berkmanfriends@lists public statement concerning Prof. Cherian George

March 6, 2013

Two weeks ago, Prof. Cherian George, a scholar of the Internet and society, was denied tenure by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. A central focus of Prof. George’s research has been the freedom of expression on the Internet. Prof. George has been critical of the government in Singapore. In response to the public outcry over this denial of tenure, NTU released the following statement: “The tenure review process is purely a peer-driven academic exercise" (2/26).[1] We write as an international group of peer experts in the area of the Internet & Society to question this statement.

External reviewers of the Prof. George tenure case have come forward independently and indicated that the denial of tenure was contrary to their recommendation. Faculty at the School of Communication and Information have stated publicly that the denial of tenure was contrary to their recommendation. A student-initiated petition (which gathered 750 signatures in about 48 hours) demonstrates that the denial of tenure was contrary to the wishes of many students.

This situation creates the impression that the principles of academic freedom held in common by our fields have not been upheld at NTU.[2]  As a group of international peers in the study of the Internet and society, it is our conclusion that factors external to the peer evaluation of research and teaching may have improperly influenced the tenure decision for Prof. George.  To dispel this perception would require that NTU clarify the process by which tenure was rejected against the desires of the faculty and academic peer experts. 

Until this is clarified we strongly caution our colleagues working in the area of Internet and society in any dealings with Singaporean universities. Higher education increasingly involves transnational research and teaching partnerships. In this situation it is imperative that the principles of academic freedom are not eroded. “In a host environment where free speech is constrained, if not proscribed, faculty will censor themselves, and the cause of authentic liberal education, to the extent it can exist in such situations, will suffer.”[3]

Signatories of this statement sign as individuals and institutional affiliations are given for identification purposes only. This statement originated as a discussion on the berkmanfriends mailing list of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard but it does not represent the official position of any organization.


David Ardia (UNC)
Mike Ananny (USC)
Bodó Balázs (BME)
Fernando Bermejo (U. Rey Juan Carlos)
Ronald Deibert (Toronto)
John Deighton (Harvard)
Dan Gillmor (Arizona State)
Benjamin Mako Hill (Washington)
Reynol Junco (Purdue)
Karrie Karahalios (Illinois)
Andrew Lowenthal (EngageMedia)
Colin Maclay (Harvard)
Miriam Meckel (St. Gallen)
Charles Nesson (Harvard)
Christian Sandvig (Michigan)
Jeffrey Schnaap (Harvard)
Aaron Shaw (Northwestern)
Lokman Tsui (Google)
David Weinberger (Harvard)
Jillian C. York (EFF)
Ethan Zuckerman (MIT)

(views of these individuals are their own and do not represent their institutions)


Background Reading:

An open letter: 




[1] From:

[2] The 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” has been endorsed by the international scholarly associations in Communication, Information, Law, and Journalism (and many other fields).  See also the 1997 “UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel” provisions reagarding “an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education.” 

[3] see “On Conditions of Employment at Overseas Campuses”  For example, AAUP and CAUP recommend that in all international initiatives in higher education proceed “with special emphasis on provisions to ensure academic freedom and tenure.”  The AAUP open letter to the Yale community on operations in Singapore states that “…one needs to give serious consideration to whether academic freedom, and the personal freedoms that are a necessary prerequisite to its exercise, can in fact be sustained on a campus within what is a substantially authoritarian regime.”