JCU students come out in support of John Tan

Singapore Democrats

SDP’s assistant secretary-general, Mr John Tan, was recently suspended from his teaching position by James Cook University. His students came out in support of him — 28 of them. They wrote to the university asking it to reinstate Mr Tan’s position. We reproduce below three of the letters:

Letter 1

I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize that John is indeed in a different league from other lecturers. He has shown his expertise and depth in his knowledge of psychology when sharing his experience with the students. I’ve come across many lecturers who would read off the slides and teach for the sake of getting by the 3 hour session; however, John would always go to lectures well prepared with examples and historical facts at his finger tips. Students who are picking up psychology really need lecturers who are passionate in sharing their knowledge. With passion, comes ability to instil the confidence in students and will in turn, inspire the students to one day, emulate the lecturer.

It is truly a big question mark as to why the complaint letter only surfaced during the exam marking period and after one whole trimester. If the student had any doubts with John’s degree of professionalism when conveying his lectures, the student should have made known to the campus management his unhappiness earlier. It would be definitely be a great loss to the present and future students should JCU decide to terminate John’s services based on a fictitious complaint letter that has no valid grounds. Please look into the matter seriously and I sincerely hope that John be reinstated before the new term starts.

Letter 2

John is passionate about what he teaches.  He is personally familiar with many of the experiments and people active in social psychology; the quality of his lecture is evident of this fact.

Many in my cohort have at least a prior university degree under our belts.  Some have completed their masters and even Ph.D.  I believe we can tell when someone is lecturing on a prayer and a wing or when someone is expounding what has been intelligently internalized.  

Our opinions are reflected in our end of semester evaluation.  It would greatly increase transparency if JCU would publish a synopsis of these evaluations so that students are aware of the teaching abilities of the academic staff.  As paying consumers of education, we have the rights to know of the quality and motivation level of the lecturers we are getting.

The only valid complaint for a teaching staff’s suspension is the lack of quality. This has always been communicated to all JCU teaching staff.  Since that is the case, I would like to put across to JCU my opinion on the quality of John’s lecturing and I find the quality of his pedagogy more than satisfactory.

Please do not hesitate to inform me if his teaching is suspect as I have taken 4 modules (PY2103, PY2111, PY3101 and PY3102) from him over the course of 2 years.  I am very concerned about the quality of education I have received so far.

Letter 3

I am extremely disappointed in the school’s decision to suspend Mr John Tan.

Mr Tan is extremely passionate as he can be about teaching Social Psychology, and it will be a great loss for the school, and for the students, if his teaching career at JCU were to be permanently terminated.

We must consider how capable he is as a teacher, and not be bothered by issues such as his political views. Obviously, Colin Lim does not seem to have any regard and respect for someone as senior as Mr Tan, and is using the excuse of Mr Tan’s position (of being in a political opposition party) to complicate issues for him.

Someone as irrational, petty, and childish as Colin Lim is a disgraceful representation of a JCU student, as he is enforcing the stereotypical view that Singaporeans are only capable of complaining at the slightest ‘discomfort’. Why should JCU be spineless enough to be swayed in such a manner with one single complaint? Could it be that this mysterious Colin Lim is actually the big cheese of JCU itself? Suspending Mr Tan based on a single complaint is just ludicrous.

I am astonished that JCU would suspend Mr Tan based on a simple accusation such as this. If the school were to suspend Mr Tan based on teaching incompetence, then the suspension is justifiable and considerable. But to suspend Mr Tan on the basis of a conflict of personal interest is simply absurd. Mr Tan has the right to teach however he wants to, so long as it does not worsen his teaching standards.

As a former student of Mr Tan’s Social Psychology class, I can say that his political references do add colour to his Social Psychology examples, making Social Psychology a very much more interesting subject. He educates and enriches us in a level that no teacher in my academic life has ever been able to do so before. As a matter of fact, his political references improves the quality of teaching Social Psychology.

There has NOT been a single occasion (in his classes I attended) whereby Mr Tan allowed his political opinions to compromise his teaching standards and the quality of the syllabus content.

He teaches Social Psychology with so much sincerity, with so much passion, and with so much grace. Firing him based on any of these accusations without adequate investigation is really something that saddens me. The school should at least make some effort to interview some of his former students, instead of making such a rash decision that shows the lack of consideration of the opinions of its students.

I hope the school at least considers the opinions and voices of those who stand behind Mr Tan, as it would be very unjust to those who love and want him as a teacher.

The complaint is indeed a pusillanimous act by a destitute of democracy, and I hope that JCU, an academic institution that is founded on the intent to shape its students into becoming educated, good, just, and fair individuals, would not abandon its values and reconsider accepting back Mr Tan as teacher of JCU. “Crescente Luce”, the school’s motto, means “light ever increasing”. Turning a blind eye to the information of those who speak up for Mr Tan is unforgivably hypocritical.

Mr Tan is professional enough to distinguish the difference between political views and teaching social psychology, and I hope the school is able to be as professional in distinguishing the difference between a student’s personal agenda and Mr Tan’s teaching quality.

If the school is facing pressure (or threats) from an external source, the least the school could do is to stand up for Mr Tan before making any major conclusions. This is a man’s rice bowl we are talking about here. Mr Tan is already facing a difficult time outside the school, I hope that JCU would show some compassion by not doing this to him during this period.

Thank you for your time.


One of the letters has been replaced because the author doesn’t want it posted. We apologise for any inconvenience caused to the author or anyone else involved.


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