Wednesday, November 02, 2005

UM needs a strategic vision and well-defined goals to achieve that vision

One of the many problems inflicting public officials in our country is that they are often reactive, not proactive. UM’s VC is an especially good recent example of this. He reacted when the 2004 THES rankings came out last year by ordering multitudes of posters hailing the fact that UM was one of the top 100 universities in the world. He reacted again recently when this year’s THES rankings came out showing that UM’s ranking had slipped to 169 by saying that he was not too worried.

The sad fact is that many among the Malaysian public have lost confidence in the quality of our public universities. What is sadder still is the fact that we don’t see how UM will pull itself out of its continual decline into the ranks of mediocrity that is exemplified by the likes of the VC.

As the leader of the leading public university in Malaysia, the VC has to set the strategic vision for the university backed up by well-defined goals and targets that will guide the university towards that vision. Indeed, this is what UM’s website had to say about the mission of the VC:

“To provide strategic leadership and facilitate learning in the pursuit of knowledge and human development through well-designed and quality programmes, research activities and consultancy services”

My questions are these: Does the VC have a strategic vision for the university and does he know how to get there?

Most world class universities have a corporate planning department that helps the VC chart a course for the university in the near term by coming up with 5 year plans. I have my doubts that the VC even has a 5 year plan since taking up his position in April, 2003. If he has, he should certainly make available a copy for the public through his UM website, which is rather sad looking and sparsely populated.

Running a university is already a very complicated task. The job is made even harder when someone like the VC does not have a clear idea of how he’s going to take the university to the next level of excellence. Beyond mere platitudes, I cannot recall when and if the VC has identified clear goals for UM to reach as part of his larger strategic vision.

Given that UM is nowhere near Harvard or Cambridge or even NUS or the University of Tokyo in terms of funding, teaching resources and the like, these goals do not need to be very ambitious. Indeed, while I believe that the UM needs a drastic overhaul if it is to have any chance of competing against the best Asian universities (forget about touching the best universities in the US and UK), I think there is some low-hanging fruit which can be plucked. If even these relatively easy goals are not defined and then achieved, it is unlikely that the larger ones will have any chance of success.

Let me just list a few:

a) Set targets for each department to ensure that a minimum % of its lecturers are qualified up to the PhD level and raise these targets over time. It shocks me that a university that ranks in the Top 200 universities in the world still has many departments were more than 50% of its lecturing staff don’t even have a PhD. This has something to do with the fact that UM sponsors many of its lecturers to do their PhDs overseas and then return to teach at the UM after completion but this churning cannot go on forever. I have heard of situations where lecturers are only sent off to do their PhDs in their mid to late 30s after lecturing at the university for 5 to 10 years. In any of the major state universities in the US, it would be inconceivable that someone could be a full-time lecturer without having received a PhD.
b) Set targets for each department to achieve a desired ratio of professors to associate professors to junior faculty (senior lecturers / assistant professors and below). Many lecturers are promoted to the associate professor level and stay there until retirement. While some of this could be due to non-academic factors (such as race and having the wrong ‘politics’), much of it can be attributed to the fact that there is no pressure to produce enough good work to be promoted to full professor.
c) Base promotions on objective academic measures such as publication of books and articles in journals giving higher weightage to publications that are of a higher repute and books which receive critical acclaim. Do not base promotions purely on ‘administrative duties or contributions’ which is often a buzzword for sucking up and politicking.

I am assuming that this can be done without resorting to underhanded tactics such as decreasing the requirements to obtain a promotion to associate or full professorship.
A university’s greatest assets are its faculty members. If faculty is not given incentives to perform and disincentives if they do not perform, it is hard to see how these assets can be developed and grown over time. And I haven’t even talked about efforts to recruit renowned professors from the region and beyond. Let’s start with the low hanging fruit first. If even these cannot be plucked, then we can only watch while UM slips further and further down the ranks of the mediocre. The sad reality is that nothing in the behavior of the current VC shows that firstly, he’s capable of identifying such low-hanging fruit and secondly, that he’s capable of plucking them even if they have been identified.


Anonymous said...

