Dr Cherian George must know that feeling when the approval of his talk as NUS FASS was only granted… wait for it… on the scheduled day of the talk itself. A known government critic, Dr George accepted the invitation from Professor Mohan Dutta, head of NUS’s Department of Communications and New Media to give a lecture open to all NUS staff and students. The lecture, titled “Rethinking Censorship in An Age of Authoritarian Resilience” was initially scheduled on 9th March.
However, the approval for Dr George’s talk was delayed due to NUS’s protocol that requires “all visitors to the Faculty of the Arts and Social Sciences are subjected to screening”. The approval came so late to the point where there would not even have enough time to make travel arrangements for Dr George and to publicise the lecture. In response to queries from The Straits Times, an NUS spokesman mentioned that their “internal administrative process took longer than expected due to an oversight” (in that case, can my late school fees be waived because of an “oversight” too?).
What’s the significance?
Dr George has had a rather controversial career as a former journalist and academic, with the government and his former employer, NTU at least. Over the course of his career, he has written commentaries about the government’s approach to freedom of speech and expression and the ruling party’s use of “calibrated coercion” against any form of political or academic opposition, just to name a few. So it seems that there are two main ways to look at this incident: either NUS is hopelessly inefficient, incompetent and disrespectful, or this was a political manoeuvre to stop him from speaking. The talk has since been rescheduled to the 28th March, with the controversy ironically raising its publicity. This has caused the event to be oversubscribed, to the extent that a larger venue was needed. (and I’m on still the waiting list…)