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University senate cannot revoke degree of protesting student

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The protest by the student awarded the degree clearly does not fall within the misconduct for which his degree can be revoked, says Gurdial Singh Nijar.

With utmost respect, the statement by the president of National Professors Council (MPN) Prof Raduan Che Rose that the Universiti of Malaya has the right to revoke or withhold the degree of its graduate who staged a protest during the university’s convocation ceremony on Monday is misconceived in law.

In particular, the university senate cannot revoke the degree under its rules, as suggested.

The university is governed by the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971. It provides for the adoption of a prescribed constitution, which reigns supreme. Any inconsistency with its provisions is invalid under Section 8 of the act.

Under Section 53 of the constitution, the board of directors may recommend the revocation of a degree that has been awarded. But this power is circumscribed.

First, the board must be of the opinion that the graduate is guilty of “scandalous conduct”. This conduct is defined. It is when the graduate has given false information to obtain the degree.

Then too the recommendation must be made by not less than two-thirds of all members of the board. The recommendation is made to the chancellor. The chancellor must give the graduate an opportunity to be heard before taking any action.

The protest by the student awarded the degree clearly does not fall within the misconduct for which his degree can be revoked.

Arbitrary action of the sort advocated by the National Professors Council on the tail of a similar stance by an NGO is not only against the law but is antithetical to the values of academic freedom and the ethos of a society governed by the rule of law.

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There are other ways of engendering appropriate and respectful behaviour. In the final analysis, respect has to be earned and not imposed.

Dato Dr Gurdial Singh Nijar is a former professor at the University of Malaya and president of Hakam.

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