New Mindset required to uplift varsity standards

September 24, 2016

New Mindset required to uplift varsity standards, says my  Academic Friend, Dr. James Gomez@Bangkok University, Thailand

by Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation

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Bangkok University’s Dr. James Gomez
ACADEMICS have highlighted the challenges that higher education institutions within the region face in trying to meet international standards, including syllabus problems, system diversity, a lack of international staff and limited government support.

With the ASEAN Economic Community officially set up this year, improving the quality of education remains one of the community’s main goals.  This topic was the focus of a forum titled “Can Asean be a Global Higher Education Destination?” at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand recently.

Prof James Gomez from Bangkok University said many universities in ASEAN were restructuring to become international institutions to improve the quality of education and, more importantly, rebrand themselves to attract more students.

“Many university administrators chose internationalisation for increasing the university brand value, because it ensures the financial viability of the institutions by attracting more students,” Gomez said.

However, he said most universities usually directly translated syllabuses from the national language into English, so the curricula were not truly internationalised. He said another issue was that syllabuses were usually drafted by nationals, which resulted in a focus on issues particular to the home country instead of a truly international emphasis.

“From my experience in the field, most of the international university staff typically work in the language institutions or international colleges of the universities and are not stationed at the main faculties or executive positions that can guide the university’s policy,” he said.

Assoc Prof Nantana Gajaseni, Executive Director of the ASEAN University Network, said there was great diversity and disparity between educational systems in ASEAN states, so it was hard to harmonise a standardised system within the region.

‘Diversity makes credit transfers hard’

“The major challenge of internationalisation of higher education in Asean is the system diversity and quality recognition of the education. This disparity is making student and credit transfers among [ASEAN countries] and beyond the region hard,” Nantana said.

Gomez added that there was a lack of international staff in the region because of low salaries, the lack of research grants and government regulatory barriers. “There is the income gap between the rich countries in the region, such as Singapore and Malaysia, and the rest of the region. This income gap makes fewer international staff choose to work in these [lower-income] countries,” he said.

“Another barrier is the limitation of research grants. For instance, Malaysia limits applicants for its grants to Malaysian citizens only. Furthermore, consideration for research scholarships usually focuses on the national perspective only and it is hard for the researchers to apply for funds to study the international perspectives.”

Wesley Teter, UNESCO senior consultant for the Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, related his experiences teaching in China, where government regulations could be a barrier for international staff. In his case, strict information restrictions imposed by the Chinese government made academic research more difficult, reducing the appeal for international researchers.

Nantana said another big problem for internationalisation was budgetary. She said high-income countries in the region such as Singapore and Brunei had an easier time encouraging the internationalisation of their universities, but for poorer countries the task was difficult.

“There are many problems from shortages of budgets in low-income countries such as the lack of infrastructure. Even in Thailand, the state has just let public universities rely on themselves to find revenue and does not grant governmental support anymore,” she said.

“However in my view, an abundant budget does not ensure quality education and successful internationalisation … I believe that the mindsets of university administrators and professors need to change as well to suit global education.”

In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist

August 27, 2017

by Michiko Kakutani

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Over the last year, we’ve been plunged into the alternate reality of Trumpland, as though we were caught in the maze of his old board game, “Trump: The Game,” with no exit in sight. It’s a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog, zero-sum world where greed is good, insults are the lingua franca, and winning is everything (or, in tangled Trumpian syntax, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”).

To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.

That the subject of these books is not a fictional character but the Republican nominee for president can only remind the reader of Philip Roth’s observation, made more than 50 years ago, that American reality is so stupefying, “so weird and astonishing,” that it poses an embarrassment to the novelist’s “meager imagination.”

Books about Mr. Trump tend to fall into two categories. There are funny ones that focus on Trump the Celebrity of the 1980s and ’90s — a cartoony avatar of greed and wretched excess and what Garry Trudeau (“Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump”) calls “big, honking hubris.” And there are serious biographies that try to shed light on Mr. Trump’s life and complex, highly opaque business dealings as a real estate magnate, which are vital to understanding the judgment, decision-making abilities and financial entanglements he would bring to the Oval Office.

Because of Mr. Trump’s lack of transparency surrounding his business interests (he has even declined to disclose his tax returns) and because of his loose handling of facts and love of hyperbole, serious books are obligated to spend a lot of time sifting through business and court documents. (USA Today recently reported that there are “about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant.”) And they must also fact-check his assertions (PolitiFact rates 35 percent of his statements False, and 18 percent “Pants on Fire” Lies).

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Perhaps because they were written rapidly as Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy gained traction, the latest of these books rarely step back to analyze in detail the larger implications and repercussions of the Trump phenomenon. Nor do they really map the landscape in which he has risen to popularity and is himself reshaping through his carelessness with facts, polarizing remarks and disregard for political rules.

For that matter, these books shed little new light on controversial stands taken by Mr. Trump which, many legal scholars and historians note, threaten constitutional guarantees and American democratic traditions. Those include his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and the “extreme vetting” of immigrants; his talk of revising libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations over critical coverage; an ethnic-tinged attack on a federal judge that raises questions about his commitment to an independent judiciary; and his incendiary use of nativist and bigoted language that is fueling racial tensions and helping to mainstream far-right views on race.

Some of these books touch fleetingly on Mr. Trump’s use of inflammatory language and emotional appeal to feelings of fear and anger, but they do not delve deeply into the consequences of his nativist rhetoric or his contempt for the rules of civil discourse. They do, however, provide some sense of history, reminding us that while Mr. Trump’s craving for attention and use of controversy as an instrument of publicity have remained the same over the years, the surreal switch of venues — from the New York tabloid universe and the world of reality TV to the real-life arena of national and global politics — has turned formerly “small-potatoes stakes,” as one writer put it, into something profoundly more troubling. From WrestleMania-like insults aimed at fellow celebrities, Mr. Trump now denigrates whole racial and religious groups and questions the legitimacy of the electoral system.

A “semi-harmless buffoon” in Manhattan in the waning decades of the 20th century — as the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, terms the businessman in a foreword to Mark Singer’s book “Trump and Me” — has metamorphosed into a political candidate whom 50 senior Republican national security officials recently said “would be the most reckless president in American history,” putting “at risk our country’s national security and well being.”

Two new books provide useful, vigorously reported overviews of Mr. Trump’s life and career. “Trump Revealed,” by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, draws heavily on work by reporters of The Post and more than 20 hours of interviews with the candidate. Much of its material will be familiar to readers — thanks to newspaper articles and Michael D’Antonio’s 2015 biography (“Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success”) — but “Trump Revealed” deftly charts his single-minded building of his gaudy brand and his often masterful manipulation of the media.

It provides a succinct account of Mr. Trump’s childhood, when he says he punched a teacher, giving him a black eye. It also recounts his apprenticeship to a demanding father, who told him he needed to become a “killer” in anything he did, and how he learned the art of the counterattack from Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s former right-hand man, whom Mr. Trump hired to countersue the federal government after the Justice Department brought a case against the Trump family firm in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act.

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Donald is not Ronald Reagan

“The Making of Donald Trump” by David Cay Johnston — a former reporter for The New York Times who has written extensively about Mr. Trump — zeros in on Mr. Trump’s business practices, arguing that while he presents himself as “a modern Midas,” much “of what he touches” has often turned “to dross.” Mr. Johnston, who has followed the real estate impresario for nearly three decades, offers a searing indictment of his business practices and creative accounting. He examines Mr. Trump’s taste for debt, what associates have described as his startling capacity for recklessness, multiple corporate bankruptcies, dealings with reputed mobsters and accusations of fraud.

The portrait of Mr. Trump that emerges from these books, old or new, serious or satirical, is remarkably consistent: a high-decibel narcissist, almost comically self-obsessed; a “hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit,” as Mr. Singer wrote in The New Yorker in 1997.

Mr. Singer also describes Mr. Trump as an “insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as ‘human garbage,’” “a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.”

