Singapore — A National University of Singapore (NUS) alumni group’s decision to abruptly replace two academics who were set to speak at a public webinar was criticised by Workers’ Party (WP) politician Yee Jenn Jong on social media on Friday (Oct 30).
Mr Yee, who was a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from 2011 to 2015, was in the losing WP team in Marine Parade GRC in the General Election this year.
The Raffles Hall Association (RHA) had organised the webinar, titled Public Discourse: Truth And Trust, for 8 to 9.30 pm on Sunday (Nov 1) and had scheduled academics Cherian George and Donald Low to speak during the event.
Prof George and Prof Low were expected to speak about their new book, PAP v PAP: The Party’s Struggle To Adapt To A Changing Singapore, which focusses on reform within the ruling People’s Action Party.
The RHA abruptly replaced both panellists last Tuesday (Oct 27) and released a new promotional image featuring two new speakers: Former journalist Al Ramirez Dizon and special research adviser at the Institute of Policy Studies Arun Mahizhnan.
Prof George and Prof Low were not informed of the switch and did not receive an explanation for their removal from the forum at the eleventh hour. Prof George added that he was under the impression that the event had been cancelled after a phone call with RHA last Friday.
The alumni group did not inform him or Prof Low that the event would proceed as planned with a different panel and the academics had to find out about the switch after seeing the promotional image online.
Amid public distaste over the way the switch was handled, Mr Arun pulled out of the event after being briefed by Prof George about what had transpired.
Several observers have criticised the alumni group for handling the changes poorly and disrespecting the academics by keeping them in the dark until they learned about the changes on their own.
Writing on Facebook, Mr Yee said that he agreed with former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng who felt that the opinions of the two professors were “not seditious” and that the person who made the changes should take responsibility for the decision.
Noting that he has had his share of being disinvited from events, Mr Yee said: “Whoever had felt strongly about this should just stand up and explain the situation.”
Referring to the late civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow’s comment about how there are many who think they are like “little Lee Kuan Yews”, Mr Yee said: “In the past, when the late LKY did something drastic, he would tell you in the face that he did it and why.
“As the late Ngiam Tong Dow once bemoaned, there are many who think they are like little LKYs. They behave like they have the mandate from the emperor when they have not earned it, and are not willing to step forward to explain their decisions.”
The WP politician, who is an alumni of NUS Raffles Hall, added that RHA should have gone ahead with the event despite any diversity in opinion with the two academics. Asserting that diversity in discourse is beneficial for Singapore, he said:
“In this world, there are diverse opinions. Whether we agree or not with the other side, if it is not seditious or playing on race and religion, just go ahead with it lah. As a nation, we can be better off discussing things even if the views are not on the side of the establishment.”
Opining that Prof George and Prof Low must be happy that the last-minute change has generated more publicity for their book, Mr Yee added: “I do not envy the new speakers for the talk. How to speak under such a cloud of controversy? Perhaps they might just call off the event.”
In an earlier post on Thursday (Oct 29), Mr Yee had said: “This sort of un-invite has to stop. We need more openness in society to listen to diverse views.”