Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rafiah Speaks

Datuk Rafiah Salim started her 3 year term as the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya ealier this week. And it started with interviews with the press as well, to give further insight into what she plans and possible what she's like. :) You can read the full articles in the Star here and here as well as Bernama here.

Here's the good stuff. All these are words of course, just words and not yet deeds but one has to start somewhere.

On Her Selection:
Rafiah believes she has been picked partly because of her skills in people management, changing the work culture and reforming organisations.

“My appointment was timely; it was not by accident, but by design. I was chosen because it was thought that my skills in changing work culture and in managing people would benefit the university."
Actually, that's the key reason why she could have been selected to "revive" Universiti Malaya. Clearly, she has not undergone the process of obtaining her doctorate and have only had a brief stint as an academic at the university's law faculty.

Clearly, there is indeed a serious need to reform and transform the culture in our academia to encourage a more performance oriented culture, and not one based on the art of flattery. On this count, I believe that it's acceptable for someone without the necessary complete academic experience to become the taskmaster, to "whip" the laggards back into shape, and to ship out the clear out the donkeys from the university.

Hence, on this count, we hope that her reputation to be one tough lady as mentioned by some of the readers here, is indeed true.

On Transparency:
...Datuk Rafiah Salim Monday began her task by having meetings with various key officials of the university and pledged for a transparent administration as well as having a closer rapport with deans of all faculties.

...she would try to build greater transparency in the promotion of academic staff “as it is part of good governance.”
Transparency is good and we'd love to dearly hear (not too long into the future) from her the type of policies which will promote transparency which she plans to deliver.

On Remuneration for Academicians:
“Brilliant people deserve to be (better) remunerated if we want to keep them here and to attract others into academia. As it is, the attrition rate is going up, especially in the Medical Faculty,” she said.
I completely agree on this. The remuneration of academicians needs to be seriously evaluated and probably deserves more blog space here, although as at this point of time, this writer probably doesn't have sufficient information or authority to do so. But I do feel that academics needs to be de-linked from the civil service remuneration programmes.

Well, here's the not-so-pleasing-to-the-ears bit.

On Akujanji:
... Rafiah said this was the norm for an employee in any organisation. “It is not asking you to do anything bad. It is a code of conduct that you need to be answerable to."
I have written some time earlier to debunk the above innocuous statement. If my employees have to sign a letter of offer to comply with the vague, overwhelming and discretionary terms as per the Akujanji pledge, I can assure you that I will lose my best employees. Possibly only the weakest who can't find jobs anywhere else will stay back (I'd like to think that there are very few of those! :)) The worse type of excuse, of course, was when our former Minister of Higher Education alluded the Akujanji pledge to prayers to God.

So on the balance, some positive stuff to look forward to and for the comments on Akujanji, I'd probably give her the benefit of the doubt for having been appointed by the Government, she'd still need to demonstrate the necessary obeisance and reverance to them.

Datuk Rafiah Salim must have been appointed to one of the hottest seats in the country with everyone from the Government, the politicians, the academics and concerned citizens all having the highest of expectations of her, to check the decline of standards at Malaysia's premier university and hopefully restore UM to her former glory.


Anonymous said...

I thought she did try to obtain her real Doctorate early in her career in the 70's...hehe. Only she, god and the University knows what must have happened
Frankly I would not know if the 'new' broom will sweep cleaner here
As to her adminstration abilities< I would like to hear about this ability from her other bosses before and colleagues. I doubt self glorification.
As Tim Sebastian of Hardtalk on BBC used to say...." words are plenty and cheap.." around here

Anonymous said...

she speaks like a politician. kinda scary.

Anonymous said...

I am really skeptical about what is she saying. If look it at the transparency is rather vague and hand waving touchy feely kind of statement.
On one side she mentioned about renumeration of the best people. The other side, she wants the Akujanji crap to stay. This is totally contradictory right? Akujanji crap is one of elements that drive the resourceful people away.
So I am guessing that her strategy is "oh we want good people to stay, we do, at the same time we want to keep a short leash on them by using the Akujanji crap on them, good idea right boss?"


Anonymous said...

It is our time our young academics with PhD are better remunerated!

It is really puzzling that the difference of job entry salary between a Master's degree and PhD
is merely RM200 to RM300.

What's justification I spend another 3 years in Overseas to get a PhD?

Anonymous said...

Part 1

In the earlier blog on “Vice-Chancellor Search Panel Permanent” (Thursday, April 27, 2006), someone (Fri Apr 28, 10:07:10 AM ) wrote “….how come Unku Aziz was not among the members in this committee.”

