Sunday, November 13, 2005

Vice-Chancellor's position mostly "administrative"? Think again

It saddens me greatly to read that our Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Shafie Salleh, has once again shown his ignorance of what higher education is about when he proclaimed that a VC need not be an academic because it is primarily an "administrative job". Such a remark shows that he's totally clueless about what is wrong with the state of higher education because a VC's job is much more than just an "administrative" job. As a leader of a research university, one of the VC's most important tasks is to promote the growth of academic excellence in his or her university. Only a person who has had extensive experience within the academic setting would know how to effectively accomplish this objective.

Perhaps Dr. Shafie Salleh should have examined the profile of the presidents or vice-chancellors of some of the better known universities in the world to see if they had an academic background or not for this "administrative" position. Let me list a few of them from the US:

Lawrence Summers - President of Harvard, PhD. in Economics, MIT
Richard Brodhead - President of Duke, PhD. in English, Yale
Shirley Tilghman- President of Princeton, PhD. in Molecular Biology, Temple
Robert Dynes -President of the University of California system, PhD. in Physics, McMaster University

All the aforementioned presidents not only have PhDs but are also or have been former (and some current) professors in their respective fields before taking up their current positions. They know the academic practice in terms of teaching and research because they have been through it and excelled in it as well.

No doubt there are some exceptions to the rule, like the recently appointed President of the University of North Carolina system, Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, but these exceptions are exactly that, exceptions rather than the norm.

Let's look to the UK then.

Alison Richards - Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, PhD. in Primate Biology, University of London
John Hood - Vice-Chancllor of Oxford, PhD. in Engineering, University of Auckland
Richard Sykes - Rector of Imperical College, PhD. in Biochemistry, Bristol University

Again, there are exceptions including Howard Davies, the director of one of my alma maters, LSE, who was the chairman of the Financial Services Authority in the UK before becoming director of the LSE.

But even the exceptions to the rule have been appointed because of their impressive CVs and vast experience in other fields which are definitely not "administrative", as our Minister puts it. They were appointed to lead their respective universities, not just "administer" them.

How about universities in our region?

Gavin Brown - Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, PhD. in Mathematics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Shih Choon Fong - President of National University of Singapore, PhD. in Engineering, Harvard
Mark Wainwright - Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, PhD. in Chemical Engineering, McMaster University

I didn't have the time to do this but I bet if you compile a database of the the past 10 presidents / vice-chancellors / rectors / directors of the top 100 universities in the world (using either the THES rankings or the Shanghai Jiaotong rankings), you would find that over 95% of them would have PhDs and would have had academic experience of one sort or another. I wonder if this fact has ever crossed the mind of our Minister of Higher Education?

His accusation of academic 'in-breeding' only applies if this person has been stuck in our local varsity system all his or her life. If one examines the profile of the VCs and Presidents of the top notch universities, one can easily find that most of them would have graduated from a good university, taught in another, and then become VCs or Presidents of their current university. Almost all of them would have impressive CVs and experience of an academic as well as non-academic nature. This surely can't be a sign of the 'in-breeding' that Shafie alleges. Or is he only pointing the finger at the current crop of VCs in Malaysia, specifically the VC of UM?

I have a suspicion that Shafie might have taken a look around and concluded that there might be a possibility that no well-qualified candidate can be found within the local university system for the VC job and that he might have to find someone from the private sector or from the government. Who knows, he might even want to appoint a politician to the post!

I sincerely hope that Shafie doesn't think that the VC's job is a purely "administrative" one in the narrowest sense of the word. A VC's job is multifacted and challenging from many aspects. He has got to push for excellence in academic and research standards, he has got to figure out ways to obtain sufficient funding to achieve these objectives, he has to oversee a recruiting process that will bring in the best and brightest brains to teach in his university and so on (I use 'he' in a generic sense lest I be accused of being sexist).But the fact that he thinks the VC position is merely an "administrative" one leaves me to wonder if he really knows what higher education is about. I've been trying to google him to find our where he got his PhD / medical degree from. Surely he must have gained some insight into higher education from where he got his graduate degree? Can someone help me find this out? Or his "Dr." an honorary title?


Anonymous said...

Start bombarding his email telling him that. Currently we dont know what is on his mind yet. So maybe we should bombard his email to convince him doing something right.

Anonymous said...

