Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Higher Education Ministry in More Hot Soup? (II)

Just two months ago, University Malaya (UM), and particularly its vice-chancellor, - invited scorn by "forcing" the resignation of a prominent academic, Dr Terence Gomez who was invited to join a United Nations research agency for a two-year term. Dr Terence Gomez was reinstated to his position, with his 2-year leave approved by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi. The action by the honourable prime minister was a tight slap on the face for the vice-chancellor (who, I'm surprise continued to hold on to his position). Read the fall-out from the epsiode here.

Now, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia is inviting scorn by terminating the contract of another prominent academic Prof P. Ramasamy, allegedly because of his criticism and outspokenness on various social issues. Read the full article on his dismissal as reported in the Sun here.
The university terminated his contract with effect from Aug 26 in a letter dated July 27. No reasons were given for the termination. This followed his mandatory retirement on May 10, after which he was given a month-to-month contract for two years, ending May 9, 2007.
Prof Ramasamy is clearly disappointed with the decision for he has served the university for a loyal 25 years. Read his long statement at Malaysiakini here.
"I have my dignity and feel humiliated at the kind of appreciation one gets after so many years of service to the government. The problem stems from the fact that we have bureaucratic leadership of universities instead of academic and intellectual leadership."
Apparently, his termination was also not consistent with the university's practice and policy, which provides for a two-year contract for professors who have completed their inaugural address. What made the termination an even more bitter pill to swallow is the fact that many professors have been retained despite not completing their inaugural address. Clearly, this appears to be another case of "favouritism" in the university's administration, an issue voiced by Dr Terence Gomez. Prof Ramasamy claimed that:
"Academic excellence [at UKM] is judged not by sound teaching and academic or intellectual output, but how well lecturers and administrators cultivate personal friendships and ties to seek promotion and extension of contracts.

There are many cases in the university where even non-professors are given two year extensions. So basically it is whether you like the person or not, whether he is a member of Umno or if he plays golf with you. These are the citing criteria that operate."
It is difficult not to agree with the Parliamentary Opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang's statement that:
The Prof Ramasamy episode is further proof that there is a sore lack of vision and leadership among those entrusted with the management of public universities to chart out a strategy of academic excellence, as instead of attracting the best of Malaysian and international talent they seem more interested in petty and small-minded pursuits to ensure conformity and mediocrity among the academicians and the student population.
As he rightly pointed out, our Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak has during his address at Universiti Malaya's centenial celebrations, urged public universities to develop a system to retain professors and intellectuals who are due to retire to ensure such individuals can continue to contribute their knowledge, expertise and ideas.
What UKM is doing in the Ramasamy case is the exact opposite to Najib’s call. The Higher Education Minister, Datuk Shafie Salleh should intervene to ensure that UKM continue to retain Prof Ramasamy’s services.
In another statement by Lim Kit Siang, I share his sentiments of disappointment that the creation of the new Higher Education Ministry do not seem to have significantly improve the performance of the local public universities.
It is most unfortunate that the creation of a Higher Education Ministry and the appointment of a Higher Education Minister has not ushered in the reform of the higher education system where intellectual creativity and academic excellence are given the highest premium but instead there has been a deepening culture of fear, subservience and mediocrity universities when there should be academic freedom and autonomy.
During the entire episode of the Dr Terence Gomez saga, Datuk Shafie Salleh attempted to stay silent and let the drama end in a quiet death. However, the fact that the Prime Minister intervened to reinstate Dr Terence Gomez also placed Datuk Shafie Salleh in a bad light. Datuk Shafie should learn from his recent lesson and intervene positively in this current affair.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi has stated clearly to Dr Terence Gomez and to the public, that when he asked his countrymen to "speak up, he meant what he said". Prof Ramasamy has done that diligently and he should not be unjustly punished for that. Will Datuk Shafie wait for the Prime Minister to intervene on his behalf again?


Anonymous said...

Thisis another sad story of higher education scene in Malaysia. It is sad to note that while the neighbouring countries are gearing towards attracting top brains from all over the world, our beloved nation seems to do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Prof. keep your head up high. There are greener pastures elsewhere and there are authorities who will recognise your academic track record (hint: just look south). At least, the pay is definitely better.