At the same time, Mr. Singer and other writers discern an emptiness underneath the gold-plated armor. In “Trump and Me,” Mr. Singer describes his subject as a man “who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Mr. Kranish and Mr. Fisher likewise suggest that Mr. Trump “had walled off” any pain he experienced growing up and “hid it behind a never-ending show about himself.” When they ask him about friends, they write, he gives them — off the record — the names of three men “he had had business dealings with two or more decades before, men he had only rarely seen in recent years.”

Mr. Trump likes to boast about going it alone — an impulse that helps explain the rapid turnover among advisers in his campaign, and that has raised serious concerns among national security experts and foreign policy observers, who note that his extreme self-reliance and certainty (“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain”) come coupled with a startling ignorance about global affairs and an impatience with policy and details.

Passages in his books help illuminate Mr. Trump’s admiration for the strongman style of autocratic leaders like Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin, and his own astonishing “I alone can fix it” moment during his Republican convention speech. In his 2004 book, “Think Like a Billionaire,” Mr. Trump wrote: “You must plan and execute your plan alone.”

He also advised: “Have a short attention span,” adding “quite often, I’ll be talking to someone and I’ll know what they’re going to say before they say it. After the first three words are out of their mouth, I can tell what the next 40 are going to be, so I try to pick up the pace and move it along. You can get more done faster that way.”

In many respects, Mr. Trump’s own quotes and writings provide the most vivid and alarming picture of his values, modus operandi and relentlessly dark outlook focused on revenge. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one book. And in another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The grim, dystopian view of America, articulated in Mr. Trump’s Republican convention speech, is previewed in his 2015 book, “Crippled America” (republished with the cheerier title of “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”), in which he contends that “everyone is eating” America’s lunch. And a similarly nihilistic vision surfaces in other remarks he’s made over the years: “I always get even”; “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”; and: “The world is a horrible place. Lions kill for food, but people kill for sport.”

Once upon a time, such remarks made Mr. Trump perfect fodder for comedians. Though some writers noted that he was already a caricature of a caricature — difficult to parody or satirize — Mr. Trudeau recalled that he provided cartoonists with “an embarrassment of follies.” And the businessman, who seems to live by the conviction that any publicity is good publicity, apparently embraced this celebrity, writing: “My cartoon is real. I am the creator of my own comic book.”

In a 1990 cartoon, Doonesbury characters argued over what they disliked more about Mr. Trump: “the boasting, the piggish consumption” or “the hideous décor of his casinos.” Sadly, the stakes today are infinitely so much huger.

A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2016, on page C19 of the New York edition with the headline: A Tower of Trump Books, at High Volume 

Researchers or Corporate Allies? Think Tanks Blur the Line

August 7, 2016

WASHINGTON — As Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s largest home builders, pushed ahead with an $8 billion plan to revitalize a barren swath of San Francisco, it found a trusted voice to vouch for its work: the Brookings Institution, the most prestigious think tank in the world.

The new $100 million office of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. Credit Greg Kahn for The New York Times

“This can become a productive, mutually beneficial relationship,” Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president, wrote to Lennar in July 2010. The ultimate benefit for Brookings: $400,000 in donations from Lennar’s different divisions.

The think tank began to aggressively promote the project, San Francisco’s biggest redevelopment effort since its recovery from the 1906 earthquake, and later offered to help Lennar, a publicly traded company, “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach.”

And Brookings went further. It named Kofi Bonner, the Lennar executive in charge of the San Francisco development, as a senior fellow — an enviable credential he used to advance the company’s efforts. “He would be a trusted adviser,” an internal Brookings memo said in 2014 as the think tank sought one $100,000 donation from Lennar.

Think tanks, which position themselves as “universities without students,” have power in government policy debates because they are seen as researchers independent of moneyed interests. But in the chase for funds, think tanks are pushing agendas important to corporate donors, at times blurring the line between researchers and lobbyists. And they are doing so while reaping the benefits of their tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing their connections to corporate interests.

Thousands of pages of internal memos and confidential correspondence between Brookings and other donors — like JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank; K.K.R., the global investment firm; Microsoft, the software giant; and Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate — show that financial support often came with assurances from Brookings that it would provide “donation benefits,” including setting up events featuring corporate executives with government officials, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Similar arrangements exist at many think tanks. On issues as varied as military sales to foreign countries, international trade, highway management systems and real estate development, think tanks have frequently become vehicles for corporate influence and branding campaigns.

“This is about giant corporations who figured out that by spending, hey, a few tens of millions of dollars, if they can influence outcomes here in Washington, they can make billions of dollars,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, a frequent critic of undisclosed Wall Street donations to think tanks.

Washington has seen a proliferation of think tanks, particularly small institutions with narrow interests tied to specific industries. At the same time, the brand names of the field have experienced explosive growth. Brookings’s annual budget has doubled in the last decade, to $100 million. The American Enterprise Institute is spending at least $80 million on a new headquarters in Washington, not far from where the Center for Strategic and International Studies built a $100 million office tower.

The shift has occurred as non-profits in general have been under increasing pressure from their donors to meet specific goals. But for think tanks, that pressure can threaten their standing as independent arbiters in policy debates in Congress, the White House and the news media.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the greatest generation, in the post-World War II era of philanthropy, where they said, gosh, ‘Here is $1 million; spend it how you wish,’” Kimberly Churches, the Managing Director at Brookings, said in an interview.

Think tank executives reject any suggestion that they are tools of corporate influence campaigns and say they are simply teaming up with donors that have similar goals, like helping cities with economic development.

“We do not compromise our integrity,” said Martin S. Indyk, Brookings’s Executive Vice President. “We maintain our core values of quality, independence, as well as impact.”

But he acknowledged that the arrangement to appoint the Lennar executive as a senior fellow had created the “appearance of a conflict of interest.” And he said that Brookings, in the interest of transparency, had recently decided to prohibit corporations or corporate-backed foundations from making anonymous contributions.

At think tanks like Brookings, the majority of reports and events, with titles like “Five Evils: Multidimensional Poverty and Race in America” or “India at the Global High Table,” have no obvious link to corporate donors.

Still, the benefits afforded to corporations looking to cloak themselves with the authority of think tanks are strikingly evident, according to a review of documents from more than a dozen institutions.

The likely conclusions of some think tank reports, documents show, are discussed with donors — or even potential ones — before the research is complete. Drafts of the studies have been shared with donors whose opinions have then helped shape final reports. Donors have outlined how the resulting scholarship will be used as part of broader lobbying efforts. The think tanks also help donors promote their corporate brands, as Brookings does with JPMorgan Chase, whose $15.5 million contribution is the largest by a private corporation in the institution’s history.

Despite these benefits, corporations can write off the donations as charitable contributions. Some tax experts say these arrangements may amount to improper subsidies by taxpayers if think tanks are providing specific services.

“People think of think tanks as do-gooders, uncompromised and not bought like others in the political class,” said Bill Goodfellow, the executive director of the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based think tank. “But it’s absurd to suggest that donors don’t have influence. The danger is we in the think tank world are being corrupted in the same way as the political world. And all of us should be worried about it.”

A group of Democratic state attorneys general is investigating whether Exxon Mobil worked with certain think tanks in past decades to cover up its understanding of fossil fuels’ impact on climate change, in part by financing reports questioning the science, a suggestion the company rejects.

Executives at Brookings, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and other think tanks say they have systems in place to ensure that their reports are based on scholars’ independent conclusions.

“We strongly believe in our model of seeking solutions to some of our country’s most difficult problems,” John J. Hamre, the chief executive at C.S.I.S., said in a written reply to questions. “We gather stakeholders, vet ideas, find areas of agreement and highlight areas of disagreement.”

Yet researchers at think tanks are seeing corporate influence firsthand. Rachel Stohl, a senior associate at the Stimson Center in Washington, said she had been quizzed by potential donors as she tried to raise money for research on the military’s use of armed drones.

“‘Are you going to say drones are bad?’” she recalled one potential financial backer asking. “‘We are not interested in funding something that says drones are bad.’”

