Academic Freedom and The University

December 21, 2016

Academic Freedom and The University

by Teoh King Men@www,

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”–George Washington


Historically, our academic freedom had its origins in the 1960s, cherished and upheld by the Universiti Malaya Student Union (UMSU) and the Persekutuan Bahasa Melayu Universiti Malaya (PBMUM). Led by Anwar Ibrahim, these movements were instrumental in getting then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to step down. It also implicated the police force, who invaded Universiti Malaya and subsequently disrupted the protests against the erstwhile PM.

Image result for Mahathir screwed academic freedom

We forget that it is this man as Prime Minister for 22 years+who was  the slayer of academic freedom when he was Minister of Education in the 1970s.–Din Merican

Likewise, in 1979, a large-scale demonstration by students in solidarity with poor farmers in Baling, Kedah, faced similar consequences. Hishamuddin Rais, a student activist, was forced to flee the country as the Malaysian government went out of its way to arrest the demonstrators.

As these two brief recollections of past events have shown, students of past decades were broadly active in raising awareness on issues of great concern to both public and private interests – issues both political and personal, national and local.

Turning to the present, it should then come as no surprise that in light of the country’s recent 1Malaysia Development Berhad and public finance scandals, the freedom to protest has once more been trampled upon. Universiti Malaya student Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof and two other student activists were recently suspended for a semester and slapped with a RM400 fine for their involvement in the “Tangkap MO1” (MO1) rally.

Image result for University of Malaya in 1960

It must be emphasised that students play an integral part in the exchange of ideas and truth in our society, and therefore, should be permitted a platform on which to speak up on pressing issues, such as on corruption, governmental irresponsibility and betrayal of public trust.

 After the Malaysian Federal Constitution came into force in August 1957, we were granted the right to freedom of speech, assembly and association, protected under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution – or rather, that is what the authorities would like us to believe. The rights of students, and indeed of everyone and anyone, to say what they think and to protest is pivotal to our democracy and the prevention of state tyranny.

Freedom of speech has no limits, and should always be respected. There is a clear distinction to be made between free speech and incitement to violence. The government, however, has been attempting to label any form of political dissent or criticism as incitement to violence. I quote George Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Free speech was the predominant mechanism that granted the Malays their United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – which was inaugurated on May 11, 1946 in Johor Bahru – and the emergence of Datuk Onn Jaafar as its first President. UMNO obtained support from all strata of Malay society in opposing the Malayan Union – the aristocrats, the radical Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (Malay Nationalist Party or MNP), Islamic groups, civil servants, rural leaders like the penghulu (village heads), and even the Police and ex-service personnel.

“Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius.” – Benjamin Franklin

Image result for University of Malaya in 1960

It is thus a matter of utmost importance that we do not stifle debate among students in the academic community. The reason being, this country is abundant in financial capital but lacking in intellectual capital – the solution to corruption is not more corruption, nor the remedy to state tyranny being more tyranny, but it is the need for intellectual honesty and expression.

Above all, the University was once a highly held institution for the free expression of ideas. And protests and rallies are inevitably part of such milieu. Academic freedom should be respected in the University in order for the students to think critically and voice up against the issues that concern them. Let us never lose sight of this, and preserve our rights.

Teoh King Men is an FMT reader.

Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Lying Attorney-General cum Cover-Up Artiste

September 25, 2015

Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Lying Attorney-General cum Cover-Up Artiste

by John Berthelsen

Opinion: The Lies of Malaysia’s Attorney General

The Crony Attorney-General Appandi Ali

When a Malaysian Deputy Prosecutor named Kevin Morais disappeared on September 4 last year after leaving his condominium in Kuala Lumpur on his way to work, the rumor spread that the 55-year-old Morais, who was gay, probably had tired of his job with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and had left with his lover, probably for London. And, newly-minted Attorney- General Mohamed Apandi Ali said, Morais had nothing to do with the controversial MACC probe into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s tangled financial affairs.

It is widely believed that that probe got former Attorney- General Abdul Gani Patail fired from his job in July, to be replaced by Apandi Ali, a UMNO stooge and loyalist who served in a variety of different capacities, including as the judge who ruled that Christians couldn’t use the word “Allah” to describe god.

