Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sachs came, Sachs spoke, Sachs left

Sorry for the long delay since the last post. Term just started for my last week and I was getting back into the swing of things back in school. For regular readers of this blog, you would know that I have been keeping track of Jeffrey Sachs appointment as the first chair of the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies at the UM. This was first announced in November, 2006 and you can read my posts about this issue here and here. He finally came to Malaysia in the middle of August, a couple of weeks back. I've been critical of UM's decision to award this chair to Professor Sachs namely because I don't think it is cost effective and I don't really think that Prof Sachs can do justice in terms of academic contribution to his post. Instead of criticizing MOHE and UM again, I think I'll take a swipe at Prof Sachs this time.

Ever since his appointment was announced, I've been keeping track periodically for news feeds regarding Prof Sachs as well as trying to see if there were any changes to his bio, primarily to see if the press here in the US or other Western countries would pick up on his appointment as well as to see if he would indicate on his bio in Columbia's Earth Institute website, where he's the director, that he had taken up this post in Malaysia.

Like I've said before, it's not common for a professor to hold more than 1 chair in more than one university at a single point in time, primarily because this requires a professor to share his or her time between more than one university. Most universities prefer not to have this kind of arrangement since they want to have 'exclusive claim', if you will to a professor's time and name. Most professors also do not want to have more than one appointment since this means that they have to do work (teaching, admin duties, faculty meetings etc...) for more than one university which leaves them with less time to do their real research. Even academic superstars such as Paul Krugman, teach or are associated with one university at a single point in time. (Krugman recently moved from MIT to Princeton)

There are some professors who can negotiate for special arrangements with their universities but many of them do so for personal reasons. For example, I have a professor here at Duke who spends one semester at England and one semester in at Duke because he's English and his family is back home in England and his research agenda requires him to spend part of in Europe. But I also imagine that part of this arrangement also requires him to be paid less by both institutions, probably splitting his salary 50/50 or thereabouts.

So here's my first beef with Prof Sachs. I think that UM is paying him tons of money to take up this chair but gets little in return. In one of my previous post, I estimated that it probably costs the UM / MOHE somewhere in the range of RM2 to 3 million annually to recruit Prof Sachs to his post. And this appointment is for 2 years. But he is not required to do any teaching or any advising, as far as I know. I'm not sure how much research he can do given that he probably spends less than two weeks in a year in Malaysia! If he was appointed in November last year and he came to Malaysia for one to one and a half weeks in August, this is pretty good money for 2 weeks worth of 'work'. (more like rehashed lectures and platitudes) If he knows that he cannot dedicate a sufficient amount of time and effort towards some sort of academic contribution as the Chair of Poverty Studies at UM, why take it in the first place? It surely can't be only because of money since by all accounts, Prof Sachs is already a wealthy man.

The job description of the Chair and the Centre of Poverty Studies seems like quite a handful. It can be found at this link.

The objectives of the Chair and the Centre are to:

- Serve as a focal point for academic work, research, consultancy and technical assistance in the fields of poverty and development for the academic community, the public, policy makers and the international community;
- Develop new approaches and methodologies in the study of poverty;
- Improve the understanding of life in the rural areas and amongst poverty groups;
- Help increase accessibility to information pertaining to rural communities and poverty groups;
- Disseminate information through the creation of databases, publications, seminars,
conferences, workshops, the internet and the media;
- Contribute towards capacity building in the rural areas especially amongst the poor;
- Encourage the incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge in the development process.

This doesn't seem like something which a Chair can accomplish by spending 2 months in the country, not to mention 2 weeks.

Of course, it could be that Prof Sachs has taken a salary cut from Columbia because of his appointment at the UM. It could be that Prof Sachs is not costing UM RM2 to 3 million ringgit a year (or even half of that). It could be that his appointment beings only in 2007 and not in 2006 as originally announced and so he's only beginning to ramp up his participation and responsibilities as the Chair of Poverty Studies at the UM. I hope that this is the case.

But as far as I know, Prof Sachs is back in the US and will only return to Malaysia sometime in January next year to look at the poverty rate among orang aslis or to do some work regarding poverty in Kelantan, I'm not sure which.

My second beef with Prof Sachs is that if he's been appointed to this Chair, why hasn't he updated his CV at Columbia to indicate this appointment? He obviously updates this now and then since there are some details there in regards to some of this activities in 2007.

As important, why hasn't he made any announcement here in the US with regards to this appointment? It was made big news in Malaysia but the US press was ignorant of this appointment. If UM was hoping that this appointment would give more name recognition to UM here in the US or in other developed nations, I think they have to be somewhat disappointed at the lack of publicity in the media outside Malaysia. I've been keeping track of news feeds from google news over the past year periodically checking on new on Jeffrey Sachs but have found no mention of this appointment in any news feeds outside Malaysian papers.

(Just for fun, why don't our readers google these to see what kind of hits they find: Jeffrey Sachs Chair Poverty Studies, Jeffrey Sachs Universiti Malaya)

Of course, it could be overreaction on my part since Prof Sachs might be just waiting for his appointment details to be confirmed before putting up these details on his website.

