Local Girl Claims she was Unfairly Expelled by NUS after Supervisor Stole her Thesis

A former NUS Master’s student is appealing for donations in her legal battle with the university.

Local young lady Jeanne Ten said that her candidature as a MA student was unfairly terminated, and as a result she couldn’t get her degree even though she had passed her thesis.

The incident started in 2005, after she had completed her thesis.

Ten alleges that:

-The professor who was acting as her supervisor stole her thesis and passed it off as his own research project, and later still refused to give her credit when he successfully obtained a research grant.

-She learnt that her thesis examiners still had not been nominated even though she had submitted her thesis, and suspected that her supervisor had deliberately delayed their nomination, so she complained and asked NUS to remove him as her supervisor.

-NUS set up a “secret” Committee of Inquiry to investigate her complaints and refused to give her details of its members or show her its final investigation report.

-NUS threatened to terminate her MA candidature if she did not accept the COI’s findings that there was insufficient evidence to establish that her supervisor acted unethically.

-NUS then terminated her MA candidature when she protested the lack of transparency and due process in the investigation, and as a result she couldn’t graduate.

Ten said that she complained to the Ministry of Education about the matter in 2011 but the matter was not resolved, so she started a lawsuit against NUS in 2012.

“I hope to see justice done, not let NUS get away with its abuse of power, get my MA degree (amongst other damages and losses), hence this lawsuit.”

Ten said that she has only turned to crowdfunding because she has exhausted her savings and is finding it difficult to raise enough cash for trial.

“I only started my abruptly prepared public appeal for donation yesterday, as I was at my wits’ end and I was very concerned that my case would not make it for trial in August. So I am appealing to the public for a total of S$11,000 which I hope to raise by this Friday, 21 July. I hope NUS will be so kind as not to apply to the Court to strike out my case at this point. I have difficulties paying my current lawyers at this juncture. And there is still a lot of work to be done. I am more than S$100,000 behind in paying my current lawyers. So I hope that I can pay them something before the trial.”

If you want to donate, this is how you can do so.

This is Ten’s lengthy account of the whole 12-year-long saga:

I started my MA programme at NUS in January 2002, and I completed my MA thesis in February 2005. NUS passed my MA thesis in 2006 and even sent me the letter for the commencement ceremony. However, several months later, NUS imposed a new requirement for me to graduate – a written undertaking to accept the university’s decisions regarding my complaint against my MA supervisor. This issue was totally unrelated to the graduation requirements.

When I refused to bow to the University’s threat, NUS terminated my MA candidature and denied me my MA degree – a degree that had already cost me more than three years of my life. Because of this, I had to leave a PhD programme in the United States (in 2007) after the first academic year there. The university had accepted me into the PhD programme with the understanding that NUS would be conferring me my MA degree certificate.Not only did I lose out on opportunities for future employment as an academic after leaving my PhD programme, I had to undergo the embarrassment of explaining to people around me why I did not get my MA degree from NUS and why I could not continue in my PhD programme in the US.

The legal battle with NUS began in 2012 and it is extremely trying given the imbalance of resources. I have sued NUS for:

(a) breach of contract;

(b) the tort of misfeasance in public office;

(c) the tort of intimidation; and

(d) the tort of negligence.

The complaint regarding my supervisor, Dr Wong Yunn Chii

While I was working on my thesis in NUS, my supervisor, Dr Wong Yunn Chii provided me with only minimal and token supervision. NUS also concluded in a COI report dated 20 July 2005 that “Dr Wong did not comply fully with his duties of supervision.” It is noteworthy that Dr Wong has since been promoted twice – even after a committee of inquiry was raised against him, concluding to censure him “for the manner in which he supervised [me], and that appropriate steps be taken to ensure Dr Wong was fully aware of the role and duties of a supervisor to his student.”

In 2004, Dr Wong made use of my scholarly work to apply for funding for his own project. He told me that my thesis was to be the “basis” and “content” of his own research project. Subsequently, he received a grant of over $80,000 from the Ministry of Education (MOE).

In February 2005, I had completed my MA thesis and met Dr Wong to ask him to sign my MA thesis submission form. I also asked Dr Wong how he was going to acknowledge my research work and MA thesis since he had used my thesis to apply for his research project grant successfully. To my shock, Dr Wong said that the primary sources in my thesis did not belong to me – this was in reply to my question about giving me due acknowledgement since Dr Wong had used my thesis to generate his research project.

