Saturday, March 11, 2006

More Azmi Sharoms Please

You know what? I'm a little kinda surprised that Associate Professor Azmi Sharom has not had his behind kicked out of Universiti Malaya (UM). :) Even more “shocking” is that they haven't found a replacement for him as the Deputy Dean of Law Faculty at the university. He really must have some guardian angel looking after him. Otherwise I wouldn't think that the world-class honourable vice-chancellor, Datuk Kapten Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob (Multi-Gold medalist at some trade fair in Geneva) has not found an excuse to banish Azmi to the private sector?

Readers may remember an article in published in the Sun during the peak of the UM rankings debacle, also blogged here, where Azmi made little attempts to hide his disdain of the university's administration with his typical colourful language and dry humour.
Now that UM is at 169, the same thing should be done instead of the hopelessly silly PR exercises of spin doctoring which has the appearance of the self same peacock waving its moulted feathers in desperation.
Well, Associate Professor Azmi is at it again. This time he wrote an open letter to our new (and hopefully much improved) Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mohamad Mustapa (more affectionately known as Tok Pa).

Azmi pleaded with Tok Pa to take steps to right the many wrongs in our universities. He highlighted several issues which stands in the way of making our universities truly “world-class” as opposed to Datuk Kapten Professor Dr Hashim “world-class”. He highlighted 4 simple points:
  • Universities are not hampers
Universities are not rewards to be handed out. It has happened in Terengganu and the same has been promised to Kelantan. “Vote for us and we will give you a university.” This may make political sense, but it does not make any academic sense.
  • Universities are not fast-food joints
They should instead be high-class restaurants. Universities have to be elitist in order to produce quality research and graduates. An elitist university means that only the best candidates are taken in as students and only the best staff are hired. Classes and exams can then be pitched at a higher standard.

Furthermore, the resulting smaller student numbers mean seminars and tutorials can be truly conducive to discussions, and lecturers will have less of a teaching burden in order to concentrate on research. This is not to say that higher education as a whole must be elitist. There are other forms of higher education institutions that can cater to school leavers who don’t make the cut, such as polytechnics and community colleges.
This point I like, although I must say, I'm not a fan of high-class restaurants.
  • If you love your universities, you must set them free
You must be aware of the University and University Colleges Act – that wonderful piece of legislation designed to ensure that university students are little more than secondary school pupils. You may not be aware, however, of the Statutory Bodies Discipline and Surcharge Act which affects academics who are the employees of statutory bodies.

According to this law, we can’t say anything for or against government policy without getting ministerial permission first. The simple fact of the matter is that universities should first and foremost be the birthplace of ideas and original thought, discussion and debate, and this can’t be achieved with such laws hung around our necks.
  • Universities need Mandelas
If there is one thing that Malaysian universities need, it is good leadership. And by a good leader, I mean a Vice-Chancellor who has the qualities of an outstanding intellectual, manager and diplomat, who can ensure that academic principles are paramount, not political expediency.

That promotions are given based on merit, not patronage. That students are treated like adults, not children. And finally, that the university is run on the highest ideals of civilisation and intellectualism, not self-aggrandisement and base toadying.
“Self-aggrandisement and base toadying” - he can't be referring to his vice-chancellor right? No, no, Assoc Prof Azmi can't be that dumb to shoot himself in the foot! Oh, and before he signed off, he made one additional request:
Why don’t you just leave the day-to-day running of the universities in the hands of the universities? I bet the Ministry has enough on its plate without having to decide about trivial things like professorial promotions and the approving of leave for academics to go to conferences and holidays overseas.
Tok Pa, are you listening? Don't forget to also read his earlier article. Plenty of useful pointers there.

It's quite unbelievable that the university authorities as well as the powers that be can tolerate a reasoned, moderate, rational, vocal, even-tempered and academically passionate persona like Associate Professor Azmi Sharom in university campuses. Too bad the stem-cell cloning research thingie in South Korea didn't turn out to be what it was. Otherwise, we could just have put Assoc Prof Azmi into the duplication process :).


Anonymous said...