I am a female Chinese Malaysian, living in the Washington DC area in the United States. I have read many of the letters that often talk about foreign countries when the writers have no real knowledge of actually living in those countries.

Many draw conclusions about what those countries are like after hearing it from someone else or by reading and hearing about them in the media or after four years in a college town in those countries.

I finished STPM with outstanding results from the prestigious St. George’s Girls School in Penang. Did I get a university place from the Malaysian government? Nothing. With near perfect scores, I had nothing, while my bumi friends were getting offers to go overseas.

Even those with 2As got into university. I was so depressed. I was my parents’ last hope for getting the family out of poverty and at 18, I thought I had failed my parents. Today, I understand it was the Malaysian government that had failed me and my family because of its discriminatory policies.

Fortunately, I did not give up and immediately did research at the Malaysian American Commission on Education Exchange (MACEE) to find a university in the US that would accept me and provide all the finances. My family and friends thought I was crazy, being the youngest of nine children of a very poor carpenter. Anything that required a fee was out of our reach.

Based on merit and my extracurricular activities of community service in secondary school, I received full tuition scholarship, work study, and grants to cover the four years at a highly competitive US university.

Often, I took 21 credits each semester, 15 credits each term while working 20 hours each week and maintaining a 3.5 CGPA. A couple of semesters, I also received division scholarships and worked as a TA (teaching assistant) on top of everything else.

For the work study, I worked as a custodian (yes, cleaning toilets), computer lab assistant, carpet layer, grounds keeping, librarian, painter, tour guide, etc. If you understand the US credit system, you will understand this is a heavy load.

Why did I do it? This is because I learnt as a young child from my parents that hard work is an opportunity, to give my best in everything, and to take pride in the work I do. I walked away with a double major and a minor with honours but most of all a great lesson in humility and a great respect for those who are forced to labour in so-called ‘blue collar’ positions.

Those of you who think you know all about Australia, US, or the West, think again. Unless you have really lived in these countries, i.e. paid taxes, paid a mortgage, taken part in elections, you do not understand the level of commitment and hard work it takes to be successful in these countries, not just for immigrants but for people who have lived here for generations.

These people are where they are today because of hard work. (Of course, I am not saying everyone in the US is hardworking. There is always the lazy lot which lives off of someone else’s hard work. Fortunately, they are the minority.)

Every single person, anywhere, should have the opportunity to succeed if they want to put in the effort and be accountable for their own actions. In the end, they should be able to reap what they sow.

It is bearable that opportunities are limited depending on how well-off financially one’s family is but when higher education opportunities are race-based, like it is in Malaysia; it is downright cruel for those who see education as the only way out of poverty.

If you want to say discrimination is here in the US, yes, of course it is. Can you name a country where it doesn’t happen? But let me tell you one thing - if you go looking for it, you will find it. But in Malaysia, you don’t have to go look for it because it seeks you out, slaps you in your face every which way you turn, and is sanctioned by law!

Here in the US, my children have the same opportunity to go to school and learn just like their black, white, and immigrant friends. At school, they eat the same food, play the same games, are taught the same classes and when they are 18, they will still have the same opportunities.

Why would I want to bring my children back to Malaysia? So they can suffer the state-sanctioned discrimination as the non-bumis have for over 30 years?

As for being a slave in the foreign country, I am a happy ’slave’ earning a good income as an IT project manager. I work five days a week; can talk bad about the president when I want to; argue about politics, race and religion openly; gather with more than 50 friends and family when I want (no permit needed) and I don’t worry about the police pulling me over because they say I ran the light when I didn’t.

How about you………….?

Anonymous said...

Humans have always migrated throughout history - ‘in search of better lives’. It is in our blood. Animals also do it. Some prefer to settle, others move on at whatever odds. The Chinese race is a good example of enthusiastic migrants. The Scots yet another.

Take the example of my own extended family. My father, who came from a poor family, emigrated together with his late father and late elder brother from Guangdong to Ipoh in 1923. The price they paid was separation from my late grandmother for a couple of years.

When reunited, the family expanded to a total of 10 children. Within one generation, eight of these children were able to go to university in Malaya (Singapore) and the UK. Three of these were Queen’s scholars and another, a Colombo Plan scholar. This was during the time of the British, with free and fair competition prevailing.