That has been put to the lie as well. Morais’s brother in Atlanta, Ga. in the US turned up in Kuala Lumpur to issue a statement saying Morais was not only working on the Najib case, but he was either leading or co-leading the prosecution, and that he had sent him a USB drive containing information on the case. That has been corroborated by other sources in Kuala Lumpur.

Image result for clare rewcastle brown

Clare Rewcastle Brown–Relentless in Pursuit of 1MDB Scandal

It has since become clear that Morais in addition was one of the sources of deeply detailed information on Najib’s finances that was being fed to Clare Rewcastle Brown, the editor and writer of Sarawak Report. So rather than being killed for revenge by an angry army doctor, it appears that he was killed for being a whistleblower.


A lot on his muddled head–Too many lies


What nobody expected was that Morais would turn up. The rumor about his disappearance was put to the lie when a CCTV camera, by chance, caught Morais’ car being rammed on a Kuala Lumpur street and him being dragged from it. Morais was later found in an oil drum filled with cement in a river in Subang Jaya, a Kuala Lumpur suburb. His burned car was found in a palm oil plantation in Perak. The Police said it was an open and shut case. Morais had been killed by confederates of an army doctor in revenge for prosecuting a case against him.

So why was Apandi Ali, the country’s chief law enforcement officer, lying about Kevin Morais’s activities? Why was the lie spread that he had left town with a homosexual lover? Why did the Attorney-General’s office say Morais had nothing to do with the Najib case?

Apandi Ali has now denounced a story by Sarawak Report – and a similar Asia Sentinel story quoting Sarawak Report –that the MACC had forwarded 37 criminal charges against Najib for prosecution. He has said he sent the case back to the MACC for further work. Is Apandi also lying about that as well?  Given the clear lies about Morais, who does the reader want to believe? Mohamad Apandi Ali or Asia Sentinel and Sarawak Report

Apandi Ali says he has sent the report back to the MACC for revision. He retires officially in three weeks, meaning he wants to pass the hot potato to his successor, expected to be another UMNO lawyer, Mohamad Shafie Abdullah.(This never happened. Apparently, he is still useful to Prime Minister Najib Razak.)

The story has earned a ban for Asia Sentinel in Malaysia from the Communications Ministry, which has issued a notice saying “This website is not available in Malaysia because it violates the national laws.” The ban has holes in it, but, say sources in Kuala Lumpur, it is likely to tighten.

Image result for Hussain Najadi

Hussain Najadi–Founder AM Bank

Image result for Hussain Najadi

Pascal Najadi seeks Justice for his father

It seems more likely that it is the Malaysian government that violates the national laws, not only in the case involving Kevin Morais but in a long list of other cases. For a second one, try the murder of Hussain Najadi, the retired founder of AMBank Malaysia, who was gunned down in a parking lot in 2013. Although law enforcement officials said he was shot in a dispute over a Hindu temple property matter, Hussain’s son Pascal has charged that his father was assassinated because he said he wouldn’t play along with financial irregularities involving the United Malays National Organization prior to his death, refusing to orchestrate a multi-billion ringgit property deal connected to the Kuala Lumpur City Center. On one occasion, he told his son that Prime Minister Najib Razak was “lining his pockets with billions of ringgit with no consideration for the future of the country.”

A gunman was almost immediately arrested. The property dispute story was widely accepted by everybody but Pascal Najadi. The supposed mastermind, one Lim Yuen Soo, went on the run for two years. But Lim, a Melaka gangster and nightclub owner, appeared to be hiding in plain sight. In fact, he was part owner of the Active Force Security Services Sdn Bhd. with the former Malacca Police Chief Mohd Khasni Mohd Nor.

When Police caught up with Lim at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, arresting him on an Interpol warrant, they held him incognito for eight days before they turned him loose for “lack of evidence.” But that story raised more questions than it answered. If he could be turned loose for lack of evidence, why wasn’t the original case reopened to find out who had actually paid the gunman to kill Hussain?

Image result for clare rewcastle brown

As to the probe of Najib’s finances, it is clear from what has emerged in Sarawak Report that he may be a cheap crook as well as a thief of titanic proportions, given the huge amounts of money that apparently have been siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the troubled state-backed investment fund.  The MACC, in its probe, found him to be using credit cards from SRC International, a Middle Eastern company supposedly involved in oil exploration that was funded by 1MDB. Najib ran up bills of RM449,000 on an SRC Visa card and another RM2.8 million on an SRC MasterCard in August 2014. That in effect was public money, spent on hotels, meals, jewelry, and other personal items in Italy and Monaco. 