Donations and Rewards

The confidential Brookings spreadsheet had an unassuming title: Corporate Overviews Tracking. It listed nearly 90 corporations, from Alcoa to Wells Fargo, providing a glimpse of the vast electronic file that Brookings maintained on donors and prospects, and the benefits it might offer.

The database, along with thousands of pages of emails, solicitations for money and memos on meetings with corporate officials, highlighted Brookings’s practice of assuring that donors would see results from their contributions.

The Brookings Institution, which operates on a $100 million annual budget, twice what it was a decade ago.Credit: Greg Kahn for The New York Times

The files included company priorities and a tally of donations. General Electric wanted to fund work on rail networks and clean energy programs — both critical parts of its business — and Brookings then featured G.E. executives, joined by officials from the White House and Congress, at events that focused on these industries.

In 2004, Brookings established its Metropolitan Policy Program, devised to stimulate economic growth in cities. As the country was emerging from recession, Brookings bolstered its ties to corporate donors in 2010 by naming Marek Gootman, a lobbyist from Patton Boggs, as its first director of strategic partnerships. He was assigned to work with “a national network of elected, business and civic leaders engaged in city and metropolitan area policy development and implementation.”

From the start, the program blended a variety of insights on urban matters, including from corporate, nonprofit and government sources. And Mr. Indyk noted that any reports issued were made public.

Donations to the program exploded, from $4.3 million in 2005 to $12.5 million in 2013, nearly 20 percent of Brookings’s overall program spending that year.

K.K.R., after starting special funds around 2010 to invest in real estate and other infrastructure projects, donated $450,000 to Brookings, some of it as the institution agreed to set up meetings for a top K.K.R. executive with community leaders in Philadelphia and Detroit, where the company was considering real estate projects. Brookings separately produced a report, published on K.K.R.’s website, promoting one of the company’s infrastructure projects in New Jersey, after the company executive suggested such a piece.

In advance of a 2014 event Brookings officials attended with corporate executives including Henry R. Kravis, a co-chairman of K.K.R., one memo marked as confidential noted: “K.K.R. has given a total of $350K to Brookings. Last gift came in on 3/27/2014 for $150K to Metro; Henry has donated $75K to Brookings, most going to the individual unrestricted fund.”

The tally demonstrates the important distinction that Brookings makes between “unrestricted” donations, which the think tank can spend on any research, and project-based funding restricted to specific topics that the donor has a particular interest in.

Lennar joined Brookings’s Metropolitan Leadership Council, established for the program’s top donors, in July 2010. That month, the company won approval to redevelop Hunters Point in San Francisco, turning the area into a more than 700-acre mix of housing, education and commercial development.

Brookings would later name the project one of the three most “transformative investments in the United States.”

The San Francisco project generated controversy from the beginning, with critics concerned about toxic waste left by the former Navy shipyard.

Lennar joined with Brookings as protests were escalating in 2010. One complaint, filed by area residents with the Environmental Protection Agency, said the San Francisco Health Department was “conspiring with Lennar Corporation to conceal the health threats of asbestos-laden dust.” The company was busy at the time looking for investors to help it complete the project, known as the San Francisco Shipyard.

A spokesman for Lennar, Glenn Bunting, disputed claims that the company had donated to Brookings out of self-interest — and said the alliance was not related to the protests.

“There was nothing needed in the way of assistance for Lennar to ‘buy’ from Brookings,” Mr. Bunting said in an email. Brookings, though, continued to promote the project.

“San Francisco’s Shipyard project is both physically and economically transformative for the Bay Area and globally significant,” Mr. Katz, the Brookings vice president, said in a news release issued by San Francisco’s mayor in 2011 as Lennar’s hunt for major investors intensified. “This project promises to set a new paradigm for successfully conceiving, financing and delivering transformative infrastructure projects in the United States.”

Follow-up memos were more explicit: Brookings, as it sought an additional $50,000 from Lennar in 2014, said it was prepared to “use our convening power, research expertise, network connections and knowledge of innovative practices to help further drive the ultimate impact and success” of Lennar’s project and to “provide public validation of San Francisco’s efforts through national and local media coverage.”

The think tank soon delivered.

Mr. Katz made appearances alongside Mr. Bonner, the Lennar executive, to promote the project to government officials and business leaders in California. In 2014, around the time the think tank sought an additional round of money from Lennar, Brookings invited its new nonresident senior fellow, Mr. Bonner, who has a master’s degree in architecture and is a former government planner for several California cities, to appear at an event at its headquarters.

“I am working in San Francisco in a fabulous property,” Mr. Bonner said at the event, referring to Lennar’s Shipyard project.

In March, at an international conference of real estate developers and investors in Cannes, France, Lennar sponsored a session in which Brookings researchers helped the company highlight the Shipyard.

“Kofi is what I would describe as the quintessential city builder,” Julie Wagner, a Brookings nonresident senior fellow, said as she introduced Mr. Bonner at an event where projects with no connection to donors were also featured.

At least some of the $400,000 Lennar has donated to Brookings since 2010 has come from its SunStreet Energy division, which sells rooftop solar systems, at the same time that Brookings’s metropolitan program has published research on the rooftop solar industry.

Martin S. Indyk, the Brookings Institution’s Executive Vice President, said the think tank’s collaboration with Lennar to redevelop Hunters Point in San Francisco reflected a shared goal to revitalize cities. “We do not compromise our integrity,” he said. Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Mr. Indyk said the collaboration simply reflected shared goals of revitalizing cities. Brookings scholars promoted other real estate projects, he said, involving local governments, universities or even developers that were not donors — including one in Detroit backed by Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans, and one in Seattle backed by Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft.

But Mr. Indyk acknowledged that naming Mr. Bonner, who declined to be interviewed, a Brookings nonresident scholar had “created the impression that because Lennar was giving money, he was getting the title.” His post, which was unpaid, was not renewed.

Hitachi has been another large donor to the metropolitan program, giving a total of $1.8 million to Brookings over the last decade, according to Brookings documents. The think tank reviewed the company’s corporate marketing and sales strategy targeting the United States, an internal memo shows. Brookings also organized public events that featured top Obama administration officials and allowed Hitachi executives to promote their products.

“Metro has held nine meetings and several conference calls in the past six months with executives from Hitachi’s water, transportation and data business lines and are collaborating more fully on defining what it means to be a ‘Smart City,’” a confidential Brookings memo said.

Officials at Brookings said they had not lobbied for Hitachi, and they provided examples of reports that they said included conclusions challenging the company’s position. “Helping a corporation’s for-profit agenda is not in any way our agenda,” Ms. Churches, the Managing Director, said.

Yet Ms. Churches also said the contract language with donors like Lennar and Hitachi was “inelegant,” although not improper. When asked if the documents read like a fee-for-service agreement, she said, “It could be misconstrued.”

Mr. Indyk said Brookings had recently changed its policies so that “today, there is no way in which those words would be used in our documents.”

‘Growing the Economy’

When JPMorgan offered a major donation to the metropolitan program in 2011, Brookings created the Global Cities Initiative, complete with a new logo that called it a “joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase.”

The project was premised on a common interest between the bank and the think tank. Brookings wanted to promote economic growth in cities by encouraging international trade, and JPMorgan wanted to gain new business by offering loans to companies in the same markets.

In contract documents, Brookings emphasized that it would control the conclusions of its reports and said it would “not directly or indirectly communicate with any party” to help get JPMorgan business.

Mr. Indyk and executives from JPMorgan said the company and the think tank simply agreed on a worthy agenda.

“This was about growing the economy, and we are incredibly proud of the results of this initiative,” said Peter Scher, the head of the corporate responsibility program at JPMorgan. “We believe it’s had a huge impact in more than 30 cities that are involved.”

At the same time, hundreds of pages of memos — status reports to JPMorgan, internal reports by Brookings staff to prepare for meetings with top bank executives, and formal documents soliciting more money — make clear that Brookings saw the Global Cities Initiative as a branding effort that could help JPMorgan bankers bolster their standing in cities.

