Saturday, February 25, 2006

Recruitment Opportunities for Local Varsities

Both Tony and I have highlighted, here and here, that our local universities have expressed the desire to recruit more lecturers from overseas. Many have been skeptical as to why good quality academics would want to come to teach in Malaysian universities which are poorly resourced and vastly underfunded compared to the top universities in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK. Let me propose one reason why academics who have been trained overseas, but more specifically in the US, would want to teach and conduct research in Malaysia - the shoddy treatment which non-American academics have been subjected to by the immigration authorities in the US.

I was alerted to the case of a Stanford Malaysian doctoral student, Rahinah Ibrahim, by a posting on the Malaysia Forum newsgroup. Here's a portion of the newspaper report which highlighted her case:

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Rahinah Ibrahim, a Stanford University doctoral candidate, said she was at San Francisco International Airport last year ready to fly to her homeland of Malaysia for a conference. Then she was told her name was on the government's terrorist no-fly list. Then she was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car. Then she was told it was all a mistake and her name was off the list. But the next day she was told again her name was on the no-fly list.
When she finally got to Malaysia and tried to return to finish her doctorate, she was told the U.S. Embassy had pulled her visa. She hasn't been back since. But she's fighting back from afar.

I know some of the folks at the US Embassy in KL through work and also through my Fulbright scholarship application and they are good people with the good intention of building strong ties between the Malaysian government and the US government but also between Malaysians and Americans more generally. I'm sure they do not welcome negative publicity from such cases like Kak Rahinah's. But I think they are mostly powerless to deal with such cases because the creation of such 'black lists' is in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security of which the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) department is part of.

I'm sure that Kak Rahinah's case is not the first time (or the last time) something like this has happend to an academic, especially one who happens to be Muslim and / or is from a Muslim country. When I first came to the US on my J1 i.e. Fulbright sponsored visa, I was asked to go and wait in a holding room together with a bunch of other people who were suspected of wanting to illegally immigrate to the US. I wasn't given any indication how long the wait was going to be (I almost missed by connecting flight because of this) and was made to feel like an illegal immigrant (even though I was being sponsored by a US-federal government scholarship).

In 2004, renowned Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, who was appointed to the position of Professor of Islamic Studies at Notre Dame, had his work visa rejected under the guise of the US Patriot Act. He subsequently resigned from his position at Notre Dame.

I'm sure that there have been many other reputable scholars in various fields who have had their work visa to the US rejected because of 'security' reasons. I know that this kind of uncertainty has dissuaded some students from countries like China to apply to do their undergraduate and graduate studies in the US and many of then have subsequently applied to go to countries like the UK and Australia instead.

I'm not criticizing the role of the US universities in these kinds of episodes. Indeed, many of the US universities are working hard to ensure a more open-minded visa policy for scholars and students so that they can continue to attract the best brains from all over the world. The Department of Homeland Security obviously has other priorities in mind when it comes to dealing with the same set of scholars and potential students.

Here is an opportunity for Malaysian universities to step in. They can step up their recruitment efforts among Malaysian PhD students in the US who have received this kind of shoddy treatment in the past and are fearful of future backlashes against citizens from Muslim countries. They can also step up their recruitment efforts among the bright non-Malaysian academics in the US or in other Western countries who feel that Muslims are somehow second class citizens and / or have been subjected to mistreatment from the authorities in these countries.

I'm sure that there are very bright scholars out there (especially here in the US) who would consider coming to teach in Malaysia because of fears of alientation in the US and in other Western countries. Here's where Malaysia has some comparative advantage. These scholars don't necessarily have to be of the 'Anglo-Saxon stock'. They could be from India or the Middle East or second and third generation immigrants living in Europe, Australia and / or the US.

The first challenge is to attract these scholars (Malaysian and non-Malaysian) to come (or come back) to our shores. The second challenge is to retain them within the system. The first challenge might not be that difficult to overcome, given the proper incentives. It is the second challenge that requires longer term and structurally more painful changes to overcome.


Anonymous said...

The "attraction" factor is unfortunately strongly coupled with the "retention" factor.

Golf Afflicted said...

Kian Ming has highlighted in an email to friends earlier, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that I should get educated about the benefits of an American education at the top American universities (which I must say, I know little of), instead of being stuck in the 18th century with Oxbridge education. :-)

I'd just like to add here a very personal (not so relevant) point of view that I will not step into American soil for whatsoever reasons (if I can help it) because of the very reasons Kian Ming has pointed out above.