He is already believed to have taken millions in kickbacks on defense contracts and purchases during his years as Defense Minister, particularly on the purchase of two French submarines as well as purchase of Sukhoi jet fighters at vastly inflated costs and other contracts. Yet, despite the tens of millions stolen, he still had to use credit cards from a publicly owned company to fund his wife’s vast needs for jewelry and handbags.
Image result for altantuya shaariibuu dan najib

It was Najib’s years as Defense Minister that ended up in the 2006 death of the Mongolian translator and party girl, Altantuya Shaariibuu, at the hands of two of Najib’s bodyguards. It has long been assumed that Altantuya was attempting to blackmail Najib’s close friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, over what she knew about the purchase of those submarines.

So in the long run, who do you believe about the deaths of Kevin Morais and Hussain Najadi and Altantuya Shaariibuu, and the subsequent statements by Mohamad Apandi Ali over the MACC probe?  The Malaysian government? Or Sarawak Report and Asia Sentinel, both of which are now banned in Malaysia? Neither publication is likely to stop investigating them.


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.

Read more:

Get It: Azmi Sharom is an Academic, not a Criminal

November 17, 2015

Get It: Azmi Sharom is an Academic, not a Criminal

by Dr Mohd Nazari Ismail

Azmi Sharom 3

As an academician myself, I am greatly worried by the developments of the Azmi Sharom case.

In my area of International Business, many people have asked me whether the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) was actually good for the country or not. I will then express my opinion on the matter, hoping to enlighten the public on the issue, regardless of whether my opinion is in line with the stance of the government. What is important is that I will inform the public truthfully and I am very sure the public will not accept anything less than that from me.

In light of the above, I am therefore feeling very sad and apprehensive over the current legal case involving my colleague at University of Malaya, Associate Professor Dr. Azmi Sharom. He has been charged under the Sedition Act for simply expressing his honest opinion on what happened during the 2009 Perak Constitutional Crisis.

His analysis of what happened was that it was not legal according to the constitution. I am not a lawyer and as such not in a position to judge whether his analysis was accurate or not. However, as an academician and a member of the public, I expect nothing less than Azmi’s honest opinion on the matter. If I want to know more about the issue, I will read the opinions of others who I consider experts in the field on the matter. Later, I will make my own judgment based on those opinions.


Cry Freedom, make your Voices heard, or stay dumb Forever

However, if we academicians are being charged in court and threatened with a stiff jail sentence and a very hefty fine for carrying out our duties, then a very wrong message is being sent to all of us.

We are being told to only voice out opinions that will not land us in trouble. Some may even feel that the best option is to voice out opinions that are in line with the government’s stance on issues in order to stand a good chance of being promoted or to become deans or vice-chancellors of universities.

Students and the public will only be exposed to opinions that are favourable to the government rather than opinions that are closest to the truth of things. This not the way to develop the young minds of our society.


So Free Azmi Sharom

Our society can only prosper when we collectively are able to develop good policies, whether micro or macro, short-term or long-term. But in order to develop good policies, we need lots of critical minds. However, critical minds can never be developed if there is limited space for expressing opinions. Unnecessary curtailment of freedom of expression will stifle the minds of the members of our society.

Of course there are limits to everything. I am not personally advocating an unlimited freedom to express opinions. Such freedom will potentially create a scenario such as in France where even cartoons that insult the Prophet Muhammad are allowed.

In my opinion, those types of opinion are slanderous in nature, can cause genuine hurt and anger among many sections of the society, and thus deserve to be restricted. In my opinion, Azmi’s opinion is nowhere in that category.

As such he does not deserve to be subjected to the current pains and sufferings normally accorded to criminals who have committed harm to society. Azmi is not a criminal. He is an asset to our society and should be treated as such.

* Dr Mohd Nazari Ismail is with The University of Malaya.


Malaysia: Unity Government?

