Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs Mentioned by UM VC yet again

It's the job of any university's VC to defend the reputation and stature of his or her university. It's also our responsibility as bloggers to call individual VCs out if we think what they've said does not make sense or is inaccurate. While defending UM's reputation, the UM VC Rafiah Salim, once again brought up the name of Professor Jeffrey Sachs in association with UM, as the first holder of the Royal Ungku Aziz chair in poverty studies.

I first brought this issue to attention in November 2006 here, expressing my great scepticism at whether this was a bona fide appointment and if it was, whether it was not just a great waste of money.

In this recent NST article, UM's VC Rafiah Salim had this to say about Jeffrey Sachs:

"At present, the person who is holding the Ungku Aziz chair is Jeffrey Sachs from the Earth Institute at University of Columbia. Now, mention his name to any economist and they will drop when they hear it."

The problem is, nobody outside UM or perhaps outside Malaysia seems to know that Sachs is actually holding this position. If you check the Earth's Institute's website here which lists Sachs' CV (and here in a 3 page pdf form), which has been updated as recently as March of 2007, there is no mention of Malaysia, UM or the Royal Ungku Aziz chair.

Among his many achievements listed:

Sachs is the recipient of many awards and honors, including membership in the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Society of Fellows, and the Fellows of the World Econometric Society. He has received honorary degrees from many universities including Trinity College Dublin, the College
of the Atlantic, Southern Methodist University, Simon Fraser University, McGill University, Southern New Hamphshire University, St. John’s University, Iona College, St. Gallen University in Switzerland, the Lingnan College of Hong Kong, and Varna Economics University in Bulgaria, and an honorary professorship at Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. Distinguished lecture series include the London School of Economics, Oxford University, Tel Aviv, Jakarta, Yale and many others. He was the 2005 recipient of the Sargent Shriver Award for Equal Justice. He is a member of the Brookings Panel of Economists, the Board of Advisors of the Chinese Economists Society, among other organizations.

If honorary degrees are mentioned (and some from not so distinguished universities), why not the first holder of a fully endowed chair, especially one that is supposed to be as prestigious as the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies at the premier university in Malaysia, the University of Malaya?

I have no doubt that given the correct circumstances and incentives, Professor Sachs will eventually visit Malaysia (I think he's been to Malaysia before) and the UM to deliver a lecture or two but isn't it dishonest of UM's VC and indeed the PM (who first made the announcement) to associate him with UM before he himself has made any announcement that he has even accepted or is aware of this position being offered / given to him?

If Dr. Wee Ka Siong (BN-Ayer Hitam) or any of his staff is reading this post, I encourage him to raise this issue in parliament since making these kinds of inaccurate statements (and giving this information to the PM and asking him to make these statements) can come back to haunt us (remember the whole fiasco about why UM was ranked in the top 100 universities by THES?). More importantly, he should also enquire as to how the expenses associated with this endowed chair (RM20 million) is being spent.

And don't even get me started on the VC being proud of the fact that UM is ranked 13th among the top universities in the OIC.

To be fair to Rafiah Salim, she did bring up some achievements which I had not known about earlier including:

- UM's accounting degree is now recognised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.
- UM’s architecture degree is one of three in the region recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. The others are from the Hong Kong University and the National University of Singapore.
- UM's engineering faculty had also been recently invited to be a part of the Asia-Oceanic Top Universities League on Engineering.
- UM has been invited to join the Asia Pacific Research University Organisation because it is doing so well.

Of course, these facts also need to be checked but if they are true (especially the first two), then these achievements are indeed positive ones.

In the meantime, we await the arrival of Professor Sachs to take up his position as the first holder of the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies (or for him to list it as part of his CV first).


dazzakoh said...

I can confirm the arrangement between UM and ICAEW. However, it's not a clear recognition: credit exemption, and UM will be working on various subjects. Here's the press release:

jien sing said...

What's so good about Jeff Sachs? I don't understand?

johnleemk said...

Sachs was a professor at Harvard for over 20 years, and later became a professor at another Ivy League university, Columbia. To have Sachs holding a chair at UM would indeed be a great catch.

