Even Without the Sexual Assault Allegations, NUS’s Employment of Jeremy Fernando Looks Highy Questionable
Singaporeans are constantly bombarded with statistics by the PAP Government showing that their country comes top or near the top in innumerable rankings. Examples include the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the IMD Index of Digital Competitiveness (where Singapore comes second after the US) and the Index of Economic Freedom produced by the conservative Heritage Foundation, where Singapore comes top despite most large companies being state-controlled and 90% of land being owned by the state! Of course the comparison is unfair since Singapore should rightly be compared with major cities and not whole countries, which Singapore is quick to point out when comparisons are made of sporting achievement. Nothing betrays the PAP’s similarity to the totalitarian regimes of China and the former Soviet bloc than the Government’s obsession with Singapore’s global rankings, even to the extent of pouring resources into gaming the indices. Of course high rankings, along with manipulated GDP per capita and growth statistics, are used to justify the obscene salaries paid to Ministers as well as the even more obscene and often secret (in the case of the Prime Minister’s wife) remuneration paid to spouses, relatives and sycophants who are appointed to their posts in a selection process whose methodology remains deliberately obscure.
Our national universities are part of this PAP policy of relentlessly gaming international league tables and indices. Both NUS and NTU have moved inexorably up in the rankings of top universities in the last two decades. At least according to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings where NUS has risen from 30th in 2009 to 11th in 2021, overtaking normally top-ranked universities such as Yale and Princeton. NTU’s rise has been even more meteoric, from 77th place in 2008 to 13th place in 2021.
The QS rankings have been heavily criticised for being heavily influenced by subjective rankings from academics in which case it is possible that the prospect of generous salaries and expat packages has influenced the favourable ratings of NUS and NTU, as well as Chinese universities like Tsinghua. Other rankings, like the Times Higher Education (THE) put NUS at 25th and the Shanghai based Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) puts NUS at 80th and NTU at 91st. Going purely by the number of Nobel Prize winners would put Harvard at the top (though Cambridge is top for Physics) while both NUS and NTU have no Nobel Prize winners.
The recent Jeremy Fernando sexual assault allegations have raised a lot of question marks over NUS’s, and the Rector of Tembusu College, Tommy Koh’s, lack of transparency and unaccountable slowness in reporting the allegations to the police , in particular the delay between Fernando’s dismissal and the public announcement which was two weeks later. Tommy Koh offered to resign on Facebook but retracted the offer an hour later, just as he retracted his comments about the proportion of children going to school hungry (I remember my father telling me with anger much the same thing) under pressure from the Government who pay his meal ticket. At 82 years old (I remember him from the 1960s when he used to attend parties at my parents’) one wonders why Tommy Koh is still working but he just joins a long line of other superannuated PAP apparatchiks who are allowed to go on drawing million dollar salaries as long as they are useful to the regime. Examples include Chan Heng Chee and Bilahari Kausikan.
I am concerned more here with how Jeremy Fernando was hired in the first place and how he was allowed to continue working for ten years. Certainly one would not expect him to be one of the faculty at a university with such a high ranking, albeit from one highly questionable index. His biography shows he got his PhD from the European Graduate School (EGS) which is based in Switzerland and Malta. Anyone can apparently be accepted to do a PhD or Masters provided they pay the fees and most of it is distance learning. EGS is not recognised by the Swiss University Conference and is regarded as a degree mill in the US. It is not ranked by QS, THE or ARWU. Perhaps its attractions to NUS stem from its association with academics like Slavoj Zizek, who has refined the old Communist criticisms of democracy as providing too much freedom in order to praise totalitarian state capitalist regimes like Singapore and China. I wrote about Zizek in “How Lee Kuan Yew and Hitler Both Love Authoritarian Capitalism”
EGS certainly seems to be a home for intellectual pseuds and frauds and Jeremy Fernando seems to have mastered the craft of using too many long and convoluted words and phrases to say nothing, or rather to deny that anything has meaning or indeed that there is any reality. He is merely following in the footsteps of his mentor, Jean Baudrillard (he is the Baudrillard Fellow at EGS), who denied reality, the most famous example being his 1991 book “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.” Baudrillard was a member of the Deconstructionist School which originated with the French philosopher Jacques Derrida whose obituary in the Economist said:
“There were no arguments, nor really any views either. He would have been the first to admit this. He not only contradicted himself, over and over again, but vehemently resisted any attempt to clarify his ideas. “A critique of what I do”, he said, “is indeed impossible.”
One can see why the Deconstructionist approach would be useful to the Government, which controls NUS, since it denies the moral superiority of liberal democracy over authoritarianism and totalitarian dictatorships and indeed of any moral values at all. In fact, Derrida was heavily criticised for supporting another member of the school, Paul De Man, who after his death was revealed to be a supporter of the Nazis and an anti-Semite during WW2. This seems to have led NUS to overlook the fact that Fernando’s work not only smacks of intellectual charlatanism but also seems to border on advocating transgressive and criminal behaviour. Once the assault allegations came to light, state media has lost no time in pointing out that he stated openly in his 2017 book, Why Hasn’t JB [Jean Baudrillard] Already Disappeared?, that ” insemination“ can be a part of teaching and could open up students and teachers to possibilities. Not only does he appear to have been a fake but clearly he was used to getting away with transgressive behaviour without being challenged.
The Jeremy Fernando affair suggests that the extremely high ratings assigned to NUS (and undoubtedly NTU as well), putting it above institutions like Princeton and Yale, do not seem to be supported by the quality of the academic faculty or the rigour of the teaching. More worrying, Fernando seems to have been laughing at the university and using the authority conferred on him as a Fellow to engage in possible This is like many of the other high rankings for which the PAP Government claims credit with the help of venal or gullible foreigners. The worst confidence trick is the one perpetrated on Singaporean students who have overpaid for worthless courses, at least in the arts. They should demand their money back. And Tommy Koh, an old family friend, should be put out to pasture.