Dear Tony,

Thanks for your support. I just want to make one quick point. In fairness to UM, I have not faced any sort of censure or pressure. I am not toadying for favour here, just want to give you the full picture. It is, after all my role as an academic to do just that!

Anonymous said...

Wow, the man himself >Azmi Shahrom < replys!!!!
It is true that students concern does not extend beyond Akademi Fantasia , motorcycle sportrims and all that.
(It's so true as I am in a Public U myself, about the 3 flat bedroom, well.. I'll settle for a double storey-semi D)
Hey! why not make a public poll out of it:
type BPA send to 36367:
How to make world class universities?:
A.Sack politician cum lecturers
B.mmm………any suggestions? heh heh

Anonymous said...

Now if only we have more Azmi Shahrom and if only Tok Pa listens and if only the gvernment has the guts to act

Anonymous said...

"Why don’t you just leave the day-to-day running of the universities in the hands of the universities? I bet the Ministry has enough on its plate without having to decide about trivial things like professorial promotions and the approving of leave for academics to go to conferences and holidays overseas..."

Instead of a place for evaporating new springs of idea, it would be fair to say, from bystander point of view, that our local universities have layers of bucreaucracy..

Kian Ming, I think you have suggested earlier that our local uni to take in academics with foreign PhDs to increase the numbers of public u lecturers with PhD degrees...

Well, I have a friend (with foregin PhD) was told to wait
for three months and more pending the resuls of formal interview.

Given this type of treatment, I think my friend is going to our down south neighbour..

There you go, another case of brain drain..

Some people just take their own sweet time to make decision..

You want know what my ex-boss used to pre-warn us (for taking our sweet time to make decision), 'if I found you doing that, you will be fired'.

Unrelated it may seems, now we know why land office needs to take years to split a master title into strata tiles..

Well, as at this point of time, two of the public uni of our down south neighbours are within the top 50 range in the THES ranking..
Where are we?

But if every action needs months for a decision, vision 2020 will be just a dream.

It hurts to say that!

I agree with you, Dr Azmi Sharom,

I rest my case.

"the thing speaks for itself."

Anonymous said...

C. Practise meritocracy
D. Practise meriocracy
E. Practise Meritocracy

Anonymous said...

well...thanks to information highway..

There you go..

the info on VC of Oxford.

Alcuin Bramerton said...

Perhaps Azmi Shahrom knows something about Hashim Yaakob which the latter doesn't want to be exposed.

Anonymous said...

It is not appropriate for Assoc. Prof. Azmi to expose his Honourable VC. What we need is more lecturers, professors and academicians to respond and speak-up to what is really going on at our premier university. Expose the mal-practices and corruption, the discriminatory policies, the ineffiency of services, the censorships, etc.

The people from within have to step-up and put pressure to the management. BUT unfortunately, the majority of such people (students, academicians, and staff) are themselves part of the "system." Simply put, they are happy with what they have. Who cares if UM's reputation goes down the drain? They're not to suffer. They'll still get paid the same, work the same hours, butt-lick the same people.

Anonymous said...

more comments in Mr Lim Kit Siang blog

Anonymous said...

All public university lecturers are gagged to speak publicly - have to sign 'Akujanji' and under OSA, UUCA, etc.

Many ongoing wrong and anti-academic things can be exposed by academic staff members, but unless one has political patronage or has an alternative career to keep one's family going, it is suicidal to speak out. The whole weight of the system will crush the individual. The university authority knows its trump card.

"Why don’t you just leave the day-to-day running of the universities in the hands of the universities?" - good and bad suggestion. On paper this works well if the universities and the higher education ministry are run by people of integrity. However, if we have people of no integrity running the universities and the higher education ministry, it does not matter whether the day-to-day running of the universities is in the hands of the universities or in the hands of the universities and the ministry.