But of course, there could be other reasons as to why Prof Sachs might not want to make to big of a deal in regards to this appointment within the US and also within Columbia.

There will certainly be some criticism of his association with the UM as well as with the Malaysian government. Columbia students and faculty, more so than students and faculty in other US universities, are more familiar with the internal politics in Malaysia and are likely to be critical of the lack of democracy within Malaysia. Columbia is a university known to be associated with political dissidents. Many of the student activists from Tian An Men landed up in Columbia. Anwar Ibrahim has been a frequent visitor to Columbia before his arrest and after his release. His last visit to Columbia was probably in January 2006. The UM is also the place which terminated the contract of Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, probably one of Malaysia's best known academics (together with Prof Jomo).

This is pure speculation on my part but Prof Sachs is probably smart enough to know that his appointment to the UM would draw some some attention within Columbia University from faculty as well as students which explains why he's been relatively quiet about this appointment here in the US.

My last beef with Prof Sachs is related to this point. He's smart enough to know that his appointment it not purely an 'academic' one. He's smart enough to know that he's at such a high level of prominence that he won't be able to spend much time doing the 'real' research and administrative duties which a Chair must assume. Hence, the 'deal' must have been something like this - we give you a generous financial package, you don't need to do much real research, just come to Malaysia and tell us good things about ourselves.

While it is true that Malaysia has done a lot to reduce poverty and probably has one of the best poverty reduction rates among developed countries (better than most African and Asian countries but not as good as Korea, Singapore or Taiwan all of which were as poor as some African countries 50 years ago but are now all richer than Malaysia), Prof Sachs seems to have ignored the other problems in Malaysia such as government corruption, urban poverty, poverty among the orang Aslis and in east Malaysia (which is maybe why he wants to do some work in this area), the rising level of income inequality, distortions within the Malaysian economy as a result of government policies and so forth.

(For a list of newspaper reports covering his speeches, see here, here and here)

Does Prof Sachs feel comfortable in his role as an unofficial spokesperson for the Malaysian government and the Malaysian government's policies? This seems to be stepping out of the bounds of what a respected academic should do.

I'm sure that this is not the last I'll be blogging about this issue. I stand to be corrected on many of these points when and where more details are known (such as Prof Sachs arrangement with Columbia, the terms and conditions of his UM appointment, the amount of time and the kind of research he'll be doing in Malaysia etc...) But as things stand, I have to say that I'm quite disappointed with Prof Sachs for taking up this appointment as Chair of Poverty Studies at the UM and the manner in which he has not made this appointment known within Columbia and the US academic community.


Anonymous said...

Dont blame Sach! UM is just like our country, like to enter into anything by the fastest, cheapest way....

1 Pay the Russians millions so that we can claim to be the first nation to send a bumiputra to space (albeit as a paying passenger)

2 So many MOU's signed but no action

The Malay folk lore has similar lessons learnt in the guise of Pa Pandir..

Menang sorak sajer, kalah sabung!

Maybe that is what the nation wants

Anonymous said...

Yes, agree with you entirely about the wastage in employing a professor that doesn't contribute much to the nation. As for UM they are a bunch of bureaucrats and third rate professors i.e. those that are left, who have nothing more to do than to wield the unhealthy practice of setting low benchmarks that are easily achieved but are not worldclass.

Really, a spoon feed mentality from top to bottom and it is the top that needs to have a brain scan and check first to set the record straight.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but perhaps UM got more for their money from Dr Sachs than UUM did from Drs Azly and Mutiara.

Chen Chow said...

Kian Ming, thanks for highlighting this issue from time to time, and providing us with updates. Am wondering whether do you attempt to email Prof. Sachs on this? Perhaps even share with him the link of this blog. I believe he would check his email and perhaps respond.

Anonymous said...

The public address Sachs gave fully obliterated whatever respect I had for him (which was not much to begin with). So much for his rhetoric on poverty elimination and his feeble analysis begottened through the narrow lenses of an economics textbook.

Recruiting Sackage was a terrible idea.

Can we have Jomo back, please?

Anonymous said...

I suggest instead of UM paying millions to Sach for a few hours of his time, use the money to repair the Experimental Theatre behind DTC.

The experimental theatre has been the for years in suspended state of renovation. The only difference every year before convocation the zinc partition or barrier got a fresh blue paint.

This year the blue zinc wall got a artwork in the form of a sun?? Must be due to Visit Malaysia year!

We must make effort to congratulate the VC....he he

John Lee said...

Minor nitpick: Krugman's been in Princeton for seven years already, which isn't exactly recent, at least in layman's terms. :p

Tek Seang said...

Columbia could well not know that he has taken up this appointment at UM. Maybe someone should shoot an enquiry to their Provost, could get him sacked over this.

clk said...

BTW, was he made to sign the "Aku Janji" pledge like all other civil servants?

