlier that month. She then made a police report on her own accord.

Mr Putterman’s students were notified by the school about his dismissal at a Zoom video conference on Wednesday.

The latest sacking came on the heels of three other dismissals of NUS employees in the past 18 months for their behaviour and actions towards students. A fourth employee, who had acted inappropriately towards a colleague, quit before investigations into his case were concluded.

In October 2020, Dr Jeremy Fernando was sacked after an internal investigation found that he had “fallen short of the standards of professionalism that the university expects of a teaching staff”, following two complaints of inappropriate behaviour. He had taught at Tembusu College in NUS.

A month later, NUS said that its investigations found that Professor Zheng Yongnian, who was formerly from the university’s East Asian Institute, had acted “inappropriately in a professional setting” by hugging a colleague without her consent.

Although Prof Zheng had left NUS in September 2020, NUS said that he would have received a written warning had he remained a staff member.

In December that same year, Professor Theodore G Hopf was fired for sexual misconduct following investigations into an anonymous complaint that he had sexually harassed a student. He was also from the political science department.

In an NUS report on complaints of sexual misconduct available on the university’s website, a few months later on March 25 last year, two students reported that they were sexually harassed by a research staff member in school.

This staff member admitted during investigations to having touched the student’s knees and making inappropriate remarks. A police report was made and the research staff member was fired. The report did not reveal the employee's name.

In its first report on sexual misconduct released in January last year, NUS said that it had received 19 complaints of sexual misconduct involving staff members between 2016 and 2020 and the majority of these involved verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature or unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favours.

Ten of these incidences happened in 2020 with sanctions taken against four employees, while no further action was taken against six employees, mainly due to lack of evidence.  

Following its inaugural report, the university released two more reports covering the periods of January to June 2021, and July to December 2021.

In these reports, the university said it received one complaint involving staff members for the January to June 2021  period and one report for the July to December 2021 period. Sanctions were taken against both of them.

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