August 12, 2015

Gotch Ya, Najib

Malaysia: Unity Government

by John Berthelsen

Malaysia’s deteriorating political situation has driven two once-implacable foes – former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his onetime rival for UMNO party leadership Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah – together to try to form a unity government to remove current Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“There is a leadership crisis in Malaysia and the consensus is that only one candidate can end it,” said a longtime friend of Razaleigh who played a role in setting up a meeting between the two figures. “That is Ku Li [Razaleigh’s nickname], the only solution. The question is how to put together the mechanics of how it is to be done.”

Sources in Kuala Lumpur say Najib has dug in his heels and refuses to entertain the idea of stepping down voluntarily. It is believed that he has threatened to bring down other politicians and officials with him if he is forced out.

Friends and associates of Razaleigh have been trying for weeks to persuade him to join the effort to oust Najib. But the fact that the former enemies within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) would seek common cause is an indication of how deep Malaysia’s political and economic crisis has become.

Dr M and Ku LiCan they form Unity Government

Mahathir and Razaleigh met Tuesday, August 11, the source said, adding that the biggest hurdle with be forcing a vote of no-confidence in the parliament.

The two believe they would have unanimous support from the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which holds 89 of the 222 parliamentary seats although some Parti Islam se-Malaysia votes would be questionable after the fundamentalist Islamic party split earlier this year. Attempts to reach Pakatan officials were unsuccessful.

Parliamentary dysfunction

The ruling Barisan Nasional holds 132 seats, but UMNO has only 88 of them. A general election is not due until April 2018 – unless events overtake Najib’s defenses.

“The Parliament is dysfunctional in that the speaker [Pandikar Amin Mulia] is not a democratic speaker,” said the source, a constitutional lawyer. “He controls parliament on behalf of the ruling coalition instead of being a neutral speaker.   He won’t allow a vote of confidence on an incumbent Prime Minister who has lost the confidence of the people.”

However, with rank-and-file sentiment growing restive in the face of a financial scandal linking Najib to irregularities in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad investment fund, some of the component parties in the BN could be open to changing horses. The Malaysian Chinese Association, for instance, has grown disenchanted with UMNO’s increasing embrace of fundamentalist Islamic views and Malay-first rhetoric. Christian parties in East Malaysia could also be up for grabs.

How much real clout the two elderly politicians have is unknown. Although Razaleigh, 78, has retained his seat in Parliament, he has been out of a leadership position since 1987, when he challenged Mahathir for the premiership and lost in a battle that split UMNO and guaranteed their enmity. Mahathir, 90, remains a more potent force, but he has been attempting to bring down Najib for more than a year, largely without traction.

Declining fortunes

However, the economic situation may play as much of a role as politics in forcing the issue. Global Risk Insights, the international risk rating agency, warned on August 12 that the 1MDB scandal has “shattered business confidence in Malaysia” and that the government has been distracted as a result from dealing with economic issues like the impact of falling global oil prices on oil-dependent Malaysia’s government debt. Household debt is climbing.

The ringgit, having fallen through the psychologically important RM4:US$1 barrier, is one of the globe’s worst performing currencies. The raid on the currency from global traders appears to be picking up speed, with the ringgit weakening to RM4.25 to the US dollar before the central bank used enough reserves to drive it back down to RM4:03. Banks have begun to limit retail withdrawals to RM3,000 and currency traders say there is a shortage of foreign currencies as people seek safer havens in the dollar.

In the meantime, Najib may be losing his grip on UMNO. He still has the loyalty of a large number of the 191 divisional cadres, mostly through vast payments that provide them with electoral resources and jobs between elections, but the grass roots are another matter.

An extraordinary video went viral earlier this week, for example, of a young woman going postal on Najib during an UMNO women’s wing gathering in Langkawi, accusing Najib in a screeching voice of having “urinated on the 3 million UMNO members. He needs to be sent for medical treatment.” The video has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people.

Sleazy trail

BERSIH, the reform NGO, has ordered what it hopes will be a massive rally for August 29. Mahathir is urging people to attend and has suggested they bring water bottles to mop up the tear gas. The Police have threatened to block the rally.

The focal point of the whole mess is 1MDB, which was set up as a state-backed investment fund in 2009 with the advice of Jho Taek Low, the young Penang-born tycoon and friend of the Najib family. In the intervening years, the fund, as a result of what appears to be extraordinarily bad management, has run up debts that by some estimates have reached RM50 billion, an unknown amount of that unfunded.