Within another generation, my family were all dispersed around the world. Today, we have family in the USA, UK, the Middle East and Australia. There are only two families left in Bolehland (Malaysia) from the previous generation - and they are retired.

In this generation, we have 13 doctors - all but one specialists - with one the holder of personal chair in a UK university. I am sure all of us can attribute our various successes to being at the right place at the right time and also by being open minded, diligent and persistent.

The argument has nothing to do with patriotism or race. We all love Malaysia as a country but we objected to the form and type of governance and the society it created during various times.

This spurred our migration and our decision to work and live away from the land we were born in. Some of us have even maintained our Malaysian citizenship in hope that things will change and we may be able to return. Nonetheless, we are thankful that we have not been hindered in our move across borders. We are also thankful that holding a Malaysian passport today will facilitate movement between many countries compared to say, 20 years ago.

In short, our leaving was our silent, peaceful protest. It will of course fall on deaf ears because the existing muhibah ruling class will only be interested in furthering their own wealth and well-being and not those of the rakyat. Fortunately for some of us, we could vote with our feet. So let it be.

We take a larger global view and see that we contribute to the world, not directly Bolehland. My question is: Have you considered that those who do not migrate are the ones who are truly enslaved?

And to the present government I ask: How do you think you could lure people like us back? (Hint: Better money would not work - as we get less where we all are.)

Anonymous said...


Wow, that’s quite an inspirational story……..

But can I ask, what is meaning of nation? What is meaning of freedom? And what is meaning of citizenship?

What is meaning of slavery? Etc.

I hope will read story with more care to get these answers!

Our legal system sucks, our government sucks, our sport sucks, the people sucks too……

Is there anything about Malaysia that doesn’t suck?

That’s why I sent my son to study oversea. I want him to learn the culture of other people not just the standard of study in this country.

Any welcome to Malaysia - the only country in the world (another world record) where majority needs the protection from minority.

Actually we have a very good country.

We have a very good people, multi cultured, multi racial, we live very happily long long time ago even before independence.

But after Umno taking over the country, everything, many things change!

The protectionism and bumi special rights are the roots to our today problems.

I myself feel very sad to see what is happening in Malaysia. The country is getting sick, very sick!

I was in the same situation way back in 1980s. My only choice was to go to Australia. I am happy I did. Now I can retire in any country I want, including Malaysia. If I had been accepted in the Malaysian university, I would have less than a fifth of what I have now.

Hoping some miracles will happen in future……….

Anonymous said...

Well, I worked in a few different countries and I have met some transplanted or former Malaysians (Chinese or Indian and even mixed blood). Almost all of them narrated the same treatment they received while they were in Malaysia, when I asked them why they wanted to leave the beautiful country Malaysia.

I have talked to an automotive engineer in Germany (ex-Malaysian married to a German); I met a mining engineer formerly from Ipoh who now lives in Canada; I met a petroleum engineer in Australia who is specialized in fracture stimulation (whatever that is);

I met a spacecraft engineer in Houston who has nothing good to say about Malaysia……….many more people with great talents and expertise who have given up Malaysian citizenships……….most interesting was a malay women who married to an American geologist……….she did not repay her RM90000 Mara loan and do not want to return to Malaysia.

So……….now I am in Malaysia for a year and I realized what those people told me about……….Most of what they said I can now sympathies and understand the situation.

They never ever regret the choice make to give up Malaysian citizenships. Being a non-malay is a second or third class citizen in this country.

My job here is not to change the political situation……….I am just saying what I come across……….

Anonymous said...

There are push and pull factors involved. An emigrant is both trying to escape something and advance towards another thing at the same time. For instance, a scientist who cannot flourish in his own country will want to go somewhere where his expertise is appreciated.

Perhaps he finds the anti-intellectualism in his milieu too stifling (unfortunately, this is very true in Malaysia), or the government of the day too partial when it comes to resource allocation.

You see, the major problem with a not insignificant number of Malaysians is that there is a lot of false pride around. This is a vestige of Mahathirianism. Small achievements are overblown so as to build up national pride. It’s Malaysia Boleh this and Malaysia Boleh that.

Anyway, I say cheer the emigrants on. Let people do what they want with their lives - they should not be beholden to the country. Do not blame their lack of patriotism for not staying - patriotism is poor persuasion.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming,

The newspapaer quoted the Minister of Education as saying that the VC duties are "mostly administrative as opposed to academic," which is abit different from what you are trying to say which is the "VC position is merely an "administrative" one."

