Like many social scientists with ties and genuine affection for Singapore, I was shocked when I heard Nanyang Technological University (NTU) recently denied tenure to Dr. Cherian George (pictured to the right). See here for a Storify-based compilation of stories about this ongoing debacle, and here for a 1 March University World News story. Keep in mind this is the second time he was denied tenure – the first occurred in 2009.
Cherian George has a truly rare capacity to shed light on the nature of state-society-economy relations in Southeast Asia (especially Singapore and Malaysia) via an analysis of media systems and practices. He is also a public intellectual, with an ability to write in a fashion free from the jargon all too often associated with media studies worlds.
I first heard about Cherian George’s work when I worked in Singapore in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then every year after, usually via colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who work in the media and communications fields. While I’ve never met him I can state, with confidence, he would have been tenured here at UW-Madison. Indeed, given his record and in demand areas of expertise matched with actual experience as a journalist, he’d most likely be a tenured full Professor by now. But there you go – the powers that be who govern NTU have decided to send George on his way.
Rather than speculate as to why NTU, led by President Bertil Andersson (a Swedish national, and former Chief Executive of the European Science Foundation, 2004-2007) and Provost Freddy Boey, chose to sanction this decision, I decided to think laterally and pondered what a position description for a replacement hire in George’s areas of expertise would be like. It’s worth reflecting on the value of having a non-expatriate professor with these capabilities in a school of communication and information, and in a university that seeks to support the media sector in a city-state that ostensibly desires to become a ‘vibrant and robust’ media hub.
HYPOTHETICAL POSITION DESCRIPTION
Media Politics: Following the denial of tenure to Dr. Cherian George (who has a PhD in Communication from Stanford University, a Masters from Columbia University’s School of Journalism, and a BA in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University), we are looking for an even more innovative, collaborative, and forward-thinking teacher-scholar who is interdisciplinary inclined. The successful candidate should have a PhD with an active research agenda, and teaching and advising experience. Preference will be given to candidates who study the diverse politics of the media, including the norms and practices of journalism in Singapore and Southeast Asia more broadly; the sociocultural dimensions of the production, circulation and consumption of various forms of media; the formal and informal regulation of the media; and the nature of ‘alternative’ media vis a vis emerging social media platforms such as weblogs, Twitter, and so on. We are particularly interested in candidates who have deep regional expertise combined with international perspectives. It is also important that all candidates have 5-10 years of journalism experience in the media industry. The candidate needs to understand and be able to teach about the complex forces and diverse perspectives shaping debates in Singapore and Southeast Asia about issues like censorship, ‘intolerant’ speech, ‘free’ speech, and the nature of state influence on media systems. The candidate should committed to enhancing the role of NTU as a place where faculty are “excited about ideas,” where “risk taking” and “breaking conventional mindsets” is the new norm, and where faculty increasingly need to encourage students to “ask questions” so as to inculcate more creative and agile mindsets.
Those leading NTU (such as President Bertil Andersson) have stated that they have a “responsibility to Singaporean society.” It might be worth asking President Andersson if students at a “leading institution of higher education in the Asia-Pacific region” need to know about the phenomenon of media politics. And if so, who could realistically fill Dr. Cherian George’s shoes?