A 5-year Legal Battle with NUS

My name is Jeanne Ten. I am a Singaporean. My life has been utterly destroyed by the National University of Singapore (NUS). In 2012, I began a long drawn-out legal battle with NUS regarding the wrongful denial of my MA degree (by Research) in 2006. My trial will begin next month on 1 August 2017.

To date, I have already spent more than $100,000 in fees. I have exhausted all my savings. I have no choice but to resort to crowdfunding the legal fees. I hope Singaporeans can extend a hand, no matter how small the amount, to uphold justice. (July 2017)

Photo Credit: Grace Baey 

18 July 2017

Here’s my encounter

I started my MA programme at the National University of Singapore (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. Much 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


 POSB Everyday Savings Account 193-69702-0

  Ten Leu Jiun Jeanne-Marie

  DBS Bank Pte Ltd
 12 Marina Boulevard,
 DBS Asia Central,
 Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3,
 Singapore 018982

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