Thank heaven for this! No, no! No Ungku Aziz! The decision to exclude Ungku Aziz was brilliant!

Royal Prof. Ungku Aziz looks good only because he was there at the right time at the right place. Fortunately for him, the era of the Internet and blogs did not arrive during his tenure as UM’s VC and most news were suppressed. Many counter- or anti-academic things that he did were not widely known or publicized. In fact, the floodgate of academic decline at the University of Malaya (UM) started during his tenure as UM’s VC. Of course, the one important thing that he did for himself was to make sure that he is one and the only Royal Professor in Malaysia!

In a number of issues, Ungku Aziz was a gutless man of no principle. In the early 1970s, UM, under Ungku Aziz, came up with a meritocracy-based staff-training scheme, called the ‘Career Tutor’ scheme, to keep and train its bright graduates as its potential academic staff members. That scheme was race-blind and graduates with first class or second upper honours degrees were encouraged to apply as Career Tutors.

Many non-Malay Career Tutors were appointed by UM in various faculties and most of them subsequently completed their PhD degrees. However, UM, still under Ungku Aziz, subsequently rescinded its contract to employ all these non-Malay Career Tutors with PhD as its lecturers. UM simply ignored most of these Career Tutors and left them stuck as Career Tutors, hoping that they would resign because of their truncated academic career at UM.

The reason of this U-turn policy was purely racial. A short while after the implementation of the ‘Career Tutor’ scheme, things began to change when UM started to implement the SLAB (‘Skim Latihan Akedemik Bumiputra’) scheme. A large number of Malay graduates (many of whom were not first class or second upper honours holders) were appointed as SLAB trainees and sent overseas for their higher degree training, with full pay and overseas allowance. [Remember at that time, UM was the main local university producing large number of Malay graduates for positions in various local public universities like UKM, USM, UPM, etc., and government organizations such as Bank Negara, SIRIM, RRIM, MARDI, etc.] When the SLAB trainees completed their higher degrees (Masters or PhD), they returned to UM and were appointed as lecturers. Some SLAB trainees failed to complete their PhD after four or more years overseas, returned to UM with their Masters, and were still appointed as lecturers. Among these who failed to get their PhD, some were subsequently even promoted to associate professors and appointed as head or director. That was the beginning of Ketuanan Melayu and gradual decreased intake of non-Malay academic staff at UM. That was also the time when we had the motto of ‘Leadership by Example’! Very funny!

After Ungku Aziz, Dr. Syed Husin Alatas took over as UM’s VC and he had the gut and sense of justice to right the wrong of UM by appointing the few badly-exploited non-Malay Career Tutors left in UM as lecturers in some faculties. Syed Husin Alatas is a true Malaysian who did the right thing by correcting the disgraceful racial-biased act of Ungku Aziz, a racist, who did not stick to his principle.

It was also during Ungku Aziz’s time that many Malay academic staff members, young and old with hardly much academic credentials and achievements, were promoted quickly to associate professors and professors, as well as appointed as Heads and Deans, bypassing their lecturers and supervisors. It was the beginning of the ludicrous era of the Malaysian academia: the Malay student (generally academically weak) of a professor, associate professor, or lecturer hops-steps-and-jumps to become their Head or Dean, who then approves or does not approve their leave applications, conference applications, grant applications, etc., and also evaluates and grades their academic performance. Some Malay students do not show any respect to their non-Malay lecturers for they know that they could soon be their lecturers’ boss! Unbelievable and amazing! This ludicrous practice forced many well-qualified non-Malay academic staff members to resign in disgust and leave UM.

Anonymous said...

Part 2

It was a common knowledge that Ungku Aziz appointed a Dean who did not have PhD. Not too bad except that that person was registered as a PhD candidate for more than 10 years in the same faculty that he was appointed as the Dean! A really ludicrous and embarrassing situation. Imagine the scenario: every year the Dean was required to chair the Faculty to evaluate the academic performance of all the Faculty’s postgraduate students, i.e., whether satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance, and if unsatisfactory, to extend or terminate the higher degree candidature. How do you expect the evaluation process to proceed when the Dean himself was a PhD candidate and still unable to submit his thesis after more than 10 years of candidature? How could the Faculty fault another PhD candidate who had spent 8 years of candidature when compared to the Dean’s record? The most funny thing was that the Dean’s name was on the list of PhD candidates whose progress was to be evaluated. What could the Dean’s PhD supervisor or supervisors do except to say ‘Satisfactory’! It was a comical situation.

