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Academic movement backs efforts to remove university ‘deadweights’

Public universities like UUM must remain neutral

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The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) is fully supportive of the education minister in his attempts to remove politically backed deadweights and bring order and excellent leadership back into Malaysia’s higher education sector.

In so doing, Gerak strongly condemns the posturing and shameless appeals for help to old political party allies by those asked to leave. The ongoing attempts by the vice-chancellor in Sabah to remain, despite being given notice, is one such example.

In this regard, Gerak is well aware of previous cases of others who used powerful backers to swing decisions back in their favour. This sick feudal culture must stop if Malaysian academia is to move forward from the sad state it is in now.

In the case of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), members of staff have made strong evidence-backed complaints and allegations.

The most visual and horrific has been the “parang attack” on the office door of one academic staff by a senior university official and the failure of the top official to punish his counterpart or bring things under control.

Then there was the widely discussed – but evidently hushed up and kept from away from the rest of the world – sexual assault on a student by a university security staff with cables in high places.

Third have been the accusations of nepotism, with numerous senior staff having their relatives being appointed to administrative positions. Gerak is aware that, at present, there doesn’t appear to be any ruling that negates this practice.

Nonetheless, good management practice requires that cases – and even potential cases – of conflict of interest be identified beforehand. And employees at all levels be reminded of the need to openly declare such interests or face disciplinary action.

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The recent ‘show of support’ by UMS students for the outgoing vice-chancellor clearly looks like another case of manipulation. Some may say that we must listen to the voices of students, voices that the minister has often championed.

But Gerak is also aware that many of the so-called student representation in our campuses – like the many vice-chancellors in our 20 public universities – were put in place through political appointments and interference by the previous Barisan Nasional regime.

We must – and can – undo all these wrongs which have culminated in university administrators using all these dubious, underhanded and non-academic means to remain in power.

Gerak, in its 10-point proposal submitted to the minister in June 2018, clearly argued that, first, the deadwood political lackeys and apparatchiks need to be removed or `re-allocated’ to sites where they will no longer do harm.

Second, and at the same time, the minister must put together a team of senior genuinely respected and reform-minded scholars. This team would be tasked with spearheading academic reform and set up committees, including authoritative search committees to autonomously pick the best intellectual leaders for our universities.

The window of opportunity is there. Education Minister Maszlee Malik, as we continue to remind him, must grab this opportunity – not for political expediency, but to genuinely repair our much-damaged higher education system.

The latest World Bank report on our civil service has been scathing in its critique, backing Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s previous comments.

By the same token, Gerak believes that we, as taxpayers funding our 20 public universities, must demand much better service from our universities and their `leaders’ (and we use the word cautiously for now).

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And, in so doing, those `leaders’ who continue to rot our universities must be replaced.

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