Let’s call a spade a spade.
To the extent that Prof Cherian George was denied tenure at NTU due to non-academic grounds, lets just accept that it is so, unless the university takes the traditional (Singaporean govt) route of calling in Ms Sue to persuade the good professor to retract his statements and publish an apology.
Does anyone think that tenure should be awarded purely on job performance?
In the real world, people can be fired from their jobs for reasons other than job performance. Remember a guy who complained about how filthy Singaporean public transport was when his Porsche was in the workshop? What happened to him and his wife? Not only did he lose his job, they had to flee the country, right?
Remember another woman who made some remarks about Malay weddings? She lost her job at NTUC too right? Where is she now?
Remember some Speaker of Parliament who had an affair and had to quit his post and his party, prompting a by-election?
And so on.
In other words, job performance is not the only factor in a company deciding to retain the employment of any employee. What the employee does outside of work matters too, if it embarrasses a company or creates a liability for the company by their continued association.
No company wants to be seen as ‘condoning’ unacceptable non-work behaviour of an employee, even though technically it has no right to interfere in a person’s private affairs outside of work. They do not want to offend their stakeholders (customers and the public in general). This is what the public expects, more so in a social media age.
And so it applies in Prof George’s case.
He is a veteran journalist. He knew the political players. He knew the system. He knew the boundaries.
Yet he chose to take the PAP on.
Did he really expect NTU to stand on his side? Offer him tenure, despite his criticisms of the PAP govt? How could NTU do so, as a public university that looks to the very same PAP govt for funding? How can NTU offend its major stakeholder? In the same way that companies fire undesirable staff to avoid stakeholder backlash (or worse, a public boycott of their products), so too NTU cannot afford to offer Prof George tenure if it wants to maintain good relations with the PAP Govt.
Is this fair?
That depends on whether one has double standards. One can take the view that ntu should not do so, despite real-world examples which show companies can and do fire employees who embarrass them. One can claim that educational funding is public money, not PAP money, and thus should not be affected by political criticism.
However, if one is realistic and accepts that no Govt willingly funds its critics, the PAP least of all, then one will see that the NTU’s actions are no different from those of real-world companies and organisations.
A similar practice is seen in the case of the National Arts Council, which does not fund PAP critics, and in fact, occasionally even requires arts productions to be toned down before funding is given. Of course, those denied funding complain big time. But realistically, it is how the world operates. You want freedom of speech—no issue, but don’t expect the PAP to pay for it.
Prof George knew all this, yet he chose to continue his stand in an institution that could not support him. He chose to gamble his career in Singapore on it, believing that he would be awarded tenure despite his strong criticisms of the PAP.
Principled, I’m sure, but highly unrealistic.