“Bottom line: Growing metro economies is good for the nation and for JPMC; also, many U.S. cities are JPMC clients — motivation to support them and their clients,” said one Brookings document dated July 2011, as officials from the think tank met with top bank executives to discuss a planned donation that eventually totaled $15 million.

The Global Cities Initiative, another document written by a Brookings senior fellow explained, “must mean a marriage between JPMC corporate interests” and “Brookings continued thought leadership.”

JPMorgan, in a document dated a month before the agreement was signed, said the pending donation to Brookings “deepens/extends relationships with important client base among business and civic leaders both in the U.S. and abroad.”

And Brookings was ready to do its part.

“Our events, which in part target these audiences,” said an internal 2014 Brookings memo, referring to the Global Cities Initiative and federal and state leaders, “have yielded 100+ media hits, with 97% of them referencing GCI and 90% referencing JPMorgan; by the end of this year, we will have held events in 13 domestic markets and 9 international markets.”

At times, Brookings officials seemed worried they were not doing enough for the bank.

“No one wants to create overt marketing opportunities for JPMC, but we need to carve out roles and thought leadership opportunity for market presidents,” said a 2013 Brookings memo, referring to a dinner with the bank’s executives. “We need to do a better job tying it back to JPMC.”

It remains difficult to assess whether the relationship helped the bank’s business, but Mr. Scher said that was not the goal.

“If the Global Cities Initiative strengthens the economic competitiveness of cities, it’s a win for small businesses, job creation and everyone involved in these communities, including us,” Mr. Scher said in a statement.

Donations from the corporations to Brookings are tax exempt based on the premise that the think tank’s work benefits the public good, not a company’s bottom line.

But two lawyers who specialize in non-profit law — Miranda Perry Fleischer, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, and Clifford Perlman, a partner at a New York-based firm — said Brookings’s agreements raised questions.

“Tax deductions are subsidies that are paid for by all taxpayers,” Ms. Fleischer said. “And the reason the subsidy is provided is that the charitable organization is supposed to be doing something for the public good, not that specifically benefits the private individual or corporation in the form of providing them goods or services.”

Mr. Indyk said that opinion was “totally unfounded,” noting that Brookings had retained its own lawyers to review the documents and found no problems.

“Brookings’s conclusion that all of these activities it engaged in with these donors primarily benefited the public rather than the donors is consistent with the applicable federal tax standards,” Douglas Varley, one of the lawyers for Brookings, said in a statement.

Close Partnerships

Other think tanks have been even more closely aligned with corporate agendas.

FedEx teamed up with the Atlantic Council — a think tank that focuses on international relations, with annual revenue that has surged to $21 million from $2 million in the last decade — to build support for a free-trade agreement the company hoped would increase business.

Six months before the Atlantic Council report was issued, FedEx and the think tank worked on plans to use the report as a lobbying tool.

“The impact and reach of the report would be maximized by a rollout event” including a “public report launch with member(s) of Congress from one of the relevant committees,” said a two-page summary drafted by the Atlantic Council months before the study had been completed.

FedEx and the Atlantic Council, working with the European American Chamber of Commerce, also told companies being asked to participate in the study that the goal was to “emphasize the positive impact that a comprehensive agreement would have on American and European small businesses.”

When the report came out in late 2014, its conclusions mirrored arguments FedEx had been aggressively pushing on Capitol Hill, including recommending a reduction in trans-Atlantic tariffs and allowing more duty-free shipments.

An executive vice president at FedEx, Rajesh Subramaniam, attended an event at Atlantic Council headquarters in Washington to celebrate the release of the final report. So did a key supporter, Representative Erik Paulsen, Republican of Minnesota.

“This is very exciting,” Mr. Subramaniam said at the event, referring to the potential for more trade. “The upside opportunity is quite large.”

Frederick Kempe, the Atlantic Council president, said that FedEx had donated just $20,000 to help fund the effort and that the staff at the Atlantic Council had handled the research.

“There is no doubt the work of think tanks has more credibility than the work of lobbyists, but the only way we preserve it is through intellectual independence,” Mr. Kempe said.

‘We Do Not Lobby’

A Predator drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. General Atomics helped fund a study that led the United States to ease restrictions on sales of drones to governments overseas.Credit.Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

General Atomics, the California-based manufacturer of Predator drones, had a clear problem. Prospects for sales were falling as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wound down. The company wanted the Obama administration to change its policy to allow for sales to other countries, a lucrative proposition.

“When the budgets are going down in the U.S., you would like to be able to export more,” Frank Pace, the president of the company’s aircraft systems group, told a Reuters reporter in late 2013 at an air show in Dubai.

At about that time, the industry turned to the Center for Strategic and International Studies for help, providing money that the think tank used to conduct a study on drone policy, including exports.

While defense contracting giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing have cumulatively donated at least $77 million since 2010 to two dozen think tanks, disclosure records show, General Atomics’s contribution to the Center for Strategic and International Studies was quite small — in the tens of thousands of dollars.

C.S.I.S. set up confidential meetings at its headquarters with company representatives, inviting top officials from the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the State Department and the office of the defense secretary, according to emails and other documents obtained by The Times through open records requests.

“Our series will be unique in convening a much broader group of stakeholders than is typical,” Samuel J. Brannen, the think tank’s lead scholar, wrote in an email to Aaron W. Jost, one of the State Department officials in charge of regulating drone exports.

As a think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies did not file a lobbying report, but the goals of the effort were clear.

“Political obstacles to export,” read the agenda of one of the closed-door “working group” meetings organized by Mr. Brannen that included Tom Rice, a lobbyist in General Atomics’s Washington office, on the invitation lists, the emails show.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin, drone makers that were major C.S.I.S. contributors, were also invited to attend the sessions, the emails show. The meetings and research culminated with a report released in February 2014 that reflected the industry’s priorities.

“I came out strongly in support of export,” Mr. Brannen, the lead author of the center’s study, wrote in an email to Kenneth B. Handelman, the deputy assistant secretary of state for defense trade controls.

But the effort did not stop there. Mr. Brannen initiated meetings with Defense Department officials and congressional staff to push for the recommendations, which also included setting up a new Pentagon office to give more focus to acquisition and deployment of drones. The center also stressed the need to ease export limits at a conference it hosted at its headquarters featuring top officials from the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps.

Mr. Brannen, who has since left C.S.I.S., declined to comment. The think tank insisted that its efforts to influence administration policy were not lobbying.

“C.S.I.S. will not represent any donor before any government office or entity, including congressional lawmakers and executive branch officials,” Mr. Hamre, the Chief Executive, said in his statement to The Times. “We do not lobby.”

One thing is clear: The result was a victory for General Atomics.

In February 2015, almost one year after the C.S.I.S. report was issued, the State Department announced a clarification of its rules, easing final approval that month for General Atomics’s long-planned sale of unarmed Predator drones to the United Arab Emirates, the first such sale to a non-NATO nation. The think tank report was just one of many voices pushing for the change.

A State Department spokesman said that while the government officials involved in the review had received opinions from think tanks and industry officials, “at the end of the day, this is a considered U.S. government policy.”

Huntington Ingalls Industries had an equally clear objective: to create an elaborate public relations and lobbying campaign to convince Congress that the nation needed to confront an emerging threat from China by building more nuclear-powered aircraft carriers — at a cost of about $11 billion each. The clear beneficiary? Huntington, the lone builder of the ships.

As part of a broader communications effort, Huntington helped finance a think tank report that enhanced the company’s argument for more funding. Bryan McGrath, a former naval officer who had commanded a guided-missile destroyer, approached Huntington Ingalls and offered to write a study on a fee-for-service basis as a private industry expert. The company turned down his offer.

Later, after he had joined the Hudson Institute and helped create the Center for American Seapower, he approached Huntington officials again, and they were interested.

“A think tank has more prestige,” Mr. McGrath said.