Najib in anxiety

In early July, the Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal reported that US$680 million was transferred from unknown sources through a complex web of transactions to Najib’s personal bank account at AmBank in Kuala Lumpur prior to the 2013 general election. Sarawak Report has released graphic details on the flow of millions of ringgit through banks, companies and government agencies linked to 1MDB into accounts held by Jho Low, as he is known, and other accounts.

Najib has said the money was not for his personal use, leaving others to hint that it came from Middle Eastern sources to be used in the 2013 election. But sources have told Asia Sentinel that at least RM1billion flowed out from Najib’s accounts overseas. Neither the source of the money nor its final destination is clear. Certainly, given the relatively small amounts needed to fund electoral races in Malaysia, it would seem impossible to spend such a huge amount

On his blog, Che Det, Mahathir ridiculed the idea that the money came from unknown Arab sources, saying “his claim that Arabs donated billions is what people describe as hogwash or bullshit. Certainly I don’t believe it and neither can the majority of Malaysians if we go by the comments on the social media. The world had a good laugh.”


Universiti Malaya is not The University of Malaya and Why

June 20, 2015

Universiti Malaya is not The University of Malaya and Why

by *Ooi Kok

*Ooi Kok Hin graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy.  He is also the author of the book, “Aku Kafir, Kau Siapa” , published by DuBook Press.


UMThe taxi driver dropped me off at the Institute of Graduate Studies. I went in to ask  about the postgraduate programme.

Student Activists Demand Resignation  of Public University Vice Chancellors

The three ladies on duty were friendly and helpful. My interest in Universiti Malaya lies in the special place that this institution occupies in our history. This is the institution that once resided the likes of Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas, Dr. Syed Husin Ali, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Although it has been said that the university is a pale shadow of its former self, one can still feel the presence of its historic greatness in the campus. I had a two-hour gap before attending a talk, so I walked to Perdana Siswa which houses the university’s bookstore.

Pekan Buku, as it is called, is something like a small shop lot. Though there is a few rare books available in the bookstore, I feel as if the bookstore is not fitting for a premier institution that Universiti Malaya is. There are many academic textbooks and trade paperbacks, but current affairs books are lacking and outdated.

The section which is dedicated to the university’s own publication is a sad embarrassment.Either the university academics do not publish much or the university press has not communicated well with the university bookstore.

The “Malaysiana” section, along with the social sciences and humanities, are relegated to the back of the bookstore. It is not a conducive place in which an avid reader would spend hours browsing and reading books.

I bought a book titled “Dua Wajah: Tahanan Tanpa Bicara”, written by one of the university’s most dedicated scholar, activist, and citizen, Dr. Syed Husin. While he may be more known as the former PKR Deputy President, what I admire about him is his combination of academic rigour and passionate activism.

Dr Syed Husin Ali2He himself studied at the university before returning to serve as a professor for nearly 30 years. Unlike many academicians who separates their academic work and servitude to society, Dr Syed Husin wrote a plenty on Malay society (“Orang Melayu: Masalah dan Masa Depan”; “Poverty and Landlessness in Kelantan”; “Ethnic Relations in Malaysia: Harmony and Conflict”) and was actively involved in bringing about change to his society.

It was his efforts in organising student protests in the early 1970s that resulted in him being detained under the Internal Security Act for six years.

If a well-respected and learned professor can be jailed without trial, I wonder how many others fell victim to the cruelty of power. The likes of Dr Syed Husin, who dared to confront the authority with the truth, are sorely missed in today’s Universiti Malaya.

Gone were the days when scholar-activists were willing to give up the luxury of a comfort life and risked being arrested and treated like a common criminal.

Chung Tat LimIt seems to me that professors today, encouraged by the university administrators, are content to write about society, not changing the society, and doing research in air-conditioned rooms, barricaded by university walls and isolated from the society.

I’m not necessarily saying that all scholars ought to confront the government like Dr. Syed did. There are other types of scholar-activists. Royal Professor Ungku Aziz was able to turn his academic research into actual policies.According to the Merdeka Award, “His (Ungku Aziz’s) work was instrumental in spurring governmental rural development programmes aimed at benefiting the impoverished peasants and fisherfolk.

