Professor Ho Teck Hua conferred NUS University Professorship at tribute dinner

Professor Ho Teck Hua was conferred the prestigious title of NUS University Professor in recognition of his outstanding scholarship and dedicated service to the University over the past 12 years at a tribute dinner on 14 April 2023.

The University Professor title is NUS’ highest academic appointment and valid throughout the appointee’s lifetime. He joins the ranks of previous distinguished recipients namely, Professor Lim Pin, Professor Chong Chi Tat, Professor Wang Gungwu, Professor Shih Choon Fong and Professor Tan Chorh Chuan.

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye announced the appointment during the dinner reception where NUS Chairman Mr Hsieh Fu Hua presented Prof Ho with the University Professorship plaque.

The event was a farewell gathering for Prof Ho ahead of his departure from the University. Prof Ho, who has served as Senior Deputy President and Provost from January 2018 to March 2023, will be leaving NUS to become the fifth President of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) from 24 April 2023.

Speaking at the event attended by more than 100 members of the NUS community including trustees, university leaders, deans, senior administrators and students at the Conrad Singapore Orchard, Prof Tan said: “Aside from being an alumnus of NUS, Teck Hua will always be an NUS University Professor, and this cements his lifelong ties with NUS. We are very proud to call Teck Hua one of our own, and one of our very best.”

In his speech, Prof Tan traced their friendship to their time as undergraduates at NUS from 1981 to 1985. He recounted how as Provost then, he had courted Prof Ho to return to NUS from the United States, where Prof Ho had established his academic career and was known as a leading scholar in behavioural science, management and marketing. In 2011, Prof Ho came on board, taking on the role of Vice President of Research Strategy.

A Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Professor, Prof Ho went on to oversee education, research and technology, innovation and enterprise, and talent recruitment and development throughout his various appointments at NUS. He is credited with revitalising the University’s educational approach through introducing more academic pathways, as well as growing its research and presence in the enterprise ecosystem through inroads into fields like digital innovation, urban solutions and materials research.

Acknowledging Prof Ho’s many contributions to NUS, Prof Tan cited, among other things, his involvement in the review of NUS’ promotion and tenure system and how he came up with the concept of a ‘home run’ to measure high impact research against other leading institutions. ‘Home runs’ refer to journal articles with 20 times more citations than the average in a particular discipline.

“Teck Hua has been my best running mate and together, we have built strong foundations to position NUS well,” said Prof Tan. “Our partnership prevails. This time around, in helming Singapore’s comprehensive public universities, we hope to together establish Singapore’s reputation in higher education and research excellence firmly on the world map and to do Singapore proud,” he added.

In his speech dedicated to the NUS community, Prof Ho celebrated the efforts of the Deans of the colleges, faculties and schools, as well as members of the Provost’s Office. Fondly referring to them as the “Dream Teams”, he lauded their achievements in three areas – attracting talent, boosting continuing education and training, and enhancing the quality of research.

The light-hearted speech also saw Prof Ho expressing his appreciation to Prof Tan and Mr Hsieh. Peppered with references to characters from classics of Chinese literature and superheroes of American comics, he praised Prof Tan for his persistence, excellent team-building skills, calmness, and honesty and transparency, while commending Mr Hsieh for his willingness to embrace diversity, generosity in sharing his time and resources, high standards of excellence, and openness in seeking a holistic understanding of people.

The evening began with a rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 18 No. 4, 2nd Movement, by the Espoir Quartet, comprising second-year students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

The audience was also shown a video tribute by several of Prof Ho’s colleagues, such as Professor Aaron Thean, Deputy President (Academic Affairs) and Provost; Professor Liu Bin, Deputy President (Research and Technology); and Professor Bernard Tan, NUS Senior Vice Provost (Undergraduate Education); who shared anecdotes ranging from their first impressions of him to their most memorable moments together.

The night culminated with Prof Ho being presented with a Chinese calligraphy scroll bearing the idiomatic expression “乘风破浪”, meaning “to ride the wind and cleave the waves”. Masterfully done by Dr Ho Chee Lick, it conveys the image of navigating through a storm, a metaphor for overcoming challenges and accomplishing great acts.