Thursday, July 26, 2007

Academics against Akujanji

A Malaysiakini report yesterday highlighted the campaign by academics in Malaysia against the Akujanji pledge. Not only does it call for Akujanji to be abolished with immediate effect but it also calls for Dr. Azly Rahman, Dr. Mutiara Muhamed and other academics who have been dismissed because of their opposition to Akujanji to be reinstated. This campaign is being headed by Dr. Syed Husin Ali and Dr. Lim Teck Ghee.

Tony has blogged passionately about this issue here, here, here and here.

I've been a little more agnostic about 'Akujanji' believing that it is possible aka NUS to create a public university where academic freedom is not exactly free flowing but I think that Tony is probably right in saying that Akujanji needs to be revoked as part of a larger, comprehensive move to create more dynamic and open minded universities in Malaysia.

I would certainly prefer to work in a university, especially in my field, where Akujanji does not exist and I would think most other academics would as well. I certainly support the petition circulated by Dr. Syed Husin Ali and Dr. Lim though I don't see how Ong Kian Ming, a PhD candidate at Duke University, would add value to the cause. (Dr. Lim sent me the petition but I forgot to reply to him. Apologies, Dr. Lim)

The actual petition circulated by Dr. Syed Husin Ali and Dr. Lim reads as follows:

Petition for Revocation of University Akujanji

We, the undersigned - former university staff members, present university staff members (who cannot include their names here for fear of victimization by the authorities) and civil society organizations - call on the Government to revoke the imposition of the Akujanji pledge with immediate effect.

This requirement of loyalty to the Government – found only in a few repressive university systems in the world – has stifled academic freedom in our country to an unprecedented extent. It has also inculcated a culture of fear, passivity and uncritical thinking in the campuses which is antithetical to the development of our universities and to the quality of teaching and scholarship.

Government leaders, including the Prime Minister, have called on the universities to take up the challenge of upgrading their standards and producing quality teaching and research that will help the nation meet the goals of 2020, including the goals of a matured, liberal, scientific and progressive society. The Aku Janji stands as a major obstacle in the way of our universities rising to this challenge.

In this regard we also call on the Government to reinstate Dr. Azly Rahman, Dr.Mutiara Mohamad and other academicians who have been dismissed as a result of their opposition to the Akujanji. Similarly, others who have suffered in their career development due to the Akujanji should have their cases reviewed and should be provided with justice and redress. These are our academic prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly victimized and whose continued exclusion is a black mark against academia and our democratic system and values.

Our concern is not the first voiced on this issue - academic staff associations and numerous other concerned individuals and organizations have during the past three years spoken out and asked for the abolition of the pledge which is also against the fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression. We hope with this petition that we will be the last to take up this issue.

We feel that this is an urgent matter not simply of academic interest and concern but of national importance too and call on the Government to respond in a fair and enlightened manner and to place the interests of the universities and nation ahead of partisan political ones. The revocation of the pledge is a vital step in ensuring that fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression are not further eroded and that our academicians can play their rightful role in helping our nation advance.

I just want to make three observations in regards to the signatories of this petition

Firstly, most of the signatories are social scientists (especially political scientists) or academics from the humanities. I recognize many of the names on the list (and indeed, know some of them) who are social scientists including - Dr. Collin Abraham, Dr. Azmi Sharom, Dr. Sharon Bong, Dr. Cheah Boon Kheng, Dr. Stephen Chee, Dr. Farish Noor, Dr. Terence Gomez, Dr. Khoo Boo Teik, Dr. Khoo Kay Jin, Dr. Patricia Martinez, Dr. Maznah Mohamad, Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Dr. Francis Loh, Dr Mavis Puthucheary, Dr. Ramasamy, Dr. Johan Saravanamuttu, Dr. Shirley Lim, Dr. Syed Husin Ali, Dr. Toh Kin Woon, Wong Chin Huat and Dr. Diana Wong.

If the momentum from 'within' to abolish Akujanji is to continue, there needs to be more support for its abolishment across the academic fields including the engineering and science faculties. If not, the impression that this movement is only support by trouble making social scientists and those from the humanities will only be reinforced.

Secondly, as noted by the Malaysiakini report, out of the 40 academics who signed on to this petition, 29 are retired. Obviously, one needs to ask why there are not more signatories among active academics. Is it out of fear that reprisals might be carried out against them similar to those carried out against Dr. Azly Rahman and Dr. Mutiara Muhamed? This is not out of the question. To overcome this fear, there must be a concerted gathering of support among active academics so if a large enough number of them do sign this petition, it is not possible to carry out reprisals against all of them. In other words, achieve some sort of 'critical mass'.

Easier said than done but perhaps one can start by asking academics from the engineering and science faculties whether Akujanji has hurt them in any way (recruitment, funding, research proposals) or why they might feel that Akujanji might be needed (or no need for it to be abolished). From here, one can hopefully move forward to achieve the 'critical mass' necessary for such a movement to be taken seriously.