Huntington Ingalls paid $100,000 to fund the work, a critical commitment for Mr. McGrath, who said he was paid by Hudson only if he could successfully solicit donations to support his research. Mr. McGrath said he had always been a strong proponent of aircraft carriers — so the company was not buying his opinion.

“The Hudson Center makes no secret about being very pro-sea power,” he said. “If a company came that wanted us to write a piece that advocated for something other than that, the answer would be no.”

In exchange for Huntington Ingalls’s support, company officials were given regular briefings on the research and the opportunity to suggest revisions to early drafts, Mr. McGrath said.

“We have an iterative process already laid out in which we will sit down with them and go through drafts and discuss where we are going,” Mr. McGrath said. He added that he had not accepted all of the company’s suggestions.

The report was released in October at the Rayburn House Office Building. Mr. McGrath received an introduction from one of the industry’s most important boosters, Representative J. Randy Forbes, Republican of Virginia, the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees the Navy.

The report did not mention that Huntington Ingalls had helped pay for it. Asked about the failure to disclose the contribution, John P. Walters, Hudson’s chief operating officer, called it a mistake. The report was subsequently revised — months after it was released and the congressional event held — to disclose the donation.

A second industry-funded report, prepared by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, came out a month later with a similar urgent call for more money to build more ships and to base more ships abroad, although it did not mention that it had been funded by the Navy League of the United States, a nonprofit group whose large corporate donors include Huntington Ingalls.

“This report is yet another important tool for Navy Leaguers to use in the field when educating local leaders and lawmakers,” Skip Witunski, the Navy League president, wrote to the group’s members late last year.

The strategy — lining up think tank reports as lobbying tools that echoed each other — was backed up with a series of letters to the editor, dozens of posts on Twitter and Facebook, and op-ed pieces.

Mr. McGrath said he, too, wondered if this storm of industry-funded work might be threatening the integrity of the process. “I see a lot of stuff that comes out in Washington,” Mr. McGrath said, “and I got to scratch my head and say, ‘That guy must be on the payroll.’”

Brooke Williams is a reporter at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which collaborated with The New York Times on this series. Audrey Stuart contributed reporting from Cannes, France. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Remembering D J Enright–The Mendicant Professor in Singapore (1960)

July 21, 2016

I am about to complete my reading of Irene Ng’s  excellent, intimate and moving 575 page biography on S. Rajaratnam titled The Singapore Lion, where she mentioned the iconic Foreign Minister’s handling of the Professor D J  Enright Affair when he was Minister of Culture as follows:

“The laborious effort to give birth to a collective identity at times brought out an uncharacteristic edginess in Raja. It was manifest in his reaction –or rather, overreaction–to British poet academic DJ Enright who had dismissed the government’s effort to create a Malayan culture as “futile”at his inaugural lecture at the University of Malaya on 17 November, 1960.”(p.327)

I recommend this biography to all Singapore afficionadoes. It tells the story of Malayan from Seremban who made a fateful decision to go into politics from journalism and become a patriot of his adopted country. Raja’s onslaught on academic freedom in the early years of the PAP government was indeed controversial. But the issue of academic freedom remains relevant today. I think it is worth reviving it for our discussion.  –Din Merican

Remembering D J Enright–The Mendicant Professor in Singapore (1960)

by Edgar Liao

Few young Singaporeans today would know of Dennis Joseph Enright, a name that might ring only faint bells to some from older generation. As Professor of English at the University of Malaya in Singapore, he had taught for a decade between 1960 and 1970. Enright is inadvertently remembered for his role as key antagonist in the conflict with PAP Ministers Ahmad Ibrahim, S. Rajaratnam, and eventually Lee Kuan Yew, over his alleged criticisms of the newly-enthroned PAP government’s cultural policies in November 1960, published in then colonial-owned Straits Times.

Decades after Enright had left the University in 1970, the occasional mention of his name in the press would invariably evoke his ‘connection with the so-called ‘Enright Affair’’, for example in a Straits Times special feature on the event of his candidacy for the British Poet Laureateship; during a week-long visit in 1994; and in eulogies in remembrance of Enright by two of his ex-students, Robert Yeo and Ban Kah Choon.[1] Enright’s name also merits an entry in the recently-published Singapore: The Encyclopedia:

….he angered the newly elected People’s Action Party (PAP) government in his inaugural lecture when he attacked the government’s plans to curb so-called ‘yellow culture’ by banning jukeboxes and pornography…he almost lost his work permit; but a conciliatory letter to Lee Kuan Yew and mediation resolved the controversy, and Enright remained in Singapore until 1970.[2]

This representation of “the Enright Affair” belies its complexity. The politics of decolonization and culture during the tumultuous post-Japanese Occupation period provoked a vehement governmental response to published comments by a renowned British writer-academic who believed that culture and cultural production constituted a domain distinct and separate from politics.

The cultural policies Enright derogated were aimed at forging a homogenous ‘Malayan culture’, synthesized from the cultural traditions of the main ethnic groups in Malaya and Singapore with Malay as the national language, in order to resolve the twin menaces of communalism and chauvinism which the PAP moderates viewed as the most pressing impediment to their desired political goal of achieving Singapore’s independence through Merger. Concomitantly, the public rebuke of an impertinent Englishman was consistent with the PAP’s constantly-voiced hostility towards foreign interference in local politics, and necessitated by its fierce anti-colonial stance, demanded by the fervently leftist and anti-imperialist Chinese-educated masses that constituted the party’s support base.

D J Enright–The Poet of Humanism

Crucially, the Affair subsequently involved the English-educated students of the University of Malaya. A section of this group had already been politicized by the Japanese Occupation and the tide of decolonization in the region. Other than overt political activism, another expression of their politics was their staunch defence of the inter-woven ideals of university autonomy and academic freedom. Governmental violation of the two principles had been a subject of the students’ ire since at least 1951, when British authorities raided the university’s grounds to apprehend members of the Anti-British League.

After ascension to power in 1959, pointed gestures by the PAP directed at the university only exacerbated the students’ fear of the university losing its autonomy. Perceiving the rebuke of a professor as another intolerable infringement of academic freedom, over five hundred students voted at an Emergency General Meeting to publicly condemn the government’s action against Enright.

While the Enright Affair is one of many incidents in Singapore’s past which has remained absent from the official discourse of Singapore’s history, the event had acquired historical significance within a diverse yet inter-related range of discourses. It is occasionally extricated from its context and evoked as a metaphor and symbol by different individuals and groups who attached different meanings to the event in accordance to their own identification with the underlying issues. For the PAP for example, the Affair became an occasional metaphor for the students’ over-idealistic defense of abstract principles that hindered their participation in nation-building. In a speech to University students in 1966, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew invoked the Enright Affair to express his frustration with the students’ persistence in defending an abstract notion of academic freedom.[3]


The Students Mobilize [Extracted from The Malayan Undergrad, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Dec., 1960), pp.4-5]

On the other hand, the Affair is remembered generally as a trace of the PAP government’s paternalistic style of governance. For the staff and student members of the University, it is embraced as a symbol of increasing governmental interference in the university and the PAP’s infringements of university autonomy and academic freedom. In his Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor, Enright complained about the unremitting persistence of people he met, within and without the University, in associating him with the Affair, and about being taken by the University ‘as a symbol of academic freedom in its quarrels with an increasingly intrusive government.’[4]

On the occasion of a University of Singapore lecturer alluding to the Enright Affair at a university forum on university autonomy and academic freedom in July 1966, which was reported by the Straits Times, Enright sent the Straits Times a letter in which he sought for ‘remission of symbolism’ and expressed his wish that the battle for the two ideals be waged on ‘firm and on firmly remembered ground’, instead of an event that had become ‘mythical’ in his opinion.[5]

