Home Civil Society Voices Gerak appalled at Unimap vice-chancellor’s response to ethnic relations exam paper 

Gerak appalled at Unimap vice-chancellor’s response to ethnic relations exam paper 

Public universities like UUM must remain neutral

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The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) is appalled at the statement  by R Badlishah Ahmad, the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaysia Perlis (Unimap), regarding the controversy arising from multiple-choice questions set in Unimap’s ethnic relations exam paper. 

Gerak had earlier pointed out that, for an unnecessary question (Q60) set about the Indian preacher-on-the-run, Zakir Naik, both the question and the answers provided were badly and narrowly constructed, and not appropriate for a module designed to further inter-ethnic understanding.  Indeed, the opposite was true.

The Unimap vice-chancellor then said an investigation would be conducted.

This latest rambling statement after the `investigation” is nothing but a complete and clumsy whitewash of the whole sordid affair.

Let us remember that since that question was exposed, at least another racist and anthropologically ignorant question from the same paper has been unearthed and reported.

This, Gerak believes, is not simply  an “oversight” or things related to the syllabus. Such “explanations” are simply untenable. And the Unimap vice-chancellor surely knows this. If he doesn’t, he needs to be schooled. Or he may volunteer to step down to be replaced by someone who knows what constitutes the public good.

We, unfortunately, are now living within a toxic environment of racial supremacy and religious bigotry. These need to be fought against and greater understanding and respect fostered. That is the spirit of the ethnic relations module. It doesn’t require a PhD or a vice-chancellor’s position to know that.

In his statement, the Unimap vice-chancellor conveniently asserts that the vetting of the questions in the exam paper followed proper procedure and was in line with the syllabus of the module and that the controversial question was discussed in class.

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The fact is any two-bit lecturer can “discuss in class”, controlling and moving the discussion towards a particular direction and, unsurprisingly, indoctrinating rather than questioning.

In any case, to further muddy the issue, in his statement, the vice-chancellor says that Unimap will in future ensure all multiple-choice questions will be restricted to theory and facts only.

This is essentially a stock, evasive statement that is irresponsible and problematic because it does not address the root problem underpinning the controversy, ie the ideologically blinkered question and narrow range of answers that were provided. This clearly relates to the way this module is being taught.

The vice-chancellor’s statement thus altogether avoids responding to the main issue at hand: why were such insulting and stupid questions along with incorrect and restrictive answers allowed in the university exam paper?

Gerak thus demands a thorough independent review of the way this ethnic relations module is taught at Unimap, indeed in all our universities. Is what is being taught in line with the objectives and spirit of the module?

While Gerak respects academic autonomy in the lecture room, such autonomy must be placed within the context of rigorous scholarship that avoids the ideological and cultural biases that were undoubtedly demonstrated in this controversy.

Clearly, Unimap and other publicly funded universities need to review their approaches to the ethnic relations module. They need to ensure it fulfils the wider, national agenda of helping students appreciate the cultural diversity that makes up Malaysian society. And to uphold and respect such diversity.

Gerak executive committee

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