Look at the results of the recent Associate Professor (AP) to Professor promotion exercise at Universiti Malaya. The Kepten VC’s wife was promoted. Was the promotion in order? She served for many years at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and for some strange reason left UKM to become a staff at UM when her husband became the VC of UM. She has less than 3 years of service at UM. What outstanding contributions has she made to UM in terms of teaching (undergraduate and graduate), supervision (undergraduate and graduate), research, publication, and service, in the short time that she is at UM, to deserve this fast-track promotion to Professor?

Was this promotion proper? Is this a case of kang kong professor that Ungku Aziz once said? Is this an abuse of power? Nepotism? When an AP is promoted to a professor, there is a substantial increase in monthly salary, paid for from taxpayers’ contributions. When the person retires, the person receives a higher pension for life. We are talking about a lot of public money. Recently our PM and DPM demanded that we all spend our money wisely as a result of the 30 sen per litre increase in our fuel charge and promised that the government would also get all its departments to spend their money wisely.

In this case, if an AP is undeservedly and improperly promoted to a professor, the university authority has breached the trust of the people and is wasting precious taxpayers’ money. A wanton waste of taxpayers’ money deserves to be investigated by the anticorruption agency.

Anonymous said...

A good academician like Azmi shouldnt be afraid of anything. If the VC fired him, that will create more unrest. Heard from my friend in UM Law School, he is well respected by the students :) We are in dire need of more people like Azmi who dare to voice his opinion!

Anonymous said...


Your writing reminds me of the story I read during Nazi regime..

People are dare to speak out because 'gestapo' could be just around the corner..

Some wrong word from the mouth would mean road to "concentration camp"..

May be Aung san Su Kyi could tell you more in her book "Freedom from Fear" .. People are dare to speak because of Junta Regime..

"...All public university lecturers are gagged to speak publicly - have to sign 'Akujanji' and under OSA, UUCA, etc..." seems our Bolehland also has this type of alternate form of

Mmm...road to Kamunting.. just could not imagine!

I wonder where is the wisdom, "dont work for me, but work with me" and "tell me the truth"..

We are telling you the truth, but we dont your readiness to listen..

but whether you like or not, the wave of globalization is swirling..

Dont be like the frog in the warm water..

Else, the moment you realize...half of your body has been cooked..

Together we stand
Pls put national interest first..



Anonymous said...


"People are NOT dare to speak out.."

"People are NOT dare to speak because of Junta Regime.."

Anonymous said...

Yes, we are in a society not too different from the Nazi regime.

In UM, there are gestapos and red guards who sell their souls to the authority there, spy on others, and report others to their boss.

Look around UM and you will see academically unqualified young individuals (academic failures) appointed as lecturers with the blessing of the Kepten VC. Many of them also hold administrative positions, like residential college masters and fellows. These are the untouchables!

Why are they appointed by the Kepten VC?

Anonymous said...

I become the VC, I spy, I remain the VC forever

Anonymous said...

Well done Azmi. It takes guts to tell the truth about the dismal state of our public universities. The climate of fear pervading UM is similar to that of the Japanese era where any conversation at any place within the university will immediately reach the VC. Please read Emeritus Professor Abu Bakar Hamid's article in Massa and Harakah. He says that the VCs should replace the Special Branch Dirctors since their spy network is more efficient. It is obvious why our students and lecturers lack the ability to argue sensibly and communicate effectively.I disagree with Azmi on his suggestion that promotions should be handled by the university. You would be shocked by what goes on during the promotion exercises. It is a one man show. How would you explain the promotion of one of the present Deans who was not even shortlisted by the Peer Review Committee? There are numerous cases of appointments which would shock the Ministry guys to death. How would you explain appointment of an academically bankrupt Ph D candidate who is still struggling to finish after 10 years to the post of a lecturer? Unless Mustapha forgoes his Kelantanese clannishness and looks beyond, UM is on its way to becoming an intellectual vacuum(excepting few pockets containing people like Azmi). The present VC's tenure is coming to an end on March 31-another two weeks! Will the new Minister come across as someone who means business or will he be the person who people take him to be: someone gentle but does not like to rock the boat.

John Lee said...

