University of Malaya: Time to Honour Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram


July 4, 2018

University of Malaya: Time to Honour Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

I am reminding my alma mater, University of Malaya to address this Injustice to Dr. Jomo, who is a member of New Malaysia’s Eminent Persons Group led by Tun Daim Zainuddin . I  know that he genuinely deserves this honour. My reasons are given in an article I wrote a number of years ago (July 4, 2010):

University of Malaya Emeritus Professorship for Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

by Din Merican*

With the next commencement or convocation of the University of Malaya fast approaching, some time in August, 2010, I have been thinking about names of distinguished Malaysian Professors who should be honored by my alma mater for their solid research and teaching achievements while at the University.


In recent years, I note the University of Malaya has been awarding Emeritus Professorships to its former Professors for their outstanding work. This is a very important development in the University’s history. A professor and scholar never retires and like a great military general, he just fades away, but not with making contributions and sharing his knowledge and experience through his writings, consulting and advisory work, and occasional public lectures.

Image result for professor ungku aziz

Even in retirement, a professor is remembered by his students and those who have benefited from his generous guidance and wise counsel. In this regard, I can think of Professor Syed Hussein Al-Atas, Professor Wang Gungwu, Royal Professor Ungku A. Aziz, Professor Mokhzani Rahim, and Professor Zainal Abidin bin Wahid because they had a huge impact on my education and outlook.

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas

I can say the same of my Business School academic advisor and intellectual mentor, the late Emeritus Professor Dr. Philip Donald Grub at the George Washington School of Business, The George Washington University, Washington DC.

A number of my friends like Professor Dr. Mohamed Ariff (formerly Executive Director, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research) and History Professor Khoo Kay Kim have received due recognition by the University for their contributions to our country and for their work in the University. Missing from this honour list is the name of Professor Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram (popularly known as Jomo in academic and social circles). If there is anyone deserving of this honour and recognition, it has to be in my humble opinion  has to be Jomo.

I first knew this outstanding yet humble academic through his book, A Question of Class: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya. ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) and have interacted with him during my short attachment (2000-2001) at the Asia-Europe Institute at the University. This book is today regarded as a classic on Malaysian political economy. It has been widely reviewed by his peers and critics alike. His writings left a deep impression on me. I am sure during his career at the University of Malaya, Jomo touched the hearts and minds of colleagues and students, who were privileged to know him at close range.

From Academia to the United Nations

Jomo has been Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development in the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) since January 2005. He was Professor in the Applied Economics Department, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya until November 2004, and was on the Board of the United Nations Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva (2002-4). He is Founder Chair of IDEAs, International Development Economics Associates (www.ideaswebsite.org).

Academic Background

Born in Penang, Malaysia, in 1952, Jomo studied at the Penang Free School (PFS, 1964-6), Royal Military College (RMC, 1967-70), Yale (1970-3) and Harvard (1973-7). He has taught at Science University of Malaysia (USM, 1974), Harvard (1974-5), Yale (1977), National University of Malaysia (UKM, 1977-82), University of Malaya (since 1982), and Cornell (1993). Jomo has also been a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University (1987-8; 1991-2) and was Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2004).

Articles, Monographs and Publications

He has authored over 35 monographs, edited over 50 books and translated 11 volumes besides writing many academic papers and articles for the media. He is on the editorial boards of several learned journals. His book publications include Malaysia’s Political Economy (with E. T. Gomez), Tigers in Trouble, Rents, Rent-Seeking and Economic Development: Theory and the Asian Evidence (with Mushtaq Khan), Malaysian Eclipse: Economic Crisis and Recovery, Globalization Versus Development: Heterodox Perspectives, Southeast Asia’s Industrialization, Ugly Malaysians? South-South Investments Abused, Southeast Asian Paper Tigers? Behind Miracle and Debacle, Manufacturing Competitiveness: How Internationally Competitive National Firms And Industries Developed In East Asia, Ethnic Business? Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia (with Brian Folk), Deforesting Malaysia: The Political Economy of Agricultural Expansion and Commercial Logging (with YT Chang and KJ Khoo), M Way: Mahathir’s Economic Policy Legacy and After The Storm: Crisis, Recovery and Sustaining Development in East Asia.

Other and more recent books include Bail-Outs? Capital Controls, Restructuring & Recovery in Malaysia. (with Wong Sook Ching and Chin Kok Fay), Industrial Policy in Malaysia: The Chequered Record of Selective Investment Promotion, Labour Market Segmentation In Malaysian Services (with H. L. Khong), Law and the Malaysian Economy (with others), Globalization Under Hegemony: The Changing World Economy During The Long Twentieth Century, The Great Divergence: Hegemony, Uneven Development and Global Inequality during the Long Twentieth Century, The New Development Economics (with Ben Fine), The Origins of Development Economics (with Erik Reinert) and Pioneers of Development Economics.

I hope that the Minister of Higher Education, the University Senate and Council ,and the Vice Chancellor will deem it timely and deserving that this outstanding Malaysian should be granted the status of Emeritus Professor. Although he has been critical of government policies and is often invited to speak by the Opposition and civil society group on Malaysian political economy, most recently in Parliament when he spoke on the 10th Malaysian Plan, his views have always been contrarian, yet constructive and useful as we seek to formulate new policies which are intended to transform Malaysia into a high income economy by 2020.

Let us honour this outstanding academic and the University of Malaya should recognise his contributions to research and teaching for more than 2 decades. No obtacles should stand in the way of honouring Jomo for his stellar contributions to research and teaching. Even his detractors should concede that Jomo is outstanding and deserves recognition.

*Din Merican graduated from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur in 1963 and did postgraduate studies in Business at George Washington School of Business, The George Washington University, Washington DC. He is Professor of International Relations, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh since 2014.

6 thoughts on “University of Malaya: Time to Honour Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram

  1. Thank you Din for highlighting this issue. An academic never ‘retires’. He /she tires and re-tires in a never-ending quest to unravel societies problems and to find solutions to them. Jomo does deserve the Emeritus, 100%. Just a footnote though:Prof Syed Hussein Alatas was not awarded an Emeritus despite his dedication and intellectual achievements. The National University of Singapore was where Prof. Alatas ‘served’ and contributed to the field of the sociology of corruption. Yet NUS did not award him the high honor. And neither did any university in Malaysia.

    • Jeffery Lim and friends,

      I do not understand why the University of Malaya Alumni Association is not pushing the Vice Chancellor to act. Its President must be in deep slumber. –Din Merican

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