Fish said...

I checked on the achievements listed and the NST article. Oddly, the first two could be verified on the respective homepage of those organisations. Though the number of recognized architecture degree by RIBA is understated (2 from HK, a couple from India, Sri Lanka).

No info on Asia-Oceanic Top Universities League. No info on it either on NTU website (which was claimed as a member in the NST article) and again no info on Asia Pacific Research University Organisation.

Anonymous said...

Why not e-mail Jeff Sachs directly and ask verification whether he holds the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies, and what he sees his role is?

Anonymous said...

to fish:

actually, i think the vc herself made a mistake on quoting "Asia Pacific Research University Organisation". i'm only guessing that she meant the "Association Of Pacific Rim Universities". notice that they both have the same abbreviation- APRU.

if Association Of Pacific Rim Universities was what she meant, then it's valid because UM is indeed a member.

Anonymous said...

[off topic]

where is this tony pua? busy campaigning for machap by-election? din see him blog lately. luckily kian ming got something for me to read.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming did a pretty good estimate of how much it would cost to bring him here, although I would use an annual salary of about US$350,000 now assuming generous salay increment (reportedly about $300 K in 2005).
If I were Jeffrey Sachs and to make the package attractive to me, I would use a typical US system of buying my time from Columbia and consider this as a research contract. Disclaimer: The following is just hypothetical estimates.

If you need to buy his time from Columbia, you have to add fringe benefits and them add overheads (assuming he still keeps his office and staff at Columbia; he would be insane to move lock, stock and barrel to Malaysia for good), you will end up paying as much as US$700,000 per year to Columbia.
That comes to about RM2.45 Million.
Then we can add the cost of accommodation and assistants of about RM700,000 like what Kian Ming estimated.
The final bill will be more than RM3 million a year, the high end of what Kian Ming estimated.
On the other hand, if he takes unpaid leave and paid entirely by Malaysia (highly unlikely), that would reduce the cost by about RM 1 million.
It never amazes me how overboard Malaysia can get when it decides to do something big. But that is good, because it becomes a precedent for future notable scientists and scholars to work in Malaysia even just for show only and to give local scholars at UM a chance to tumpang-tumpang as co-authors in his papers. Wow, that is Malaysia boleh. Pay others to do the research and we get the credit.
But wait, Jeffrey Sachs did take a symbolic salary of $1 as adviser to the United Nations Development Programme, so there is still hope for Malaysia to get him cheap. Not.
Oh one more thing...Jeffrey Sachs is also a celebrity speaker. So, now UM can send him around Malaysia to give talks and charge an outrageous fees for people to listen and shake his hand to recoup the money. Now, that is ingenius, right? Now, who wants to know how to eradicate poverty in Malaysia? Wait a minute..we need poverty to keep the NEP.

coleong said...

It would be great to have Jeffrey Sachs as the Ungku Aziz chair in UM. However, my only concern is how much participation will he be involved in the building up of the institution. It would be great even if he will be just act as a consultant. But how much our university will listen to his advice. I hope this will be the beginning of the local educators to learn from other overseas scholars. Hopefully this is not another symbolic action to create another false hope to our universities. In a similar scenario, David Lane, a well-known scientist, who joined the biopolis in Singapore has played a significant role in building up the sector. I hope Jeff Sachs will have the same effects as well.

jien sing said...

I doubt having Jeff Sachs is a 'good catch'... he's a professor at harvard ... but wat can he really do in UM? saying that he's a harvard professor for so and so years is lame ... i guess people don't know much about him in the first place

Anonymous said...

The anon estimate above is what Malaysia needs to get used to paying well-known scientists. My estimate is about RM 750 K - 1 million for just a average prof from the US. If we convert David Lane's costs into RM, it would also be in the millions.

Anonymous said...

...A retired Malay professor told me the most important criteria for promotion is “how you get along with people”. He also told me if you are good, they will bring you down because if the universities have standards, then they cannot survive in their jobs. In his own words, more than 4/5 of the current university staff will never be able to get academic jobs in a real university...