All these already happened in our premier university since the 1970s, 30 years ago, while Ungku Aziz was the VC of UM! All these were documented in UM’s Annual Reports and Calendars available in libraries.

Well, the Dean eventually did not complete his PhD but was still subsequently appointed as one of the Deputy Vice Chancellors of UM. UM-boleh!

This is the modern history of UM. The rot in academic standard started about 30 years ago during the NEP. Meritocracy was replaced by racial factor. This system under the NEP offers easy routes to Malays – a Malay academic gets appointed and promoted easily, without having to work very hard, despite all resources are available to them. Some non-Malays also benefited from the system by kowtowing to their Malay bosses or potential Malay bosses and got rewarded. So, over the last 30 years, this pervasive anti-meritocracy and ‘senang dapat’ culture is entrenched in UM culture, especially among the Malay academics. Of course, there are some exceptions. To change this culture requires a major overhaul of the system, not just by appointing a brilliant VC!

To increase the remuneration of academics in our local public universities is debatable. Even now, how many of them, especially the senior academics, really deserve their current big fat salaries? And we want to increase their salaries!

Datuk Rafiah Salim, as VC, will chair the Senate, which discusses all issues related to academic matters, including PhD candidatures. How can we expect Rafiah, without PhD and without going through the experience as a PhD candidate and without the experience of supervising PhD candidates, to comment intelligently on issues related to all UM PhD candidates during Senate meetings?

Anonymous said...

Dont tell me the Dean appointed without PhD got his BSc and Msc from New Zealand? he he...
That fellow is famous! A laughing stock of the faculty...hehe

Anonymous said...


From your comments, I can guess you must be an old or retired academic, since you know a lot of happenings that occur within that era

You must be from Science Faculty by the in depth knowledge of you have of the faculty proceedings, probably from chemistry department


Anonymous said...

Well, let us not speculate who's who. He has the right to remain as an anonymous whistle-blower. But, do take his comments with a pinch of salt. It's hard to say who's right or wrong anymore.

Anonymous said...

He is 99.99% right!

Anonymous said...

I am still eagerly awaiting Part 3 of the blog from "Learn-from-history"

Anonymous said...

Yes, we can all learn a lot from history.

At about the same time the events mentioned by ‘learn-from-history’ occurred in UM, there was also another individual appointed to many administrative positions by Ungku Aziz. Eventually that individual became the Director of Pusat Asasi Sains, UM. That individual was a product of the SLAB scheme. He was sent overseas to do his PhD but returned to UM after a number of years without PhD. However, being an academic failure was not a stumbling block to his academic promotion and rise in administrative positions. In fact, with the patronage of Ungku Aziz the VC at that time, that individual lorded over academic staff members who had much better academic record. As the Director of Pusat Asasi Sains, it is certain that he even had the privilege to address the students there: “How to study and do well in examinations”!

So, a wonderful tradition or culture was created in UM. It’s not the case of the blind leading the blind. It’s the blind leading and assessing the non-blind.

Look into the history of UM and we will see many similar examples in all faculties since 1970s. Tony and Kian Ming should blog on them. Tony and Kian Ming should also encourage some social science postgraduate students to do research and write theses and papers on these wonderful topics of academic practices that promote or kill academic excellence.

It’s the ripe time we really do an objective evaluation of Ungku Aziz as an educator. Do this before the baby boomers and the flower-power generation passed away and you miss the chance to interview them. As the VC of UM, did Ungku Aziz carry out practices that are totally against the concepts and principles of education?

Anonymous said...

As for Ungku Aziz, Dr Tan Chee Koon dis make some comments on him being the choice as the first local VC

I think to be fair he is just plain lucky. He was born at the right time and place.

Destiny has chosen him..

As for his scholastic achievements and real academic records, a thprough research should be done on him. After all he is considered obe of the ' outstanding figures' in the Malaysian academic scene
If I can remember correctly one blooger refer to him as " the Doyen"

Let truth speaks

Anonymous said...

Old Timer..
Dont tell me he was once in Faculty of Science and specialising in FIZIK?

Anonymous said...

The new UM VC ie Rafiah has started her grand tour of the faculties. It seems its going to be no different from her predecessor...
I wonder when she will start erecting her personalized billboards?

Anonymous said...

..why didn't they had an internal
promotion at UM? There are so many learned and experienced PhD's inhouse..few hundreds..

Anonymous said...

