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Crisis of leadership in Malaysian higher education

Public universities like UUM must remain neutral

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It is now about 18 months since this regime came to power through the back door and formed a new, bloated, yet generally ineffective cabinet.

The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak), like many others, has been following closely the many missteps and overall incompetency of this cabinet.

Like these others, we are alarmed and concerned about the implications of these shambolic antics of ministers and some of their deputies during this ongoing pandemic.

We are also, of course, disturbed by the lack of any clear decision-making, let alone good ones, by this cabinet.

Here, Gerak is primarily concerned about the evident lack of purpose and leadership by the Ministry of Higher Education, led by a clearly confused minister, aided by a clueless director general.

More specifically, we are troubled by related developments in some of our top public universities which all point to external interference and a dismissal of guidelines that are already in place.

We are referring, firstly, to news in academic circles and even in the wider public sphere that over the past year or so, an uncharacteristically large number of politicians from the Perikatan Nasional-Umno ‘cluster’ have been appointed to positions in the lembaga pengarah universiti(LPU) or board of governors of various public universities.

Blatantly political appointments of this nature have been a tragic tradition in many of our public universities.

It is a tradition begun and sustained by the Umno-Barisan Nasional regime before, and now extended excessively by those in the regime sharing the same Umno-BN DNA.

We in Gerak have always been against this unhealthy practise.

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Indeed, the restructuring of university administration was the first point In our 10-point proposal submitted to the previous legitimately elected Pakatan Harapan government.

We said then – and we reiterate our stand now – that…

The practice of political appointments of Chairman, Board of Directors, Vice Chancellors, Deputy Vice Chancellors and other top university management has to stop. We urge the new Minister of Education to immediately replace all these political appointees with independent-minded, honest, accountable, creative, empathetic, and altruistic leaders, selected by university search committees comprising academics of quality and experience.

There was some concrete attempt by the PH government to do just that, with the appointment of an independent national search committee comprising senior academics and proven leaders from industry.

It is evident that the committee is either no longer there or is no longer consulted.

Indeed, if it were still there and doing its job, the recent delays in appointing university vice-chancellors would not have happened.

Secondly, and equally serious, is what is evidently happening in a university on the east coast. The service of the vice-chancellor and one of his deputies has reportedly been shortened by the university’s chairman of the LPU, an Umno office bearer.

These reported and related developments point almost exclusively to the kind of political interference that we in Gerak have alluded to and which is both unnecessary and, clearly, going against university constitutions.

Gerak stands clearly against these sinister political manoeuvrings which we believe play absolutely no constructive part in preparing our public universities for a post-pandemic future. – Gerak

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