It is a tall order for a political outfit like UM to adopt all the strategic plans suggested. The UM VC runs the place as if it is his little fiefdom. In fact he considers himeself to be the Sultan of UM. He has directed all faculties to hang his portrait everywhere. He takes pride in strutting around in his funny navy uniform. At other times he will ask the Reserve officers Training Unit to parade and inspect them. He harbours grand visions of grandeur. He only nurtures half witted dimwits who will shower praises upon him. Excellent academics who speak their mind or those who challenge his autocratic rule are immediately dealt with (contract not extended, removed from administrative posts etc.). Since the Senate members are selected by him, he selects only the 'yes men'and the stupid Senate ends up making ridiculous decisions like giving honorary doctorates Emeritus professors to countless mediocre academics under the direction of the dictator.

Take the example of the appointment of Masters of the Residential Colleges to illustrate my point. According the former VC, the Masters of these colleges should have excellent academic credentials since the students will be looking up to them as their role models. When the present VC took over, he has been appointing academic disasters who in other universities would have been kicked out for failing their studies. Wirakarnain Sani, Master of 9th College has spent 8 years doing his PhD and exhausted his term but still no Ph.D, Anurddin bin Abdul Ghani was sent to do his Ph.D in UK but failed and is now Master of 12th College; Bazrul, Master of Sek. 17 College is another failure who is taking ages to do his Ph.D. Abdul Jalil, Jamaluddin Tubah are Masters of colleges but only have a Masters degree. These academic failures know that their survival in the university depends on the continuance of Hashim Yaacob and they spend their time and money in holding clandestine meetings to prop up the present VC by sending delegations to see various ministers.

Examples of his latest ridiculous appointments are: Wirakarnain Sani who has not been able to complete his PhD even after 8 years; is appointed a permanent lecturer without having to go through normal procedure. Bazrul, another PhD candidate who has been at it for many years. He is trying to appoint Kamariah Haron who has given up PhD after 10 years. How about the suspect appointments of Kalam Azad Abu Bakar, Eduardo MarusinMohd Hairolnezam Khamis, Mahaganapathy Dass @ Paskaradass, Halmi Rajin, Mahadzir Mat Isa and Hirman Awang?

The promotion exercise is done as if he is the King bestowing datukships. The promotion board consists of his spineless sidekicks who dare not oppose him. Therefore candidates who are not fit to be promoted are promoted. He brought in his wife from UKM because she could not not be promoted there after many years. I am sure he will fix the promotion exercise so that she will be promoted. He promotes underachievers like Rom Tamjis who took two attempts to do his Ph.D to become the Dean of Engineering. I am told that the Peer Assesors at Engineering recommended that he be not even shortlisted for promotion.

Therefore, the only way to save UM is to remove the present megalomaniac VC and replace him with a sane qualified academic immediately.

Jerng said...

on an indulgent tangent, this came out of china...

Anonymous said...

Frankly, why the hue and cry about the bad standard of UM when it is an open knowledge that UM has dug its own grave and is doomed to decline ever since UM practised the NEP in mid 1970? For more than 30 years, every aspect of UM’s actions is largely bumiputra-oriented and anyone who has commonsense would predict that UM will eventually be a glorified institution of higher learning filled largely with incompetent people producing substandard graduates. The current VC is definitely a megalomaniac (Note: He commanded others to address him as Dato’ Professor rather than the usual Professor Dato’!) who thought he was a god-sent academic to propel UM to greater height. Visit this website to read about the VC’s Syarahan Sri Perdana, arrogantly entitled “Ke mana Universiti Malaya Hendak Kubawa – Taking The University By The Hand”. He talked unashamedly about excellence, yet he appointed many poor quality lecturers and administration staff (many of whom are failures), as correctly pointed out by ‘Anonymous’. In fact, the VC should be referred to ACA for the abuse of his position and total waste of the taxpayers’ money for the cold-blooded murder of academic standard of UM. By appointing people like Wirakarnain Sani, who has not been able to complete his PhD, as a lecturer at the Faculty of Science, the VC has pawned the intellectual future of our future generation to his whim and fancy. How can an incompetent lecturer teach and train our future generation of students? Worse if the incompetent lecturer teaches the wrong knowledge to them! And the VC honestly believes that the ranking of UM should be better, what a joke! Pray cry for UM!

Anonymous said...

Pls read this piece of news:

Mr Wirakarnain was brought to UM tribunal court on charge of embezzling funds from the college.

Not only an academic failure, but also a morally unaccountable person. Why does UM keep such people in its rank?