Anonymous said...

Read in Star abt a senior university staff of 'prominent university' being investigated bt ACA!!!!

Guess he must be one of the so called 'professor' Wat a shame!

Anonymous said...

VC Rafiah Salim said, "Now, mention his name to any economist and they will drop when they hear it". Now, this is real good stuff.

In the first place, I think the VC is boasting about our ability to throw that kind of money in all the six directions. My impression of that VC is that she likes to boast, starting with her boastfulness at the TV interview about how others extended and want to extend her contract some more, etc, etc. Her use of the language quoted above merely reinforces my views as it reveals a "show-off" mindset.

Back to her quote, there are 2 reasons, and only 2, why people would "drop". Firstly, I think she meant that people's jaws will drop, and not that anyone will, like, drop dead or faint (hope so, because if it is the latter she is referring to, she is certainly taking her boastfulness far too far).

As I said, before I digressed, the only 2 reasons are:

A) "Jeffery Who?" like in my case, never heard of him, or

B) "What in heavens name would he be doing at UM?", on the universal (excepting in Malaysia) understanding that it is as much a gross waste of resources as, say, engaging a postgraduate to teach pre-school kids the laws of supply and demand.

For goodness sake, invest the monies into new excellent local recruitment (putting aside the NEPs - No Essay Professors) so that UM can climb to, say, no. 50 in world rankings, THEN hire Jeffrey, whoever he is; only then would we prove to have the intellectual capacity to follow high-level philosophy and learn from it.

I do not think the foregoing simple logic is difficult to understand - just that we remain buttressed in the culture of quick fixes. The VC herself is a product of this culture; so, to be fair to her, what else can we expect?

jien sing said...

What VC Rafiah Salim meant by "Now, mention his name to any economist and they will drop when they hear it" is that Jeff Sachs used to hangout with Angelina Jolie and Bono Hewson and had appeared in the MTV channel...

I bet the VC must have been a great fan of the MTV... or maybe she juz happened to type the word 'economist' in youtube and found herself looking at all the results that got something to do with this Jeff Sachs guy...

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey Sachs is a bit of a MTV version of world of economics. Dr. Sach's MTV economist career really got first prominence when he was asked to consult on Eastern Europe economic restructuring after the Berlin Wall fell.

Those who don't remember, he was not much help but to be fair, the problems was beyond anyone else either. But that exposure put him in contact with many top government people in many countries and UN officials and his front-seat to what happened gave him material to write a bunch of stuff hat into some of the difficulties of developing economies.

Then came his book the "End of Poverty" and the anti-poverty crusade stuff.

So basically Sachs is no great academic intellectual in the tradition of Robert Merton, Joseph Stiglitz, Modigliani, Sharpe and other Nobel Prize winners and candidates. Being an MIT man myself, I have to vouch tht he is no slouch of course and a prolific writer. But seriously he is still mossly MTV economics which our UM lady VC seems enamoured.

Anonymous said...

I am Anon 4/05/2007 02:01:00 PM

Anon 05:49:00 was certainly enlightening. Looks like everyone is part of the "show-off" community. Not that it should surprise Malaysians, as we are so used to emphasising style over substance. Jeff (dont mind if I call him "Jeff") will certainly rock us till we drop. Yeah!

Anonymous said...


VC Rafeah Salim is on a TWO YEAR CONTRACT with UM!
Of course now she has to beat the Gendang loud and clear and embark on her 'Chest beating!!' antiques so that hopefully she will have her contract further extended by one or two years more!

his sort of BANGSAWAN is often and regularly exhinbited in UM whenever a promotion or extension is in the offings!

The whole thing makes me laugh rolling on the floor!

But the best news of all is how a certain DVC of a public university tried justifying the reason to go to Geneva Gold Medal Give aways by posting a reply to KOSMOS newspaper!! Read about it in Star or Lim Kit Siang Blog

Of all the papers...he chose KOSMOS!
Wat a delightful joke!
It is as good as writing a letter to The SUN newspaper in Britain....

Ronnie Barker would love this!