A puzzling thing I came across today: the story of former Singaporean president Devan Nair. Was reading blogs about doing comms at WKW (after very enlightening talk at NTU), and stumbled across a mention of how a professor left the school. He was Prof Cherian George, and did not have his tenure renewed for an unknown reason. This interested me, for this name sounded oddly familiar (realised later that he authored a book I saw at kino “Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore”).
It was certainly perplexing to learn that the NTU professor’s tenure was rejected, even “in the face of solid affirmation of his academic credentials”. It was eye-opening also, to take note of contrasting views on this issue, from how his career was as quoted, being “derailed by the political elites”, to NTU’s stance of how the tenure review process is “purely a peer-driven academic exercise comprising internal and external reviewers”. It’s like a riveting story you find at the bookstore, and I honestly have no idea what to make of it.
Blogs, news articles, and links after links led me to an article about former president Devan Nair. Again, I found that intriguing – a building, the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability, was recently erected near the Jurong area. Having always wondered who the said person was, I delved into the plenitude of factual and opinion articles available online.
Some background info: Nair was President in 1981. Among his other achievements, he was part of the PAP, Political Secretary to MOE, founded NTUC, was also president of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Asian Regional Organisation, from 1976 to October 1981.
On March 28, 1985, Nair resigned in unclear circumstances. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stated in Parliament that Nair resigned to get treatment for alcoholism, a charge Nair hotly denied. According to Nair’s counterclaim, he resigned under pressure when their political views came into conflict and Lee threatened him to a game of chess to then oust him as president. Nair also alleged that he was fed drugs to make him appear disoriented and that rumours were spread about his personal life in an attempt to discredit him. In 1999, an article about the case in the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail resulted in a libel suit by Lee. Some claimed that the suit was thrown out of court after Nair’s counterclaim. However, in a letter to the New York Times, it is said that Lee agreed to discontinue the suit only when two of Nair’s sons issued a statement, reported in the Globe and Mail on July 1, 2004, maintaining that Nair was no longer mentally competent to give evidence in court. The Globe and Mail statement concluded that “having reviewed the records, and on the basis of the family’s knowledge of the circumstances leading to Mr. Nair’s resignation as President of Singapore in March, 1985, we can declare that there is no basis for this allegation (of Mr Nair being drugged).” (Wikipedia)
It’s shocking and a shame how I’ve had no knowledge of this. Another observation on views online: anti-PAP critics make subversive statements, some wax lyrical of the political system, some rational individuals provide dimension to common perspectives.
Each day I learn more about press freedom in Singapore and the world, and more so I find myself compelled to make sense of these things.
Some links for record’s sake: