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DOS Update #15 - We will not run

  PUBLISHED: 11 February 2020, 11:00 p.m. 


  1. Since yesterday, classes with more than 50 pax have moved fully into e-learning. There are 1,137 classes remaining with 31 to 50 pax. Some 618 classes are being relocated to larger classrooms.
  2. Two students are still in GQF. They are well and show no symptoms.

Dear Students:

By now, many of you would know NUS is actually not perfectly safe. We are on hilly terrain. Before PMD fell out of favour, we had a regular parade of severely grazed knees.

There are also signs of moral failings. I chair the Board of Discipline and regularly see cases of plagiarism, cheating in exams, all in all, pretty poor form.

Students get drunk too. I have seen a student who had a few drinks, lost his balance, crash into a glass door. He went bleeding to the hospital to be stitched up. Then there are more severe cases of misconduct – sexual misconduct and breach of disciplinary orders such as LOA. In these cases, sanctions are swift and heavy.

I tell you this so you know, we are not a place where there are no failings and flaws. NUS students are all bright but they are not all virtuous and good.

We are a place for young people of Singapore and of the world, to come and learn and grow. Along the way, there are tests of various kinds which you can pass or fail. You may think that the most important of these lie in the classroom but they do not.

The most important are exams of fire outside. 

These tests are always a surprise, always open book and always marked very strictly. There is no way to cheat. When students fail, we are disappointed. But when they pass, the results are truly spectacular.

May I present some recent results to you?

RIVER poster 2

River the Musical is scheduled to open their curtains on 14 February. Image: Temasek Hall

Test 1: The River twice

Since D-Orange, 60 student events have been cancelled. Some of these students have been practising for months for the final big show. Some of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in recent days has been to hold firm to PAX 50.

From: Victor Tan (Master, Temasek Hall)
Sent: Monday, February 10, 2020 8:12 PM
To: Leong Ching (Dean, OSA) <>
Subject: Hall Production

Hi Ching,

Forwarding you the message the theatrette producer sent to hall residents.



As many of you may already have heard, our Theatrette production for this year, "River", has been postponed till later this year, with the final date still unconfirmed. This is due to the unprecedented emergence of the Corona Virus, which nobody could have expected.

NUS is staunch in its stance that no activity with more than 50 participants would be allowed to continue.

Despite the best efforts of our team and supporters to keep the show going, nevertheless this is still a matter that concerns the safety and health of our society as a whole. No matter how dedicated we are to the production, we cannot be so selfish as to endanger others.

Many of us were disappointed, and we ourselves were in disbelief when we first heard the decision. However, our Hall master is very supportive of this production, and we are confident that we will still be able to deliver a splendid performance to everyone anticipating this show.

Instead of focusing on the temporary disturbance, we will instead take this opportunity to improve, and then give you a show you will never forget, sometime in the future.

This production is the sum of many people's effort. Countless hours of work, practice and planning has been put into this musical. For now, we are taking the necessary steps in postponing the show, such as refunding the tickets. However, we hope that when the time comes again for us to perform, we can count on your support again!

So for now, please stay safe, and look out for the return of Theatrette! Just look up, and you'll see that it'll be worth waiting for!

- “River” production team

From: Leong Ching (Dean, OSA)
Sent: Monday, February 10, 2020 8:20 PM
To: Victor Tan (Master, Temasek Hall) <>
Subject: RE: Hall Production

Dear Team River:

I am truly sorry to have to hard hold the limit of 50 which led to the delay of your performance. Your Hall Master showed me your inspirational message.

Heraclitus famously said that one never steps into the same river twice.

So I am sure that new, albeit delayed, River will be indeed a splendid show. I have accepted Victor’s kind invitation to attend.

You will read in my UPDATE today that I think resilience is a key component of Team NUS. Nowhere is this more true than in the performers of River. It will be a show to remember, along with the memory of your courageous and uplifting response.

I wish you the very best in the semester ahead,

Leong Ching

Massive online e-learning

Many of you would have had to key in your temperatures and adjust to e-learning. But you’ve adjusted to these large changes with such good grace, humour, and in the case of one School of Computing Student, with a grain of expertise.

Amit Sukhpal, MComp student of SoC, sent a helpful email, outlining a simple method to improve the programming of the online temperature declaration system.

He wrote: “I have a few UX related suggestions for the temperature recording system. If you have time, please go through the suggestions. It might help curb the submission of erroneous readings.”

There are a total of 855 classes with more than 50 pax which have moved fully into e-learning. The remaining 7,712 classes fall within the 50 pax quota, and 1,137 of such classes have a capacity between 31 and 50 pax.

The University has requested Registrar’s Office (RO) to relocate these larger classes to bigger rooms so that students need not cluster too closely. In reality, 93 of these classes are laboratory lessons and 426 of them have a venue occupancy rate of less than 60% which means that relocation is not necessary.

Still, this means 618 classes are being relocated. Faculty members including the Vice Deans, timetabling coordinators and lecturers are all working on this so that students who attend face-to-face classes will have a little more room.

While halls, colleges and residences have made creative arrangements to keep within the 50 pax quota in their dining halls, the University has not mandated the same in canteens on campus. Still to reduce the crowd at canteens, more of us can pack food to take away.

As an environmentalist, I would be leery of asking you to use more disposables. So please join the NUS Save “Project Box” campaign.

NUS SAVE PBPT campaign poster

NUS SAVE Project Box Project Tumbler Campaign Poster. Image: NUS SAVE

“What is Risk?” Discuss

Meanwhile, tests at NUS are not limited to students. Professors and administrators at NUS are being tested too. One hot exam topic is risk management.

My colleague Professor KK Phoon is a civil engineer and one of the world’s foremost experts on risk. His research is about risk management of geohazards and underground structures. Today, it guides the development of design codes and specifications for structures.

So I set him a question: “Under the current conditions at NUS, what is risk? How should we deal with it?”

His answer: “Risk in the context of the current situation is basically about doing what is sensible and practicable to limit further spread. At the scale of a community, risk management is usually based on the principle of ALARP, which stands for "As Low As Reasonably Practicable".

ALARP in a nutshell refers to averting risk unless there is a gross disproportion between the costs and benefits of doing so. Costs can include social costs and general well-being.

ALARP works – it forms the legal basis for many health and safety legislation. It is what we call “best practice” at this point in time in reducing risk at the community scale. It goes without saying that everyone needs to work together and our individual decisions play a critical role in responding to a community spread.

“Pax 50” is one of several measures that was recommended this week. It is sensible to limit the number of people in close contact for a prolonged period. In short, its “essence” is to limit exposure rather than size of a room or number of people.

It is also meant to serve as a trip wire to mandate organisers of large event to undertake more detailed risk assessment and management.

Risk management is a policy tool for a community. Research has shown that an individual perceives risk differently. You can only die once. Risk is an existential issue at the individual level – it is not a policy issue. Good risk management recognises this anxiety, particularly for risk perceived to be unfamiliar and dreadful, and requires more granular engagement with impacted individuals that includes communication.

I regularly appeal to my students to take a larger and perhaps philosophical perspective. Life is irreducibly fragile – a coconut can fall on your head tomorrow on bright sunny day. We can take the approach of staying in a BSL-4 room (the highest biosafety environment) or we can take reasonable precautions and live life the way Mother Nature wanted.

Sometimes, it is worth thinking if the cure is worse than the disease.

I believe the military is best positioned to deal with crisis, because that is its core mission. Soldiers believe the person next to him will not run (social responsibility) and the General will have “defence in-depth” strategies to win the battle (risk-informed policies).”

End of answer


Mala sanitising the hands of a student at the Student Service Centre counter. Photo: Sean Tan, Head, Student Organisations, OSA

We will not run

We are not the military, only ordinary men and women. Like my colleague Mala, grandmother to a 3-year old, manning counters at Student Service Centre. But she will not run.

OSA Residential Life staff, Jeremy Lim, 42, father of a little boy, has been delivering lunch since January 26. He will not run.

Five professors at the Provost office have joined Jeremy in delivering food. So too the lawyers and administrators at the inimitable Office of Legal Affairs. They will not run.

Instead, we will stand with you, with those of you enduring days in isolation, others selfless in service, stoic in acceptance of the dashing of your plans and dreams. We stand, not because we have no fear, but in spite of fear.

In recent days, your tests have been far harder than you anticipated at matriculation, but you have passed them all with distinction. The professors and administrators of NUS must do no less.

It is thus that I say to you, on behalf of my colleagues, that we too shall not fail.


A/P Leong Ching 
NUS Dean of Students  

#QOTD Questions of the Day on E-Learning

Answers by Prof Bernard Tan, Senior Vice Provost (Undergraduate Education)

Question: "I am an international student and I want to be put on LOA so that I can go home. Why can’t NUS allow this?"

Answer: International students can go on LOA but this may delay their graduation. If they choose to go home, without applying for LOA, getting credits via e-learning will be subjected to the approval of individual module lecturers. (Read more on LOA)

Question: "My parents are scared for my safety. Why doesn’t NUS go completely into e-learning?"

Answer: E-learning is not as optimal as face-to-face classes but it is better than having no lessons. When e-learning is conducted, we may sacrifice some of the learning experience of students. Therefore, we only do e-learning only when it is necessary to, such as for big classes to reduce risk of virus transmission.

Question: "Under what circumstances will NUS fully go into e-learning? Must we wait for DORSCON to turn red?"

Answer: E-learning is a last resort for the reasons mentioned earlier. In addition, some learning activities such as laboratory sessions are not amendable to e-learning. So NUS will activate full e-learning when it is absolutely necessary.

#QOTD Questions of the Day on Temperature Screening

Answers by Koh Yan Leng, Associate Vice President (Campus Life), University Campus Infrastructure

Question: “What happened in the temperature implementation of DORSCON Orange?”

Answer: The most unexpected thing was how the screening at all the stations went smoothly. Though there was some initial confusion at the Medical Library – which is not an assigned screening centre. But that was clarified and resolved. While we have read news and social media messages about long queue at commercial offices and buildings, things were smooth here.

Credit goes to the whole NUS community as each station is manned by different faculties, schools or departments.

Question: “What is one thing that you would like to tell the NUS community about temperature screening?”

Answer: We know it is a chore to do this every day. However, we are clear that it is necessary for us to do so to protect ourselves and others in the community. Very soon, it will be part of our daily routine and it will be like second nature. The extra effort is definitely worth it when compared against the safety these measures bring to the community in the current crisis.