Former NUS prof denies all claims of sexual harassment

Former director of the National University of Singapore East Asian Institute Zheng Yongnian has been accused of sexual harassment.
Former director of the National University of Singapore East Asian Institute Zheng Yongnian has been accused of sexual harassment.PHOTOS: ST FILE

A former director of the National University of Singapore (NUS) East Asian Institute (EAI) has denied all claims of sexual harassment levelled against him by his former staff, as the university continues to investigate the allegations.

Multiple harassment claims had appeared on social media in the past month, with at least two users - who identified themselves as NUS or EAI staff - accusing Professor Zheng Yongnian of sexual harassment.

However, Prof Zheng "categorically denies" all such allegations, whether by EAI staff or any other persons, his lawyers said in a statement on Friday.

They also said that the professor's resignation from the university and EAI was unrelated to the allegations and complaint against him. Instead, they said he had accepted a new post that "allows him to focus more on research as a scholar, where his passions lie".

The 58-year-old professor is understood to have joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, as the head of its Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies by late last month.

The allegations appeared on social media earlier that month.

In posts on Twitter, a user who identified herself as a current EAI staff member said she had filed a police report in May last year after being sexually harassed by Prof Zheng in May 2018. She also said that she was subsequently bullied by institute staff when she lodged a complaint with the university.

The police and an NUS spokesman confirmed that a report was lodged. The police said they administered a stern warning for outrage of modesty in April in the case and this was done in consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers.

The NUS spokesman said the university followed up on the case with an internal investigation.

The spokesman also added NUS found that another staff member had filed a police report against Prof Zheng over an incident in 2012. That staff member did not lodge a complaint regarding Prof Zheng with the institute, said the spokesman.

"All allegations of sexual misconduct are taken seriously and internal investigations are conducted to look into allegations with priority," said the spokesman, adding that NUS pays special attention to affected staff and will not tolerate any bullying.

The former staff member who said she was sexually harassed by Prof Zheng in 2012 told The Sunday Times yesterday that she made the police report only this year after learning that another colleague had "suffered from Prof Zheng's sexual harassment".

"Zheng sexually harassed me a long time ago, so it took extra effort (for me) to proceed," said the woman, who requested anonymity.

She said that Prof Zheng had touched her inappropriately in a hotel lift, when no one else was present, in 2012.

"I dared not tell for fear of retaliation," she said, adding that she left the institute in July this year.

The NUS spokesman said this case was closed by the police without any further action and the staff member left after her contract expired.

In the press statement on Friday, Prof Zheng's lawyers said that the warning issued by the police to their client "does not amount to a pronouncement of guilt or finding of fact".

"Professor Zheng has lent and continues to lend his utmost cooperation in the ongoing investigations by NUS. As the outcome is presently pending, it is not appropriate at this juncture to comment further," said the lawyers.

They added that the professor is "presently considering his legal options".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2020, with the headline 'Former NUS prof denies all claims of sexual harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe