Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Akujanji “Prayers”

Recently there has been a renewed interest in the academic freedom being granted by the Government to the academics of Malaysian public universities.
  • In June, Dr Terence Gomez was “forced” into resigning from Universiti Malaya because his unpaid leave application to join the United Nations for 2 years was rejected by the Vice Chancellor. Fortunately, our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi intervened to ensure that Dr Terence Gomez gets to keep his position in Universiti Malaya.

  • In August, it was reported that Prof P. Ramasamy had his contract with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia terminated arbitrarily. Prof P. Ramasamy has argued that his termination was largely due to his active participation in international activities such as the Sri Lanka and Aceh peace process.

  • Recently the plight of husband and wife, Dr Azly Rahman and Dr Mutiara Mohamad, who are currently residing in the United States pursing their higher education with University of Columbia, were highlighted. Their teaching contracts were not renewed with Universiti Utara Malaysia because they were reluctant to sign the “Akujanji” letter in its current form.
Malaysiakini has been extremely active in reporting, analysing and highlighting these issues to the public. They have recently caught up with the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Mohd Shafie Salleh to inquire further to the status of the above academics as well as the “Akujanji” letter. Dr Shafie however, rejected any need to review the compulsory endorsement of “Akujanji” for all academicians attached to local public universities. Interestingly, Dr Shafie argued that:
"Akujanji is just to show that you are loyal to the university in the sense that you have to teach according to the schedule."
He even argued that the Akujanji letter is comparable to being employed by “any organisation [whereby] you must follow the schedule (rules) of that organisation.”

There are three very simple but important issues with regards to Dr Shafie’s claims that “Akujanji” and its similarity with employment “rules”.

Firstly, if any sensible person who read the "Akujanji" pledge will tell you that it's not about the fact that "you have to teach according to schedule"!

Secondly, I’m pretty certain that if I insist that all my employees sign a “Akujanji” letter as part of their employment conditions, I would find myself defending the company in the labour court for breaching Malaysian employment regulations! For example, clauses such as follows are clearly unclear in terms of subject and intent, and is open to abuse. Hence, the analogy is clearly fallacious.
(viii) will not bring any form of outside influence or pressure to support or further my demands or other officers involved with or towards University Utara Malaysia; and

(xi) will not disobey or behave in any way that can be interpreted as disobedience.
Thirdly, Dr Shafie should attempt to survey the top universities in the world whether there is actually such a document such as “Akujanji” which they require their academics to sign before gaining employment. As far as I’m concerned, there are no “world class” universities in the world – whether in the United Kingdom, the United States or in Australia whereby academics are required to sign any “conformance” agreements. Obviously, the absence of such letters did not in anyway hinder the ability of these universities from excelling. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that by imposing the “Akujanji” conformance, it hampers the ability of Malaysian public universities from attaining “world class” status.

Dr Shafie as expected, denied that the critics’ claim that “Akujanji” restricts academic freedom, which will ultimate affect academic teach and output quality as the clauses within “Akujanji” were (almost intentionally) vague. Lecturers and students may face action under the pledge especially when they criticise government or university affairs – irrespective of whether such criticism were positive, valid or otherwise. His denial was absolutely diabolical (and I couldn’t make sense of it).
“…Akujanji is like prayers for Muslims. When we pray, it becomes our Akujanji (to God), not only once but five times a day.”
Huh? Hello?

Our Prime Minister, Pak Lah has recently during the 9th Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) International Advisory Panel meeting said that a reform in the education system is a prerequisite for the MSC to “encourage creativity and risk-taking”. As reported by the Star on the 10th September, he also wanted the Malaysian students to “adopt a discovery-oriented outlook”.

The problem is, it appears that what our Prime Minister has envisioned is apparently not shared by his Minister of Higher Education. Dr Shafie has clearly decided that it is in the better interest of the country for academics and students to be restrained by a “Akujanji” leash. What does our Prime Minister actually need to do in order to ensure that his visions and messages actually trickle down to the members of his administration?

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