I was concerned that, if Dr Wong did not acknowledge my research work in his grant application and project, this would deprive me of the credit I deserved for my research work. This could have serious consequences for my aspirations for an academic career and my professional reputation if I later tried to (revise and) publish my thesis.

By 3 March 2005, about 4 weeks after I turned in my MA thesis, I learned that my thesis examiners had still not been nominated. I was worried that Dr Wong had deliberately delayed the nomination of the examiners. I wrote to NUS to request that Dr Wong be removed as my supervisor. The department Head took the side of Dr Wong. I escalated the complaint to the Dean of the NUS School of Design and Environment (SDE). When the Dean took the side of Dr Wong and the Head, I escalated my complaint to Vice-Provost Lily Kong. The Vice-Provost took the side of Dr Wong, the Head, and the Dean.

I pursued the matter. NUS eventually convened a Committee of Inquiry (COI) in June 2005 to investigate my complaints against Dr Wong. Both the Vice-Provost and the COI Chairman refused to provide me with the terms of reference of the COI, and the names of the other members of the COI. Vice-Provost Kong stated that there were contradictions in my complaints. But she refused to clarify what these contradictions were.

In August 2005, NUS informed me that the COI had found that there was “insufficient evidence” to support my complaints. However, NUS refused to show me the COI report. I continued to protest NUS’ lack of transparency in the COI process and the lack of due process in its investigation in 2006, and I paid a high price just for pushing for a fair and just process.

This lawsuit is about justice!

This lawsuit is not just about the negligence of Dr Wong as a supervisor or his professional enrichment through the use of my thesis. Most importantly, it is about the wrongful termination of my MA candidature by NUS. The termination of my candidature has affected my life. NUS failed to observe due process in investigating my complaint against Dr Wong, and penalised me for my refusal to accept the NUS’ dubious investigation.

A public body like NUS is financially strong to drag this out in court. The longer it drags, the more painful and difficult it is for an individual like me to seek justice. This lawsuit is also about representing the voice of those who cannot afford to access equal legal resources.

NUS managed to withhold crucial information about facts related to my lawsuit until as late as July 2015, when it eventually disclosed information that would adversely affect its case. To date, I have hundreds of thousands of legal fees to pay and I have already spent more than S$100,000 in fees.

Urgent legal fees

There are some urgent court fees which I have to pay at this moment. In fact, my case was nearly struck off from trial in August by the Court after NUS successfully applied for an “Unless Order” on 13 July 2017 – that is, unless I paid certain fees to Court (S$6,000) by the next day on 14 July 2017, by 4 pm, my lawsuit would be struck out with costs.

I was able to get an emergency loan overnight, which I have to return within one week. Although I managed to prevent my case from being struck out just hours before the deadline on 14 July 2017, this type of unexpected crisis keeps coming up.

Yesterday, 17 July 2017, I was again asked to pay more court fees (S$5,000) for two additional days of hearing by tomorrow, 19 July 2017, 4 pm. NUS will be producing 6 witnesses at trial and has asked for a total of eight days of hearing. The Court has directed that the number of hearing days to be increased to a total of six days from four days due to the six NUS witnesses.

I have not been employed since January of this year. The challenges that I face are financial, physical, mental, and much more.

Not only has NUS tried to strike out my case a number of times, NUS had also tried to make me a bankrupt by issuing me a “statutory demand” under The Bankruptcy Act (dated 3 May 2016) to pay the cost orders in the interim applications that I had lost to NUS.

I do not want to drop this matter because I believe that justice should be served. And I think Singaporeans will not allow such an injustice to happen. I hope that my 12-year battle with NUS will make it to Court. I’m asking Singaporeans to stand behind a fellow Singaporean, and crowdfund justice. It is truly unfortunate that I have to raise $11,000 just for the Court hearing fees and at such short notice. NUS has used its own power to bully me and is able to use the legal system to its advantage as a result of the unequal access to resources.

Please help me – can 5,000 Singaporeans please give me S$1 each?

I would be very grateful if you could share this meaningful activity with your friends.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Jeanne Ten

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anomynous

    July 20, 2017 at 9:21 am


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