Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sachs finally coming to Malaysia?

Looks like the first Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University is finally coming to Malaysia. His appointment was announced and made last November and was highlighted here in this blog. Since then, I've heard from a source that he's had a phone call with Tok Pah, Minister for Higher Education and now, he'll be coming in August of this year to deliver a keynote speech at the Faculty of Economics and Administration (FEA) at the UM.

A recent online search on Jeffrey Sachs and UM revealed this tentative program for a conference on poverty alleviation organized by the Faculty of Economics and Administration (where KS Jomo taught and were Terence Gomez taught before his secondment to the UN in Geneva).

According to this program, the conference entitled "Poverty Distribution Amidst Diversity: Options and Challenges for Development" will be held on Aug 13 and 14, 2007. Prof Sachs will give the keynote address and be a discussant on a higher powered panel which includes Tok Pah and Max Ongkili, Minister in the PM's office in charge of National Unity and Integration and Dr. Denison Jayasooria of the Yayasan Strategik Sosial (YSS).

I've said this before and I'll say it again - the appointment of Professor Sachs to this position is a waste of taxpayers funds and does not fulfill the objectives set out by the UM.

Prof Sachs, in his two year appointment will probably come to Malaysia once a year, given his many other commitments. While in Malaysia, he'll be asked to deliver a few keynote addresses, in the UM and in other settings, set up for him by the University or the MOHE. He won't be able to contribute any significant intellectual contribution to UM or Malaysia in terms of research or advising faculty or graduate students or teaching.

In contrast, Prof Joan Nelson, the third holder of the Pok Rafeah chair at IKMAS, UKM, was / is based in Malaysia for a length of time (9 months, if I'm not mistaken) and was an active contributor to the intellectual and research life at IKMAS in UKM. This is the model that UM should have used - appointing a researcher who had a genuine interest in Malaysia and who would be able to be based in Malaysia for some length of time to be part of the academic and intellectual community.

Furthermore, Professor Jeffrey "mention-his-name-to-any-economist-and-they-will-drop-when-they-hear-it" Sachs (quote is attributed to the current UM VC) doesn't even list his appointment as the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies in his most recent CV, thereby not fulfilling one of UM's objectives of appointing Jeffrey Sachs - which is to raise UM's profile internationally.

Too bad I can't be at the UM to take part in the above conference. It would have been interesting to ask Prof Sachs what he hopes to achieve in his two year appointment. And to ask the VC whether she thinks that appointing Prof Sachs was worth the cost.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming, while I agree with your statement to opt for an academic appointment which is more value-added, I would like to add that we should start with small steps. In my opinion, a more constructive response is to demonstrate the passion to learn (for example to evoke a fruitful debate with a passionate audience) and as such, will trigger interest in future visitors to UM. Our job is to show that we value every single academic visit that offer diversity in thoughts. If the administrators in UM know how to make the best out of it, more public lectures should be organized together with outreach activities.
- Weng Hong

Tek Seang said...

if Weng Hong's argument holds fort, then it would be a very expensive series (of maybe just 2) of "invited lectures" ...

Anonymous said...

If Saxh contribute to the design, teaching and examination of the Faculty, I agree whole heartedly. However, to hold a two year appointment angiving two lectures per year is just a waste of time!

His appearence is just equivalent to sticking a Malaysian logo to a soviet rocket!
As pak pandir did...menang sorak kalah sabung

Wat I see we are only giving Sach a good paid holiday!
Wat a waste of our money!!

Anonymous said...

I guess to be clear Mr. Tek Seang , you will see that my comments tend to lean more towards avoiding an unnecessary "knee-jerk" response to the appointment. That is the main point of my opinion. The reason is that I am not familiar with nor do I see any data on the "price" of the appointment and as such, I do not intend to speculate on it. I am giving the academician and his appointment a benefit of doubt of being something within reason (from a contract standpoint). Otherwise any statement can always be a source of infinite debate due to lack of data and besides, I am from the sciences so I truly never heard of him before. I guess I see this more of an analogy to my younger years when I go for circuit lectures from Nobel Laureates which have always inspired me to reach for something higher. At the very least, you have one data point that lectures like this work to inspire people like me who came from a very small town back home. But hey, I understand where you come from.
-- Weng Hong

Anonymous said...

Evening, all. Once again, the powers that be are throwing away bucketfuls of money just to score brownie points for the purposes only of the THES ranking. Again, it re-emphasised our inability as a nation to move away from form and into substance, or to want to save the money and used it to nurture long term intellectual growth, starting from our primary schools.

Maybe the VC want to be able to say that during her tenure, UM moved up from 186, say, to 180th place in the THES ranking, and therefore she has done a good job.

Her position is hopeless not at all because of any lack of ability on her part, but because of the quality of the input into UM, both in terms of teaching staff and the student population, that she has to work with. With that, perhaps numbers are the only way for her to put across any message of achievement to those with the power to decide whether to extend her tenure.

I cannot imagine the intention was just circuit lectures, given the way the UM VC was boasting about securing Sachs to come onboard. Nobody's will "drop", as she puts it, if it were just a series of circuit lectures. After all, the appointment was clearly referred to as a "Chair". Let us pray that the Kerusi do not quickly become a bangku.

If there was a phone call by Sachs to Tok Pa, it was probably to ask questions like, (1) looking at UM's ranking, are you sure any of your faculty members has the intellectual ability to even remotely follow my thoughts or will they just drop (off to sleep) when I start to talk, or (2) are you sure you can afford to pay me, or (3) do your people understand English?

Anonymous said...

Well, let’s not be too negative. I think the appointment of Sachs as a Chair will bring more good than harm. First, in term of qualification, he is definitely qualified to be appointed for that position. We should be happy that the chair position is finally filled by someone caliber and well-known scholar rather than any crony in the system. The bottom line is, his appointment is definitely justifiable.

Second, as pointed out earlier, he might not be involved in a lot of teaching or research in UM. Just like Stephen Hawkins (a well-known astronomer and physicist) at Cambridge who do not normally conduct many lectures to the undergrad students as well. This does not mean that they are useless to the university. Most often, the lecture from these established scholars are really “eye opening” and could perhaps, inspire some of our youngsters to become high achiever one day.

Third, even though he might not be physically presence at UM most of the time, it doesn’t stop us to get consultation from him. After all, if he accepted the chair position, he is responsible (by ethic) to serve the university or even the country. I would imagine it will benefit many academics and scholars in that field from the feedback given by the world’s renown scholar in the field. That will definitely generate a lot of intellectual discussion provided that our academics are ready to learn from one another.

Finally, what can you lose by appointing Sachs as the Chair in UM, besides the taxpayer’s money. If he didn’t get the position, some one will, eventually. Do you want to see a less qualified crony get it and get paid a million a year ? Or, would you like the government to spend all those money to build more white elephants ? It might be expensive for such an appointment. But, in long term, I think it will bring more good than harm. We always talk about learning from the best and this is our chance. We got a lot of catch up to do and this perhaps is a good start.

Anonymous said...

Mr Sach will not be the 'silver bullet' to solve UM 's ailments and reputations!
Go and visit UM anyday and you will feel it no longer have the aura of academic environment but a ' kampong ambience' Currently it is a bit better than under Billboard Hashim's rule...less disneyland effect

Amir said...

anon,
so what is the silver bullets?

There is no silver bullet to save UM, in fact these and many other steps need to be taken to 'save' UM.

Hamzah said...

Why need to go find Sachs?

We Malaysians should stop trying to "save face". There are 2 world's best Universities just across the causeway. Organising vists, study trips, academic exchanges should not be that difficult, as long as "face" is not involved.

All of us know for fact that UM, UKM, all of our Universities cannot compare to NUS and NTU. Why not learn from them? What's wrong with being humble when Malays have been preaching it as a virtue?

Invite their people over to take over our administration, Faculty heads. Sure, keep the VC position for a Malaysian because it is our University. But we have a huge resource so near, and so much more affordable, why do we need to pay how many times more to get 2 lectures a year?

Let us admit our shortcomings, and improve on it. Keep saying Singapore is lousy this lousy that, does not absolve us of being worse.

Anonymous said...

The major differences between NUS, NTU in Singapore and local university in Malaysia is that the goverment is willing to spend billion of dollars to hire the expert from overseas. Depp down, if you compare the top graduate from both country, they are about equal in quality. The problem is Malaysia has too many unqualified graduate that bring down the standard. If you look at the local academic staff in Singapore, they are not as great as you think they are. NUS and NTU make their name on the top list have a lot to o with the contribution from the foreign academic staff. Without them, NUS and NTU is not much better than UM. It is all down to how much the goverment is willing to spend on building up the sector and how the university want to recognise the global talent. If UM was given the same amount of resources it will perhaps stand equal to NUS nowadays. But, that is a big "IF". The fact is, the dopping of quality in UM does not happen overnight and is a result of long-term lack of funding. There won;t be "silver bullet" to change this fact in over night. While it's not late to think strategy and start improving our education system. Too much "hoo ha" has been making in comparing between Singapore and Malaysia. Why do we always want to look down on our local graduate. There are some really great students as well. Stop complaining and do something. Sitting there keep whining do not do much help here.

Hamzah said...

Our top graduates are comparable to NUS and NTU graduates? This, I agree.

But our average is way below Singapore. This is not good.

Why do we compare ourselves to UK, USA, and not Singapore? What is wrong in comparing to a neighbour? Too ashamed?

You are wrong in saying NUS and NTU only has foreign reserachers whose reports are published in international journals. You are displaying the same lousy (looking down on) attitude towards Singapore as most of those from you-know-where. You should take a visit to their website, and the list has more than enough evidence to prove you wrong. Why commit the same mistake of getting too easily slapped by your own statements? This has been a major bugbear of our Malaysian politicians, saying things before checking the facts, then getting slapped by their own words.

And please list or quote which paragraph above which I "complaint". Do not create or impose your impressions on others, just to shift the focus away from my arguments.

Ang Mo in NUS said...

I discovered this by accident.

Good work I say.

Hamzah is correct. As an academia at NUS (I believe at NTU too), you are required to have set number of publications and citations in internationally recognised publications. Local ones do not count. If you do not meet the minimum set number (which is not small), you get asked to leave, no matter you are foreign or local.

Anonymous said...

Funding can be solved if the right people and policies are in place. Most Malaysians want to see Malaysia do well and willing to contribute. I hope things has changed, I personally know of Malaysians or former Malaysians trying to go back and were told they were over qualified.
You can get good people even you if can not match the salary provided there are other benefits/they are valued. If you take those away and create an uncertain future for their kids' next generation, it will be hard.
Whether we like it or not, we get what we valued, if we do not value talent, we will not get the best talent (or in sufficient quantity). It is the ecosystem we have to be concerned with, otherwise we will be running it just like a zoo, you can get a few prized exhibits that all.

Frank_c