The type of wanton discrimination and treatment faced by Muslims in America smacks of total hypocrisy in the American concept of democracy, justice and equality. I feel pained and angry every time I hear stories like the ones above and they just hardens my resolve to swear off as much American products as possible (got to take less McDs).

Malaysia has its own set of discrimination problems but I don't see policies extreme like that in the States, and at least it's my home and its for me to do something about it. But for a country who claims to be the saint of the world and preaching rights and justice to all other countries to be practising the total reverse is just downright disgusting in my opinion.

I have the utmost respect for the top American educational institutions but regrettably, I would not personally step foot there with the type of administration that is currently in place.

OK, I shut up now. :-)

Anonymous said...

if u look at it, the US doesn't have much choice either. national security is a key priority especially so after the 9/11 attacks. human errors such as in the "black lists" scenario are bound to happen, millions go in and out of the country every day. it's almost impossible to properly handle screening without screwing it up. that said, i believe that the best way is for the US to improve its DHS and INS departments. asking potentially bright scholars and academicians to be turned off from facing such a possible scenario is akin to simply chikening out. these guys do what they do and they love what they do. and unfortunately, the US and other western countries are the only ones that have the resources and proper academic culture to support them. i honestly don't see our country being able to support such academicians even if the gov decides to spend millions to rope them in. well at least not in our generation, hopefully the next.

Anonymous said...

While the US may have certain discriminating policies ( face it, which country doesnt) and xenophobic issues, I still do not think that Malaysia is in a position to tap into those people who receive shoddy treatment which non-American academics have been subjected to by the immigration authorities in the US.

One must realise that such policies exist in bolehland too. Coupled with the fact that PhD holders receive RM 3300 as a starting pay as opposed to across the Causeway (S$10 000 / RM22000) , the political / racial issues directly associated with universities, higher powers' interference.. brainwashing ... your certain raced head of departments/seniors STEALING your research work and posting it as THEIR OWN ( too much of such cases around, search it if you dont believe).... hmm.. yea.. we might have a chance..

Anonymous said...

Recruiting talented people is not as simple and one-dimension as stated in the blog.

For the individuals concerned, we have to provide a reasonably good salary, a stimulating working environment with good work ethics and culture, excellent administrative and technical support systems, a pleasant accommodation environment and recreation facility, first-world infrastructure maintained by people with first-world mentality, a fair political system, etc.

Furthermore, for the families of the individuals concerned, we have to provide excellent education opportunity, good medical support, safe housing, stimulating recreation, etc.

So, to attract talented people, even those who were not well treated in the US, we have to look into the holistic big picture and consider multi-dimensions.

Unfortunately at this moment our system is too far from being competitive and fair to attract talented people to come here to stay and work. For one simple reason, under the current NEP and racial practice, why would they come here for their children to be discriminated against even in the fundamental rights of an equitable education?

Often we talk nonsense when we cannot solve the most damaging bottlenecks existing in our nation! Without overcoming them, all other actions fail!

Anonymous said...


Would you step foot into the U.K? Did they not support the invasion of Iraq? Do they also not engaged in racial profiling of muslim suspect with detention?

Why do you think Lee Kuan Yew sent his children to the USA to do their Postgraduate education.

-- Old Man

Dilip Mutum said...

There are a lot of lecturer's from other delveoping countires who wouold be more than happy to come and work in Malaysia. I know several of them are really doing well in the US, UK and Australia.

However, I know of several who had stayed in Malaysia for years and were forced to move to other countries because their chances of settling down in Malaysia (by obtaining a PR) is almost impossible.

Someone joked that it is easier for a taxi driver or cleaner to obtain a PR than a professiona. I wonder how true that statement is.

Anonymous said...

The policies that you have mentioned are immigration/security policies of which the goal of the policy makers is to have 0 occurence of false positives ( not flagging a real terrorist ). they don't really care about false negatives, since their jobs will not be on the line if that happens.

that said, they are also fighting with OTHER institutions within the US who don't see the point of their excess.

talking about taking advantage of these problems to attract malaysian phds to malaysia is kind of like someone marrying a whore after they found out that their fiancee wasn't a virgin. there are more of the same problems + plenty others.