The entrenchment of the Affair’s symbolism accompanied the government’s assertion of its authority over the University, from the Sreenivasan Affair in 1963 to the eventual modifications made to the Constitution of the University and the Students’ Union in 1976 that marked ‘the end of student activism’.[6] Roland Puccetti depicts the Affair as one of the ‘Ghosts from the Past’ that illuminated the tensions between the university and the state as he recounted the demonstration of PAP belligerence within the University during his tenure in the University’s Philosophy Department.[7] The Enright Affair would also continue to be referred to by the students during clashes with the government over university autonomy.University of Singapore Students’ Union Handbooks, presented to freshmen every new academic year, laud the Students’ Union’s place in defending the University from threats to its autonomy, and unwaveringly cite the Enright Affair as the first of several rows with the government.[8]

In 1966, a writer in the Malayan Undergrad, the organ of the university’s Students’ Union again invoked the Affair as an example of the government’s continued violation of the university’s autonomy.[9]Professor Koh Tai Ann, herself part of a generation of English-language writers and cultural commentators who continue to bear fond memories of their erudite Professor of English, sees the Affair as ‘another instance of student opposition’ in the series of conflicts between the PAP government and the University’s student body, which made university and academic freedom ‘very lively issues’ among the students.[10]

With the effective depoliticization of the University of Singapore after 1976 however, the Enright Affair’s relevance to the University faded, along with radical student activism that perturbed relations between the two institutions of state and university. In reflecting on his days as a student activist in the early years of University of Malaya, Dr M.K. Rajakumar spoke of his amazement at his cohorts’ ‘idealism and innocence’, which contrasted strongly with a prevailing sense of apathy among university students today.[11] Similarly, Professor Koh would compare Singapore’s university students today with the students of her era who ‘did not have the same total awe of politicians who came to persuade us to support what they were doing.’[12] Yet, more than four decades after the Enright Affair, and in a radically altered environment of student political activity, the event would be deployed as a meaningful metaphor, ‘perhaps the most high-profile clash between an academic and the Government’, invoked in a newspaper review addressing the question of the existence of academic freedom in Singapore after Britain’s Warwick University decided against establishing a local branch campus in October 2005 because of the ‘worries over the lack of academic freedom.’[13]

Enright’s memorialization within the institutional memory of the University itself encounters dissonance and hints at the shifting identities of NUS. An earlier commemorative history focused on charting the University’s growth and development in tandem with the Singapore nation-state planted responsibility for the initial conflict squarely on Enright’s shoulders, for ‘taking a dig at the policy to create a national culture’, which was unacceptable to a new government ‘full of fervour for social reform’. In this representation, the dramatic aftermath and involvement of the students were whitewashed by a single statement that ‘in the ensuing fracas, the Enright camp appealed for the right to speak freely in an academic institution.’[14]

It was only in a recent centennial commemorative volume, significantly titled Imagination, Openness & Courage, that he was embraced as one of ‘Three Wise Men’, and a more balanced portrayal of the event presented.[15] This depiction may have been enabled, and in fact welcomed in light of the Warwick University issue, by NUS’ re-corporatization and acquisition of greater autonomy from 2005 onwards, and its interest in formulating and privileging an institutional heritage in which to root, buttress and accompany an identity as a global knowledge enterprise which transcends, without necessarily sacrificing, its role as a ‘national university’. One pervasive theme is ‘openness’ and NUS would naturally be interested in reconciling itself with chapters of its history in order to exorcize ghosts from its past which may haunt it, for example its record with university autonomy and academic freedom, even as it projects an image of being an open institution which encourages intellectual ferment and creative freedom.

Another retrospective reading of the Affair would see it become associated with the Singapore government’s repression of oppositional voices. In a book which emphasizes the PAP’s record of crushing dissent, Chris Lydgate presents a slanted representation of the Affair to suit his scathing condemnation of PAP’s assault on “yellow culture” as an ‘assault on free expression’. He also portrays Enright as a dissenter who was ‘upbraided’ by the PAP.[16] The Affair is also remembered in relation to the government’s restriction of intellectual space. Political scientist Chan Heng Chee had written a harsh piece criticizing the PAP’s treatment of intellectuals critical of government policy in the 1970s.[17] Twenty-four years later, Professor Koh would refer to Chan’s article to comment on the role of intellectuals in civil society. She locates the Enright Affair together with the Catherine Lim Affair of 1994 to underline a lack of alteration in PAP’s intolerance towards intellectual criticisms of state policies with regards to cultural or political governance.[18] More poignantly, local poet Alfian Sa’at alludes to the Enright Affair in a section of his poem “Singapore you are not my country”:

How dare you call me a chauvinist, an opposition party, a liar, a traitor, a mendicant professor, a Marxist homosexual communist pornography banned literature chewing gum liberty smuggler?…[19]

Although he knew little about the Affair, it had acquired significance for him because of how ‘it seemed to presage the Catherine Lim affair’ and resonated with the banning of performance art and Forum Theatre in 1994. He identified with the issue of the curtailment of intellectual space engendered in the Affair in two principal ways – firstly that ‘one could apparently be discredited if one is not somehow a legitimate commentator’ and secondly that ‘the Enright case can be seen as one of those episodes which in a sense pitted the artist against the State’, including the Josef Ng case.[20] Thus, despite being unaware of the details of the Affair, Sa’at read both political and cultural meanings in it and positioned it within a series of state repressions of cultural producers and intellectuals.

While the Affair was remembered by others for its political implications and ramifications, other cultural commentators position the Affair in relation to the cultural concerns that had provoked the altercation between Enright and the PAP stalwarts in the first place – the campaign against yellow culture and the attempt to forge a national culture. After the turn of the century, when the issue of culture seemed to be re-invigorated with a new intensity, Yao Souchou and C.J.W.-L Wee situate the Enright Affair within a discourse of PAP’s search for ‘a new Asian identity’ and a ‘“East Asian modernity”’ in a postcolonial world via modifying or discarding cultural and ideological traditions inherited from the West.[21]

Similarly, Professor Philip Holden sees the debate between Enright and Rajaratnam’s positions on culture decades ago as resonant with ‘the current debates over East Asian modernity and “Asian values in embryo.’[22] Wee too discusses the Affair as an incident which revealed PAP’s rejection of ‘any organic thinking on national culture’ and preference for a view of culture as ‘a key part of what nation-building meant and still means in the country’ – the creation of a national culture ‘is a matter of practical politics… [and] nation-building.’[23]

The “Enright Affair” resonates within several intersecting discourses which reveals tensions within and between the Singapore state and society across different domains and contexts. As an example of PAP’s interference with university autonomy, the Enright Affair had been positioned as the first major clash between the PAP and the University, not least because the students viewed their strong stand in the conflict as a mark of triumph. Others viewed the Affair as a precedent demonstrating PAP’s disdain for foreigners’ intrusion into domestic politics or for dissenting voices, and its strict insistence on cultural management and keeping tight reins on cultural production. How different subjectivities have remembered and connected this past event to the present illuminates both their positions and concerns in the present and the relevance of discovering the multifarious connections between Singapore’s national university and the broader state and society through examining the hitherto marginalized moments of the University’s past. Some salient issues underpinning and engendered by the Enright Affair remain starkly alive and relevant today, albeit within differing contexts and circumstances, for example the ideological distance between the government and local university students that seemed to have re-opened in recent years and the divide between Singapore’s cultural producers, and the state on certain aspects of cultural production in Singapore. It becomes fitting to recount an anecdote told by Professor Holden, from the same department Dennis Enright headed decades ago.

In a class on the place of writers in Singapore, his students were asked to consider Enright’s offending remarks and views on cultural freedom and to participate in a discussion of two positions. The first was Enright as a ‘residual colonialist’ who did not understand ‘the importance of cultural autonomy in Singapore’ and thus was ‘unwittingly patronizing’, and the second ‘an idea of artistic liberation or autonomy that transcended the immediate specifics of the case’. Despite having made known the historical circumstances surrounding the Affair:

What I was surprised by was that no one in a quite active class was willing to entertain position 1), and there was a great deal of sympathy for Enright’s views, despite the fact that we’d already been over and critiqued Arnoldian views of the transcendental nature of art. When I pushed students further, I remember one saying that if you looked at today’s context in Singapore, Enright’s views were still very relevant and indeed correct–coming to a Singapore situation, students (and not all were Singaporeans–we had a couple of quite good international students) tended to prefer not to read the incident in its historical context but rather in terms of how it related to present-day policy in the arts.[24]



[1]Straits Times 23.10.1994; Straits Times 24.10.1994; Straits Times 11.01.2003.