Thirdly, even among those signatories who are not retired (the 11 brave souls), I know of only 2 who are relatively young in regards to their academic careers. (Apologies for Azmi and Terence) The two are Dr. Sharon Bong and Wong Chin Huat, who are both teaching at Monash Sunway now, a private university. This of course calls into question the level of support for such a movement against Akujanji among the younger academics in our public universities. I'm quite sure that the 'pressure' which can be exerted on them would be higher compared to the more established i.e. older academics.

Of course I could be making too much out of this. Perhaps the petition didn't circulate to the younger academics because Dr. Lim and Dr. Syed Husin Ali didn't know enough of them (the same argument can be made in regards to the lack of outreach to the scientists and engineers). The level of support against Akujanji could be as great if not more so among the younger, perhaps more idealistic, academics in our public universities.

I do hope that Akujanji can be abolished as part of a comprehensive move to change the mindset and structure of our public universities. But like all things in Malaysia, change for the better tends to happen slowly and incrementally, if at all. I wish Dr. Lim and Dr. Syed Husin Ali all the best in this endeavor.


no-ball-lah said...

If you were a senior academic in one of our public universities, on pension scheme, and due to retire soon, would you risk your hard-earned pension (just in case you are sacked) to voice your objection to Akujanji?

Anonymous said...

I propose to add a clause in the Aku Janji for academics that sound like this:

" Bahawa nya saya sebagai ahli akademik di Universiti berjanji menghasilkan kertas penyelidikan yang bermutu tinggi yang di terbitkan di jurnal jurnal ternama antara bangsa, dan jika gagal saya bersedia di lucut jawatan atau di buang kerja"

Anonymous said...

I've been a little more agnostic about 'Akujanji' believing that it is possible aka NUS to create a public university where academic freedom is not exactly free flowing...

I believe you are right. Singapore Universities do not seem be be totally "free" of censorship, but they are not imposed with the immense restrictions of Akujanji. I remember a few professors, wrote very critical publications of the Singapore Government, and were still promoted. I can only (on quick memory) cite Professor Chua Beng Huat, a sociologist, who is famous for his many publications in many international publications, many which are critical of the Singapore Government. He was promoted to full Professor (Singapore has no political Professors, so all of them must have PhD to be Assoc Prof or Prof), and is has always been teaching in NUS, even now.

If our country wants to be like Iran, then one day, we will become Iran, or worse.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid that this "AkuJanji" programme is another plot by BN (or UMNO) to control the people, and keep resistance at bay. What we can see now, and which is particularly obvious, is that the baby boomers are the one going against the BN government strongly. Most of the baby boomers are professionals, and very critical in their thinking.

While we have been losing quite a number of these people due to the discriminating policies of BN government, we cannot deny that those who decided to stay back are still pretty strong and is more than enough in shaping the future of Malaysia. UMNO has been tasting it quite severely for the past few years, facing resistance and objections from many quaters (read PROFESIONALS) which is why they have to do something to prevent the current generation to go against and criticise the government in the future. They are afraid of losing power and source of income. This is how "AkuJanji" came about.

On a personal note, the mainstream media are fully controlled by the government, and the news we obtained has been heavily filtered. If we allow now the government to crack down on the cyberspace (like detaining Nat and RPK), we will no longer have the genuine source of information. This country will rot from the core (government) to the skin (citizen). We must unite against it!

Finally, I am still waiting for Badawi to stop erecting. There are a lot of things awaiting him to do, and he has to be firmer in his stance, not being dragged like some pet. Isn't he supposed to be back today?

Anonymous said...

at nus, the profs thats i had were mostly critical of the government in some of the lectures (when topics like democracy and ethics came up and somehow the government was brought in), the senior profs were usually more strident in their criticisms. The reason why engineering and science profs are less interested in these sort of campaigns could be because their subjects aren't really affected by such things, i mean fluid mechanics remains the same even after the aku janji pledge but macroeconomics would be rather heavily affected by the pledge, i mean if you cant say that the governments policies are junk a lot is lost. ohh off topic here, but i cant seem to acsess malaysia today, anyone of u folks encountering the same problem

Say Lee said...

But if it is the research enterprise that is in peril because of the akujanji, then that should affect negatively all the academicians across the board.

Also bear in mind that the akujanji is signed by all government servants where university lecturers only acount for a small percentage. To the extent that the Government is unlikely to have separate General Orders for the academicians, won't it make better sense to galvanize the entire civil service to this end?

If that sound unwieldy, then perhaps the first thing to address is to have a separate service for the academicians complete with different (read better) pay schemes.

no-ball-lah said...

Akujanji is real and anyone who wants to earn their living in any one of our public universities must accept it. That's the condition, openly stated. Otherwise, don't join the university, brain drain or not. That's what our BN government wants.

Now, UUM is after Dr. Azly Rahman and has engaged a law firm to go after him.

Anonymous said...

Is it Wong Kian Keong firm?