At the same time, Datuk Rafiah Salim, I must admit, hit pretty much all the right notes in the key areas. The Sun team came up with some tough and sensitive questions for her, but with the exception of a few where she dodged with some evasive answers, Datuk Rafiah Salim met them head on. She is after all the head of Malaysia's premier university and I wouldn't expect her to be not at least a little politically correct. Hence, unlike the messages you hear from her peers at other universities such as Universiti Putra Malaysia, I like what I heard based on this interview.
Here are some excerpts of the interview on some of the key points:
On key areas of focus/challenge:
1. Getting the buy-in of UM academicsOn key strategic plans:
2. Getting to know the university again
3. Preparing and implementing SWOT analysis and strategy plan for UM
1. Research universityOn transparency and academic promotions:
...I think good governance demands transparency, you know... in fact, [I have asked] the faculty members to nominate who they want as their leaders.On Peperiksaan Tahap Kecekapan (Competence Level Examination) which is aimed at civil service (and yes, academics in this country are civil servants):
...to ensure transparency, the DVC (deputy vice-chancellor) (for) academic is practically finalising clear criteria for promotion to senior lecturers, to associate professors, to professors. And these will be publicised and it will be on the website, and the staff will know what it is that is needed to be promoted.
...I'm looking into not just making any individual professor's CV made public. If you look at any of the top universities, all the professors' CVs are on the website of the university. And that's the way Universiti Malaya should go.
...one needs to relook at what is the use of the PTK. The PTK is not, and should not, be a measure to assess the technical know-how. You know, because you can't use PTK to measure the level of how a physicist is as compared to an English lecturer... what the PTK is designed, or should be designed, for is to look at maturity levels of the person, leadership level, aptitude, their concern for students, their concern for society, that sort of thing.On Universities and University Colleges Act, Statutory Bodies (Discipline & Discharge) Act 605 for civil servants and the Aku Janji pledge:
[Hence] we are reviewing. We will be. We have not done it yet.
...some amendments have to happen there. And I believe the government also is looking at the amendment of the (Universities and) University Colleges Act, so whatever I say is just going to reinforce the principle of academic freedom. I think government is fully aware, they are sympathetic to it that universities must be given a reasonable level of autonomy. I'm looking forward to some changes to this.On Research & Key Performance Indicators:
...obviously some provisions [of Act 605] cannot be applied to academicians. Especially the clause that says they cannot make statements, they cannot write to the press... Because (the) nature of academic world is, one should be in the position to react to situations. For example, what is happening in Lebanon right now. I mean, if you are a true academician, you'd already be holding seminars, making comments, condemning or supporting or whatever.
And I hope the government will relook at that. I really hope they will relook at that.
...Aku Janji, whether you sign it or you don't sign it, you are tied by Act 605 anyway. It's exactly what is in there. So, if you join the university, you are governed by that. By Act 605.
...research is our core business, [t]herefore, you do research, you publish or you perish. So, having said that, it means therefore, in the near future we would be introducing KPI (key performance indicators) that includes research... and we are also making sure that, er, sabbatical leave that staff takes would also come with proper KPI for the outcome of it.On Lousy Pay-Scale of Academics
I think JPA must really look at this, you know. If they want Universiti Malaya and a few of the others to be really an international university, that's one. And two, if they want the ranking of Universiti Malaya to improve, it means that we need to recruit international top brains. And international top brains won't take the job on the pay I'm earning, you know.On university management's interference with student body elections, and that student elections should be conducted fairly and independently of any group?:
So, JPA needs to relook at this. And I hope they will be able to look at this soon because otherwise the universities will continue struggling. Er, or we would be compromising. because if we insist on the upgrading of the ranking, and one of the criteria and quite a big percentage is international staff, then we go and get some half-past-six lecturers from cheaper countrieslah to satisfy that.
Well, that was what happened in the past. So, I can't answer to that... Should be conducted fairly, yes, yes.Of course, as mentioned earlier, Datuk Rafiah isn't going to be able to fully avoid being "politically correct", at least in some of the questions asked.
When asked if students "should be allowed greater freedom of association and expression", she argued that there are more beneficial activities for students to carry out. One might as well argue that subjects such as political science and history are useless, and hence all students should be pointed in the right direction to study more useful subjects such as science and engineering!
Again, um, I'm a mother. I'm a taxpayer. I've been paying huge taxes to the government all this time... So, as a taxpayer, I subsidise students heavily. And I want them to spend their time studying and developing their personalities, their, um, abilities. And I think the university provides for all sorts of opportunities.And she argued that the Akujanji pledge should be signed for pragmatic reasons (which of course, 98% of the academics in Malaysian public universities are) even though the discipline of the academics are already covered over-extensively in the Act 605. However, to me, having accepting an unjust Act even if the same injustice is covered in another similarly unjust Act only encourages further complacency and encouraging the establishment of other such Acts.
Last week, I launched this year's AIESEC society... which is both local and global, imagine what opportunities you have there. Just one! So, there's so much of opportunities that the students can do within the campus without spending their time (outside).
I'm a pragmatist, you know. I know it's already in the law whether I sign or I don't sign, I'm bound by it. What the heck, if I want to serve in the university, that's what I have to do, I'll sign it now with the hope that by and by, the authorities may even abolish it... to me it's irrelevant! This whole Aku Janji is irrelevant. Because it's irrelevant, you ask me to do it, oklah, I give you my signaturelah. What's so difficult?And on the alleged tampering of grades at the university, she argued that it was "the past", and we should just look forward to do it right. She argued that by digging up the past, the only victims would be the former students. I would disagree for the perpetrators of such tampering activities should be at the very least be given a warning to prevent a repeat of such events:
Where will you find the proof? And then should you find the proof, what? You victimise the student? Withdraw their degree? I mean, the consequences, the result is going to be, er (pauses), that you may end up victimising the innocent. Which is the student.There are of course various niggly points of disagreement with the vice-chancellor. However, looking at the interview in totality, I'm actually quite encouraged. We cannot be expecting UM to be transformed overnight on all its shortcomings. I'm certain we should all be pretty happy if the shortcomings at the university and other aspects of our higher education system can be improved step by step, as long as it's consistently improved. Datuk Rafiah has given herself a period of 12 months for some of the new reforms such as transparency in promotions and governance.
They're not a party to any irregularities, if any. If there was any hanky-panky, they were not a party to it. So, should we investigate and find out, what? You want the university to declare their Masters or whatever null and void? Is that fair to the innocent third party?
So, instead of digging up things like that, I'd rather look ahead and find ways of minimising. You know, if people insist on hanky-panky, under any circumstances, they will do it. But all we can do is take all reasonable steps to minimise it. And Senate is very, very concerned and very serious about it.
And to quote our dear friend at Universiti Malaya, Dr Azmi Sharom, "local universities should try to be good first, before aiming for “world-class” standards".
So here's looking forward in great anticipation. :)