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Former director of NUS East Asian Institute had behaved inappropriately with subordinate: NUS

SINGAPORE – The National University of Singapore (NUS) has determined that a former director of its East Asian Institute (EAI) had behaved inappropriately with a subordinate by hugging her without her consent during a work meeting.

In a statement issued on Tuesday (Nov 17), the university said that Professor Zheng Yongnian’s behaviour “was inappropriate in a professional setting” and had breached the university’s code of conduct for staff.

He would have been given a written warning accordingly, but as Prof Zheng has left the university, NUS recorded the outcome of its internal review in its staff records, said the university.

Various sexual harassment allegations involving Prof Zheng had surfaced in August and September on social media, with social media users, who identified themselves as NUS staff, accusing Prof Zheng of harassing them.

In September, the academic, through his lawyers, categorically denied all such allegations, adding that his resignation from the university was unrelated to the allegations and complaint against him.

The 58-year-old professor left NUS in September this year (2020) and is understood to have joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen as the head of its Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies.

In its latest statement, NUS said they “became aware” of the allegations in May 2019 and suspended Prof Zheng on May 20 that year.

He was required to work from home and stay off the NUS campus while the police and the university carried out their investigations. Prof Zheng was also issued a “No-Contact Order”, which prohibited him from contacting the EAI staff member, said NUS.

The police subsequently administered a stern warning to Prof Zheng in April 2020 for outrage of modesty, relating to this case.

Following this, NUS appointed a Committee of Inquiry (COI) in July this year to review the complaints , and determined that at least one of the staff member’s allegations had occurred.

Prof Zheng admitted to hugging the staff member without her consent during a work meeting on May 30, 2018, in his office, said NUS.

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However, the COI could not establish the “veracity of the allegation that Prof Zheng had patted or touched her buttocks in the absence of evidence”, said NUS.

It also could not establish that Prof Zheng had held the staff member’s back while taking a group picture, and had placed his hands on her shoulder and head during a meeting between the two in his office – as the affected staff member had alleged.

The university said it informed Prof Zheng and the affected staff member of its findings on Monday (Nov 16) and Tuesday (Nov 17).

“NUS and EAI have been extending assistance to the affected EAI staff member since she had first raised this matter, and we will continue to provide her with the support she needs,” said NUS in its statement.

“We take a strong stand against all forms of inappropriate behaviour. All allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken seriously and internal investigations are conducted to look into such allegations.”

The Straits Times has contacted Prof Zheng through his lawyers for a comment.

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