[2] Tommy Koh [et al.], Singapore: The Encyclopedia. (Singapore : Editions Didier Millet, 2006), p. 143.

[3] Speech by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, On Academic Freedom and Social Responsibility at the Historical Society, University of Singapore, November 24 1966.

[4] William Walsh, D. J. Enright : Poet of Humanism (London: Cambridge University Press 1974), p. 18; Koh Tai Ann, “The Mendicant Professor” in Jacqueline Simms (ed). Life by Other Means: Essays on D. J. Enright (New York : Oxford University Press 1990), p. 21.

[5] Dennis Joseph Enright, Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (London : Chatto & Windus 1969), pp. 147-148.

[6] C.M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore: 1819-1988 (Singapore : Oxford University Press 1989), p. 309. The Sreenivasan Affair of 1963 saw the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Dr. B.R. Sreenivasan, fiercely resisting the government’s attempt to force the University to reject students deemed or suspected of being subversive from admission into the University. Sreenivasan’s justification was that university admission should be based on academic merit and not political considerations. He eventually resigned after the government, in response, made unmasked threats about the severance of funding to the university.

[7] Roland Puccetti, “Authoritarian Government and Academic Subservience”, inMinerva, Vol. X No. 2 (April 1972), p. 224.

[8] USSU Union Handbooks 1961-1972.

[9] Malayan Undergrad Vol. 15 No. 3 March (April 1966), p. 7.

[10] Koh Tai Ann, “The World of the English-educated in the 1960s and 1970s: An Interview with Koh Tai Ann”, transcribed by Teng Siao See; translated by Lee Chih Horng, Sng Tuan Hwee, Goh Sin Hwee. Tangent, No. 6 (April 2003), pp. 265-267.

[11] Dr. M.K. Rajakumar in P C Shivadas (ed), University of Malaya : 1949-1989(Kuala Lumpur : Organising Committee of the Fortieth Anniversary of the Founding of University Education in Malaysia and Singapore 1989), p. 64.

[12] Koh Tai Ann, “The World of the English-educated in the 1960s and 1970s”, p. 267.

[13] Straits Times 22.10.2005.

[14] Edwin Lee & Tan Tai Yong, Beyond degrees : the making of the National University of Singapore (Singapore : Singapore University Press 1996), pp. 131-132.

[15] NUS, Imagination, openness & courage : the National University of Singapore at 100 (Singapore : NUS 2006), p. 143. See Appendix 4.

[16] Chris Lydgate, Lee’s Law: How Singapore Crushes Dissent (Melbourne : Scribe Publications 2003), pp. 34-36.

[17] Chan Heng Chee “The Role of Intellectuals in Singapore Politics: An Essay” in Verinder Grover (ed), Singapore: Government and Politics, (New Delhi : Deep & Deep 2000), p. 126.

[18] Koh Tai Ann , “The Role of the Intellectuals in Civil Society: Going Against the Grain?”, in Gillian Koh & Ooi Giok-ling (eds), State-society relations in Singapore(Singapore : Institute of Policy Studies : Oxford University Press 2000), p. 14. The Catherine Lim affair refers to the case of local writer Catherine Lim being chided by the government for writing an article criticizing the government for being more authoritarian than consultative.

[19] Alfian Sa’at, One Fierce Hour (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1998), p. 38

[20] Email correspondence with Alfian Sa’at. The Josef Ng case refers to the incident where a performance artist, Josef Ng snipped his pubic hair in public as a protest against punitive police tactics. He was fined by the government, which also banned all performances without fixed scripts.

[21] Yao Souchou. Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess (Oxon : Routledge 2007), p. 62; C.J.W.-L. Wee, Culture, empire, and the question of being modern (Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books 2003), p. 204.

[22] Philip Holden, “On the Nation’s margins: The Social Place of Literature in Singapore”, in Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 15, No. 1, (April 2000), pp. 37-38.

[23] Wee, Culture, Empire and the Question of Being Modern, p. 204.

[24] Email correspondence with Professor Philip Holden.

Edgar Liao is currently pursuing his M.A. in the Department of History, NUS and is studying the political, ideological and cultural dimensions of student politics and activism in the University of Malaya/Singapore.

Tags: cultural politics, education, student activism

Once Upon a Time, a Mendicant Professor in Singapore: Remembering the Enright Affair (November 1960)

Before Hudud: Chink in Malaysia’s Islamic Armour

New York

June 21, 2016

Before Hudud: Chink in Malaysia’s Islamic Armour

by Lim Teck Ghee

In December 2015 Mansour Jamal Ibrahim, a 22 year old Muslim student studying in Belgium wrote a post, “Racism in the Muslim community: Are we really one?” in the website, MVSLIM.

In it he addressed the following observation which should  be a wake up call to the Islamic world:

The Muslim community is a global community of diversity, variety and color.

We are taught to accept every Muslim (and non-Muslim) with complete disregard to their color, nationality or ethnicity. Yet somehow black Muslims (and Muslims of color in general) experience racism for our brothers and sisters in Islam.

Every attempt to tackle these issues has been swept underneath the rug with the phrase “One Ummah brother, we accept no racism in Islam”. How can you explain the feeling of superiority towards black and brown people?

In our part of the world, the issue of racism in our national version of Islam has similarly been swept under the carpet as in the case with black and other coloured Muslims.

Some may argue that this issue or allegation arises from a misleading or imagined perception. That it is really a problem trotted out by enemies of the religion, and not worthy of attention.But can we dismiss it so easily?

To understand or make sense of any phenomenon of prejudicial thinking, we need to first test the assumption or hypothesis; that is, we need to determine scientifically whether it is true or untrue.

We know that racism has no biological or apparently religious basis. But could it in reality be deeply embedded in the religious sector just as it has permeated into every other pore of Malaysian society and life?

Acknowledging the reality of racism and therefore asking difficult questions about it is possibly the biggest hurdle to overcome in helping the country fight against this dehumanizing ideology. This hurdle is one which mainstream and establishment Islamic organizations as well as progressive Islamic NGOs and think tanks are either indifferent to, or regard as unworthy of concern.

Although hundreds, if not thousands, of workshops and forums have been held on a vast variety of Islamic subject matters, there is none that appears to have directly dealt with this apparently “taboo” topic.

It is noteworthy too that our foremost Islamic body, the National Council for Islamic Affairs (JAKIM), which has issued numerous edicts that have legal implications such as ruling against Muslims practicing yoga (yoga is seen to have elements of other religions that could corrupt Muslims) apparently has nothing to say about the issue of racism in Malaysia’s Islam; what racial acts are to be deemed haram or halal; etc.

We have also heard little or nothing of our Islamic and religious leaders’ ability to cite parts of the holy Koran dealing with race or race relations that may serve as an example to the Muslim or even non-Muslim community.

Second Class Muslims

One exception though has been Dr Mahathir who, in his capacity as patron of Perkim or the Muslim Welfare Organization of Malaysia, referred to the plight of new converts. We all know that Dr Mahathir is very adept at calling a spade a spade. At the same time he can be the most circuitous of leaders when it suits his objective.

Speaking at a Perkim event in the country in December last year, Dr. Mahathir, although avoiding the “racism” word, called on Malay Muslims to treat new converts as brothers in the following way:

“There should be no discrimination. Sometimes we feel that they are ‘second-class Muslims’. That is wrong. There is no difference between one Muslim and another except from the view of ‘taqwa’ (piety/fear of Allah). That (Taqwa) is the only thing that differentiates us,” he was reported to have said to reporters.