“Among the initiatives proposed by Ungku Aziz was the creation of monopolies to bypass the middlemen who previously acted as the distribution channel of produce to the retail market.

Ungku Aziz“Ungku Aziz has constantly sought to improve the level of opportunities available to the rural community, and many of his other achievements stem from his work on poverty eradication.”

Regardless of whether our professors are pro-government, pro-opposition, or independent, how many of them actually set out to reform the people around them? To help those in need?

When academicians write about poverty, urban transportation, liberty, Maqasid Shariah, the theory of economic growth, or political issues, do they want to make a change or is it just another research paper to be published?

In the evening, I attended a talk themed “Malaysian Higher Education Blueprint: Role of the Universities”. The panelists include Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Professor Tan Sri Dr. Ghauth Jasmon, Professor Datuk Dr. Ibrahim Bajunid, and Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Isahak Haron.

It’s interesting to see how each panelist emphasised different points in their speech. Dr. Ghauth, the former Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya, begun by stressing the need for financial autonomy, competence and publication to get higher ranking, and good governance.

Inevitably, he said, the government will slash funding for the universities, just as they did with PTPTN student loans.

The universities will have to find their own source of funding. I also find it fascinating that the former Vice-Chancellor publicly stated that the government should not appoint board members and vice-chancellors. Rather, the university deserves the best people to lead the institution.

The rest of the panelists subtly and not-so-subtly disagreed with the former Vice-Chancellor’s emphasis on the need to compete.

Dr. Ong warned that the rankings can be “gamed” by temporarily hiring well-known foreign academicians, who are hugely compensated while actually contributing little.

Dr. Ibrahim’s pertinent point on the gap between the policy designers and implementers strike at the reality of practice. Saifuddin touched on the soul of the university and asked “Are we producing good men or good workers?” The former Deputy Minister of Higher Education agreed with the panellists that political appointments must stop to give way to the best people leading the universities. He also said philosophy should be taught at every faculty!

What I find especially enlightening is the speech by Dr Isahak. He methodically approached the subject of the future of education. Tracing it from past to present trajectory, he argued that in the new reality, universities are not driven by scholars anymore.

Rather, corporate demands assume the quintessential focus of the university today. We talk about employability of the graduates, what the industries want, and what the economy needs. It used to be that university is not driven by market, but by the pursue of knowledge. But we are increasingly moving away from that liberal socio-cultural tradition.

“Now we are very proud to announce and showcase cooperation with foreign universities such as Johns Hopkins, Stanford or Harvard. Once upon a time, we were very proud to develop our own courses, tradition, and studies, ranging from history to Malay literature, the social sciences and humanities.”

To me, that is what we should do. Not rushing to get published in journals which are read by very few people in the society, if at all.

Those “research syiok sendiri” are not contributing and helping. A majority of the people do not care if our professors get published in international journals, or some abstract economic theories. They care about bread and butter issues, the cause and effect of inflation and GST. The role of the scholar, other than the noble pursuit of knowledge, is to bring the knowledge back to the ground, to the people.

The scholar knows something the layman doesn’t. It is hoped that he doesn’t keep that knowledge to himself and carries it to the grave, but rather, he teaches it to the layman so that they both become capable of making informed decisions, political and otherwise.

To paraphrase Eugene Debs, I don’t want to rise above the university, I want to rise with the university. I want to help restore the greatness back to the university. I wish to be part of the generation of students, professors, and administrators that will lift UM to the premier institution it used to be.

We are not talking about numbers and rankings here. What attracted me and many others is never because Universiti Malaya made it to the top 100 or not. Not only the university is an important piece of Malaysian history and produces a great many alumni, Universiti Malaya is history.

When we need to ask why we should be bothered to preserve our history, the question itself reflects a genuine lack of appreciation and sense of belonging. When we feel belonged to a bigger community, we will not think about neglecting our history because the history of a community gives meaning to its very identity.

To neglect Universiti Malaya is to neglect history. I sincerely hope that the university will be restored to its glorious days.This can probably only be done by taking the best care of the university community (students, academicians, staff, and administrators) and providing the most conducive learning environment to them.

The best way for the student to learn is also the best way for the university to develop – free, creative, encouraging, dedicated, and hopeful.

The mission to restore to Universiti Malaya to its former glory within this generation will need all the help it can get. And oh, somebody please upgrade the bookstore.