Meritocracy? Bah. My father, a PhD-holder from the University of Tokyo, resigned from NTU in Singapore to come home. When he applied to UKM, the head of department gave him an eager informal acceptance. Then the acceptance was ditarik balik because some higher-ups decided they would prefer a Bumi lecturer (my father was told this with a straight face from the university official). Until we look beyond race and ass-kissing, forget about Wawasan 2020. Dr. Azmi Sharom is right on.

Anonymous said...

My two cents after some years observing our higher education systems.
1. For university to manage their own institution fully, then they need to be financially independent.Look at Oxford, Havard, MIT etc. Look also at our private universities. They can are running their own institution and even have their own internal politics. Hack, some of them don't even higher any bumiputera researchers.As long as MOHE & MOF is providing financial aid to these university, they'll forever will be influencial in the running of the university. Now the question remain, can the public university run themselve if MOHE pull the plug on the financial aid..

2. We have I think about 16,000 Professors & Assoc Professors in Malaysia from the Public Universities. How many quality and commercially viable researches being produced? Better still, how many of those very good researches/papers is not being marketed/commercialised just because the researchers are not aligning themselves politically or the correct political camp internally & nationally? While we at the subject, how many researchers from our private universities managed to produce world class researches and become millionaire from their bright ideas?

3. Does by having the best brains, the best facilities, best leaders etc will ensure the education institution excel? How many Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard or NTU or Tokyo Univ researchers are really world class genius? 5% 10% 20% 100%? Think about it, what if UM has all the best brains, the best students, the best facilities,best financial standing etc, what would UM become? I'll say they'll become like Vatican - a country on their own and probably busy trying to manage their best resources ignoring the rest of the world. By the 10th year probably that UM country will be invaded by some not so smart people with not so smart facilities.... :)

Anyway, back to the original point, definately we need people like Assc Prof Azmi Sharom but we also need dump people like me to do all the work. We we need now is a charismatic leaders to pull all these resources together to work on the common good for the benefit of all human kind. Unfortunately in history of the world again, these people only comes once a awhile. And when they come, they managed to leave a long lasting legacy called religion!!!!! Even these people can't convinced all the 6 billion people in the world to follow them.... coz someone somewhere will always think that they are smarter than these guys... :)

Anonymous said...

The whole system needs a revamp. It is not just about university Malaya.

Ask Dr Azmi. Ask him how many people in his own classes actually 'think' for themselves? Assignments are just about collating whatever is on the internet nowadays. The brain is gradually retreating into its own comfort zone of laziness.

How do you make people think? You give them challenging things to do. You activate discussions, encourage debates and the 'teacher' becomes a moderator, not a spoon feeder. But ask Dr Azmi. Does he think that if there were more tutorial classes at all, he would be able to jolt those rusty brains into action?? It's too late. It's too late. Ask Dr Azmi about his mature students in postgrad courses. They are the adults of today. Are they capable of thinking?

Anonymous said...

Dr Azmi,
You are my hero! If only there are more people like you in the campus or in the country....sigh!!

I only wish you can become UM VC....and bring changes as you deemed fit!

Sabah Carrim said...

People, like Dr Azmi and so many others, who go against the tides of conventionalism, never get promoted to the post of VC and likewise... for the simple reason that the first qualification of a leader in any institution these days, is that he must be a yes man.

Anonymous said...

To Humeirah


Anonymous said...

I am a senior lecturer at a private educational institution. Although I teach postgraduate students, I also take great pride and delight in teaching school leavers. I try my level best to make them think out of the box and in doing so, encourage them to read Dr Azmi's articles in the Star, as well as look up his blog. My other mission besides teaching is to contribute towards the development of Malaysianism among my students. We should all strive towards understanding and accepting each other as we would accept our brothers and sisters. Religion should guide individuals in the right path but it should never result in us becoming individualistic nor should it promote secularism. This is what I tell my students. It is true that most Malaysians, many teachers inclusive, have not moved in this direction, but nevertheless, 2010 will be a good time to begin. When all of us join hands in total harmony, then only Malaysia will become a beautiful paradise for all. This is my dream. Happy New Year 2010 to all my fellow Malaysians. God bless us all!

A teacher