Ironically, the two-day seminar was aimed at strengthening Muslim solidarity and to serve as a platform to gather opinions in uniting Muslims.

To any outside observer, it is very clear that unless and until the issue of racism in Islam is addressed and resolved – within and outside the Muslim community – most people in the minority religious and ethnic groups will not see any reason why they should consider embracing the brotherhood of Islam, either through conversion or other means.

And that surely is a fatal blow to the dream of Islamic authorities who would like to see a more Islamic country in every way possible.

Zakir Naik, during his recent tour, may have showcased one or several converts to his audience but this must be considered poor – even paltry – returns on the conversion front, given the enormous resources put into the government’s Islamic missionary and conversion machine

To be fair, it needs to be pointed out that it is not just in Malaysia’s Islam that we need to ask the race question. Other religions in the country also need to ask similar questions of their faith and congregation; and the way their faith treats members of minority communities – whether converts or not; doctrinal and in actuality.

An inter-faith dialogue on this would be useful. It would certainly be an improvement on the present state of religious discussion which seems to be stuck endlessly on the “hudud” question.



Malaysia’s Budaya Tipu in Academia

June 20, 2015

New York City

Malaysia’s  Budaya Tipu–Academic Plagiarism and Intellectual Fraud

 by Rom Nain
COMMENT: Malaysian Higher Education, evidently, is once again in the limelight. Once again, for the wrong reasons.

Over the past couple of days, news has gone around that four researchers from a local public university had deliberately manipulated images in a co-authored article published in a prestigious international academic journal.

The four, from Universiti Malaya (UM) – our oldest and,  often enough claimed, our most prestigious, public university – were initially accused of duplicating and manipulating images of cells in their article.

An article which allegedly had three versions was published in three separate journals. Sadly for them – and certainly for UM – the allegations initially exploded over the scientific community’s social media and then spread to other platforms, finally catching the attention of the mainstream scientific media.

The main author, not surprisingly, initially brushed off the charges, providing ‘reasons’ that even non-scientists who had examined the article found rather incredulous.

Now, it has come to the attention of the Malaysian Higher Education Ministry and the authorities at UM. And UM has acted swiftly enough to investigate yet another potential scandal and possibly discipline any wrongdoers.

There will surely be more revealed over the next few days and, I’m sure, there will be demands that the heads of the four researchers, if found guilty, roll. But will they? And even if they do, will the wider problems be resolved?

Going by previous incidences of this nature, one doubts anything major will be resolved. In 1994 a professor at the same Universiti Malaya went to court to defend herself against allegations of plagiarising the work of her students. Despite the evidence, she remains a professor till this day.

A couple of years back, the infamous Ridhuan Tee, while an Associate Professor at the Armed Forces University, was accused of plagiarism as well. Again, despite the clear evidence, he was able to move to another university on the east coast, getting a promotion to full professor to boot. That is classic Malaysian academic culture.

Then there is the infamous University of Bath-UiTM debacle earlier this year, when graduates from the UK university discovered that their theses had somehow found their way into UiTM’s repository, with UiTM’s copyright and watermark on them.

UiTM, predictably, apologised, asserting that it was a technical error that had caused it all. It is still unclear today why the Bath papers were gifted to UiTM by a staff member, and whether she or he had the right to do so.

Fundamental issues of Integrity–The meaning of the word Integrity.

Needless to say, there are a number of things we can – and must – take away from these cases that strike at the core of fundamental issues of integrity. Namely, the integrity of individuals, the integrity of the Malaysian academic profession and, yes, the integrity of our institutions.

It is, after all, easy to apportion blame to individuals, such as the four UM researchers or the professors who blatantly plagiarised the works of others But, unfortunately, these cases – alleged by many in Malaysian academia as barely ‘scratching the surface’ – will continue if the core issues and problems are not located and sincerely addressed.

Of course, one could say that they indulge in these activities because they feel they can ‘get away with it’. But why do they do it in the first place? And why does it seem so prevalent these days?

To begin to answer these questions, we would have to at least go back to this relatively recent phenomenon of university academics needing to meet pre-determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

But, unfortunately, these cases – alleged by many in Malaysian academia as barely ‘scratching the surface’ – will continue if the core issues and problems are not located and sincerely addressed.Of course, one could say that they indulge in these activities because they feel they can ‘get away with it’. But why do they do it in the first place? And why does it seem so prevalent these days?

To begin to answer these questions, we would have to at least go back to this relatively recent phenomenon of university academics needing to meet pre-determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Pre-determined, often enough, by university administrators more concerned about pleasing their political masters than they are about the welfare of their staff and, even less, about any commitment to a particular academic ethos.

Hence, meaningful university teaching and research be damned. Instead, a bureaucratic or mechanistic view of what higher education, particularly the role of universities and academics, is advanced. Indeed, in Malaysian academia, increasingly it has become a case of institutions and individuals having to meet certain, often quantifiable and quantitative, targets.

And achieving high international rankings yearly has become the name of the game. For some public universities, especially those designated as `research’ universities, publishing in top-tier Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and Scopus journals now is the main, sometimes determining, criterion for promotion.

It is within this cauldron of quite rapid change and shifting of priorities – often directed by politicians and their ministries – that we find many of our public universities and their faculty members.

Things have gotten worse for Malaysia under Najib Razak

This, of course, hadn’t been the case for a long time. Indeed, it could be argued that the slide began the moment politics and notions of what has derogatorily been called kulitocracy (skin based meritocracy) took top priority from the 1980s onward.

Policies that led to the recruitment of faculty due to their skin tone and, more subtly, their political affiliation, rather than the grey matter in their head, led to a culture of conformity and mediocrity being developed. For some critics this gradually replaced the emphasis on dedicated teaching and learning, and doing good research that had been cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s.

‘Carma’ academics

This was facilitated by (administrative) structures that policies and strategies that (still) disproportionately reward what the national laureate, A Samad Said, has rightly called the ‘carma’ (cari makan) academics.

These often are the apple polishers, those who turn academia into an arena where rapid advancement means getting on with their bosses and courting top UMNO leaders and moving up the administrative ladder; from section to department head, to program chair, to head of school, to dean, deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor. Stopping briefly on the way, of course,to obtain a datoship from corrupt political leaders.

And this group has grown significantly as the number of public universities has rapidly increased. Often quite clueless as to what constitutes good – let alone path-breaking and innovative – research, yet now needing to ‘publish or perish’, they look high and low for the ‘right’ ingredients, however “halal” or “haram”, to enable them to come up not only with publishable papers in referred journals, but also those that often have to meet international criteria and standards for scholarly research and peer recognition.

Unfortunately, when the environment all this while has not helped to nurture whatever research and writing skills they may have, and they now have to regularly produce ‘international’ publications, many find themselves in a ethical quandary.

And so the illicit options become more enticing.Indeed, more widespread, arguably, is this practice of putting one’s name as a co-researcher on the work done by one’s research assistant or graduate student. Even when all the work was done solely by another person.

Of course, dodgy publishing houses have cottoned on to this widespread desperation by academics. So, we have the case of academics (often aided by their institutions) paying substantial sums to purportedly international publishers to get their articles published in  journals and books of questionable quality.

Needless to say, it is within this wider context – of dodgy academic standards, a legacy of a mediocre research culture and environment and a rapidly changing academic milieu and, of course, a general lack of integrity from the top downwards – that we have to locate the alleged offences committed by the UM4 and others.

Virtually nothing happens in a vacuum. Yes, if found guilty, the wrongdoers must be truly punished – and not just transferred to some other university where they are promoted later.

But issues of integrity, dignity and ethics will not and cannot be simply resolved that way. More detailed and critical examination of the environment, the policies and the strategies that have led to this sorry state of affairs, will need to be conducted.

This would require political will–this is sadly lacking in Malaysia today– and a genuine commitment to removing the rot that has set in public – and increasingly private – universities. And I don’t believe that many of us are so sanguine as to believe that this will happen any time soon under this regime.

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