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...


Yes, Kian Ming concurs in the title, however err in the end by saying the "VC position is merely an "administrative" one." "Mostly" and "merely" has different connotations.

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...

The Minister is entitled to his opinion, and his own interpretation to justify the practice in our IPTAs.

As usual... we live in our own world...

Has our dear minister with Ph.D ever heard of the word "international best practice" ???

As an aspiring nation who wants to attain developed status by 2020 or faster, we should adpot best practice in all fields to give ourselves an upper hand to qualify
for such prestigious league!

Dont short-changed ourselves with your narrow definition!!

We are a small nation in the gulf of open economy. Never ever forget that!

Anonymous said...

" Are you guys optimistic that the situation in Malaysia will change for the better?"

HELL NO. It is stagnant and it is getting worse.

John Lee said...

Looking at the opposition, though, you have to admit they have to take some of the blame too. PAS and its theocracy will never be acceptable to non-Muslims. PKR and Anwar are not trusted by many, and Anwar's campaigning for PAS has done nothing to play down this image. The DAP has a huge PR problem because of the way they act in Parliament and their focus on issues only the bourgeouis have time to take interest in - the public never hears about them lambasting the government for, say, terrible roads all over the country. The DAP never proposes any alternative policies in Parliament, giving BN the opportunity to blame the DAP for never proposing an alternative. The DAP is also seen as racist, even by moderate Malays (trust me - I know a lot of them). As such, WE HAVE NO CHOICE. Those few of us here might vote for the DAP, but few else will. The only choice is to convince people to vote for "none of the above". Oh, wait, we don't have that option either. Then we ought to create it, IMO. Just add a box to the ballot and write next to it "Saya tidak memilih mana-mana calon" or something like that. It'll be a spoilt vote, but many spoilt votes are better than a BN landslide. Honestly, there's no practical way to improve the political situation here.

Anonymous said...

These are the kinds of minds that allow fascism to take place and there is no question that what is happening here is no less than educational fascism. Shafie is fighting for his political life and his answer is to make a stupid comment like this. It appears he needs the VC to keep his job thereby proving that he has to go. Which boss allows his underlings to dictate terms to him?

Howsy said...

Quote: "Who knows, he might even want to appoint a politician to the post!"
Exactly what I blogged about: 'Jerai MP Badruddin to be future UM's Vice-Chancellor?' He might as well employ him for being 'the most note-worthy outstanding MP in Malaysian Parliament.'

Anonymous said...

first and foremost as a malay i don't exactly know how you feel and to make situation worst i have been schooling in an "all-bumi-school" for all my school life[dont blame me ok.its my parents decision]. But it does not make me an "ultra malay" or a "nationalist" or what so ever you people call. I've seen what you people have gone through, by the news or my friends complaining at me. But year after year i see changes. For example, my school, Mara Junior Science College does not accept non-bumis before this but starting from the year 2000, the school has started taking intakes from non-bumis so that they can get the same opportunity as the bumis to excel academically and get the opportunity to get scholarships from the government. Besides that the Malaysian Matriculation has also take intakes from non-bumis. Although some of you might think i'm backing up the bumis but i'm not taking sides at all.
What i'm highlighting here is that CHANGES DON'T HAPPEN DRASTICALLY!
To make things better we have to do it bit by bit so that it won't hurt any sides. Furthermore you cannot continue blaming the government as they have tried their best to improve the condition of every of their citizens regardless of RACE AND RELIGION as they have to make sure that the bumis and non-bumis can live harmoniously. So why you people keep blaming the government? Their cabinet does not consist "all bumis" minister! They have also non-bumis cabinet minister as well. So let just now stop pointing figures and keep moving on and hoping that our country will be more developed and the people can live harmoniously under one roof and so day there are no gap between races in our country!!.

p.s: i'm glad that all of you who have take up another citizenship and leave the country for good as we MALAYSIANS does not need people like you here! think about it yourself why?:). good bye.

stressfulgirl said...

can i know how can i apply to study in USA through Malaysian American Commission on Education Exchange (MACEE)?
i hope i can apply for it.who can really help me?pls tell me the detail for MACEE.pls.and thanks.