Part 3

At one time the general public used to admire scholars with Dr and Professor titles. People used to love to call academics ‘Doc’ and ‘Prof’ whom they thought were smart individuals dedicated to the process of thinking, seeking truth, advancing knowledge for the good of mankind, and foolish enough not to consider too much monetary reward or gain. These academics or book-worms were visualized to work in offices, labs, or libraries for many hours with no overtime pay. What is the scenario now?

At one time each department in a faculty in a university had only one professor in a specific discipline and this person also held the Chair of that discipline (for example, Organic Chemistry or Physical Chemistry or Botany). The professor was invariably the head of department as well. There were limited numbers of professors in each local public university.

However, since 1990, things started to change for the better for academics at Universiti Malaya. Liberalization of promotion opportunities: each department can have more than one professor in the same discipline and associate professors who have the required credentials in teaching, research, and administration can go for the annual promotion exercise to apply for promotion to professor.

Since then, the numbers of professors in UM had increased. New professors were appointed every year, 30 or more per year. Among them, there were deserving professors and also undeserving professors. If one analyzed the racial composition of professors appointed each year in UM, there seemed to be a ratio of two Malay academics to one non-Malay academic (or more, sometimes) promoted per year. Social engineering?

Because of the unwritten quota system in promotion in UM, one may see a situation in which the achievements of some non-Malay academics were not recognized by the university management, though they were recognized at the national level and by outside bodies. These non-Malay academics were not promoted at the same speed as their Malay counterparts. They had to go through a few rounds of promotion exercise before they were eventually promoted, while their Malay counterparts, more often than not, were promoted within one or two rounds of promotion exercise, some with the barest minimum of academic credentials (many based on administration, rather than research and teaching). There are many professors in UM now – some called them kangkong professors.

When you visit the websites of departments in UM (for example, http://www.um.edu.my/ccm/navigation/academics/faculties/FK/academic-profiles/), you will find information about the staff, courses, grants that the staff received, list of instruments and resources available, mission, vision, desire to be a world class entity, etc. However, very often, you don’t see the list of publications of the academic staff, including professors. You don’t see the names of refereed journals and the impact factors of the journals where the professors published their papers. You don’t see the titles of keynote or plenary lectures that the professors were invited to deliver in international conferences to their peers. Why? World class, how?

Anonymous said...

Yes, many young Malay academics on paper appeared to be super achievers. They got promoted very quickly to associate professors and professors within maybe 10 years or less after their PhD.

Some of them outperformed their overseas PhD supervisors in terms of promotion to professor, even though the latter had better academic achievements. Truly cemerlang and terbilang. Who said we lack geniuses?

Anonymous said...

is this why people win negotiations sometimes?

Representing Singapore:

PM Lee Hsien Loong
Cambridge University - First Class Honours (1974)
Harvard University - Masters (1980)

SM Goh Chok Tong
University of Singapore - First Class Honours (1964)
Williams College, USA - Masters (1967)

MM Lee Kuan Yew
Cambridge University - First Class Honours (1949)

Minister for Law Prof.
S Jayakumar
U of Singapore - B. Law Hons.(1963)
Yale Univerity - Masters (1966)

Minister for Home Affairs
Wong Kan Seng
U of Singapore - B. Business Admin (1977)
London Business School - Masters (1979)

Minister for Foreign Affairs
BG George Yeo
Cambridge University - Double First Class Honours (1976)
Harvard Business School - MBA with Distinction (1985)

Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang
Cambridge University - First Class Honours with Distinction (1976)
Harvard University - Masters (1986)

Minister for Defence
Teo Chee Hean
U Manchester - First Class Hons(1976)
Imperial College, London - Masters with Distinction (1977)

Minister for Education
Tharman Shanmugaratnam
London School of Economics - Bachelor of Arts
Cambridge University - Masters

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Adding salt to the wound on comments made by Learn FRom History, most of these substandard professors cant even give a decent Inaugral Lectures...hehe

Res Ipsa Loquitor

Anonymous said...

It used to be very difficult to get a PhD in UM in 70's. In a year we get only about 6 to 8 PhDs for whole UM and about 20 for Masters.

Now UM is churning out tons of PhDs and Masters
What do we conclude from the above?
1 Students getting better?
2 Standards getting lower?

Anonymous said...

Koshy Phillip got his associate professor at super sonic speed! And he is not a Malay!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

So much about this Super academician, Check out the paper today of his comment about why the Royal Prof was toppled by the BOD of ANGKASA Mar 08. Claimed that he was stop from investigating 2 JKTs but who was actually investigating who?
Hope someone with information will highlight the truth.