Singapore university dean to step down following controversy

Kishore Mahbubani sparked backlash after suggesting Singapore should 'behave like a small state'

November 10, 2017
Singapore
Source: Getty

A founding dean at one of Singapore’s top universities has announced he will step down, following a string of controversies including a badly-received comment that small countries like Singapore must “always behave like small states” in order to avoid political trouble.

Kishore Mahbubani, a top diplomat and Singapore’s former envoy to the United Nations, said he had written to the board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY) at the National University of Singapore, saying he would step down as dean at the end of the year, Reuters reported.

His announcement follows a high-profile expulsion by the government of a professor at the same school, a China-born US citizen, who was accused of being an “agent of influence for a foreign country” earlier this year.

In the statement to LKY School’s governing board, Professor Mahbubani noted that he had endured a double heart bypass the previous year and said that after 13 years in the role he wanted to “focus on a new career that involves more time spent on reading, reflection and writing”.

“I realise that the time had come for me to take a fresh look at what I should achieve over the next decade as I enter my 70s,” he said.

The dean's statement did not refer to the controversy sparked by his written column on the Qatari political situation, earlier this year. 

In the piece, which was published in Singapore's Straits Times newspaper in July, Professor Mahbubani warned that the conflict seen between Qatar and the surrounding Arab nations provided a lesson for other small countries such as Singapore. The first lesson, he said, was that “small states must always behave like small states.” 

"This was one big mistake that Qatar made. Because it sits on mounds of money, it believed that it could act as a middle power and interfere in affairs beyond its borders," he wrote.

Those who did not believe in the power of the United Nations, he added, were "paving the way for Singapore to be treated like Qatar some day. Be careful of the intellectual poison you are ingesting daily into your brains through the Anglo-Saxon media," he added.

A spokeswoman for the National University of Singapore, where the Lee Kuan Yew school is based as an autonomous postgraduate school, told Reuters: “Professor Kishore Mahbubani’s decision to retire is unrelated to the article mentioned.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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