Anonymous said...

With due respect, I don't think poverty can ever be eradicated ( although I enjoy reading Sachs' writings on this issue ) and IMH, having Sachs ( and Stiglitz and other economists ) as conference speakers is very motivating for audience who appreciate.

Thx KM for your thoughts.

Glamour Gal

Anonymous said...

Before you shoot yourself in the foot by complaining to Columbia U, you have to bear in mind that in the US, a non-admin faculty member is paid only 9 months salary. For the summer months, he must have a research grant or he teaches a summer course in order to be paid by the university. If he is not on university payroll, he can work outside and keep whatever he earns. Jeffrey Sachs came to Malaysia in the summer and left before their school year starts. So, that is legit.
On the other hand, if what some people said is right, Sachs is just another greedy person with questionable ethics. He charged the UN's Millenium Project something like $75 K a year as consultant to Kofi Annan. When people started criticising him for taking money from a program that supposedly helped poor people and eradicate poverty, he then claimed to take a token salary of $1. But that appeared to be just all show because he continued to be paid $75 K.
Writing email to him is useless. Write a newspaper article or letter-to-the-editor instead and tell how he brown-nosed (kissing the butt)the Malaysian govt by commending the govt in spite of its "apartheid" policy of marginalising the Chinese and Indian.
Sachs has received personal payments from the United Nations totaling $75,000 a year since (at least) 2002 for his work on the Millennium Development Goals, as revealed by a UN investigative blog (www.innercitypress.org) He initially claimed to be working pro bono for the UN and stopped accepting such personal remuneration only in 2006 when it was discovered. The research project that he headed (the Millennium Project) is the most expensive in the history of the United Nations, which continues to heavily subsidize his research. Most recently it has been alleged that his researchers from that project were hired as UN staff members without competitive tendering...............
In UNDP Series, Questions of Jeffrey Sachs and Associates Payments, From $1 to $75,000
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN - 4th in a series
UNITED NATIONS, December 2 -- In the wake of UNDP's sudden "re-assignment" of its head of Human Resources Brian Gleeson on November 29, questions have multiplied concerning UNDP's recruitment and hiring practices, including for well-paid, part-time work. UNDP sources on November 30 told Inner City Press to inquire if the UNDP-supported UN Millennium Project was paying economist Jeffrey Sachs, and to investigate "how many associates of Jeffrey Sachs have been hired onto the UN payroll outside of normal channels and at levels above those their resumes qualify them for," according to these sources.
Inner City Press has now been told of a $75,000 a year salary to Jeffrey Sachs from the UN Millennium Project, alongside -- covered by, one source says -- the loudly announced $1 a year for serving as Kofi Annan's Special Representative on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).................

Anonymous said...

>Write a newspaper article or letter-to-the-editor instead and tell how he brown-nosed (kissing the butt)the Malaysian govt by commending the govt in spite of its "apartheid" policy of marginalising the Chinese and Indian.

Best course of action suggested thus far. New York Times, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune or Wall Street Journal?

Anonymous said...

Just as KM pointed out, without staying in Malaysia for a decent amount, how can he understand the culture, the people, and the problem of poverty here? I do not want to speculate and criticise Prof Sachs, because i do not know him well enough to do it. But i can for UM, or Malaysia government.

UM is just using his name to ramp up her trademark in the academia byt spending money. That is obviously the truth. Perhaps the amount of money, only a small fraction actually goes to Prof Sachs and i guess you know where the other big portion went. Not being cynical, but in Malaysia or BN government, anything can be translated into a piece of big cake.

National Higher Education Blueprint? Apex university? All these are just bullshit, as long as meritocracy isn't fully enforced. SO long as we have undergraduates/graduates that enter based on skin color, this blueprint is just a piece of junk. Maybe KM can analyse the blueprint for us.

Anonymous said...

I like the title " Sachs came, Sach spoke, Sachs left. Reminded me of Julius Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vinci." The only difference is that Sachs did not conquer Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

Its "Sach came, Sach spoke, Sach left with tons of our rakyat money"

Anonymous said...

Many US consultants and so called "gurus" came to Malaysia during August to earn big money for a few hours work. They get paid upwards of a few hundred thousand US$ a time in between their holidays. Its easy money talking nothing much new. All rehash of their books. And stupid Malaysians pay good money to attend these talks.

We have invited some high profile Nobel Laureates, Kofi Annan etc and paid them top bucks to come and praise us, so we look and feel "good".

August is a holiday month, so why not get paid big time for a few hours work? All expenses paid too. And then enjoy holiday.

We Malaysians are suckers and fall for it every year. Me? I haven't attended a single one of these nonsense.

What have you gained from attending these stupid seminars? We still suffer from lack of transparancy, integrity and good governance. We still have white elephants, corruption, discrimination etc.

Anonymous said...

Why dont make it mandatory for every lecturer in the university to contribute to public knowledge by giving pro bono lectures geared for public consumption. After all their pay comes from our taxes.

One three hour lecture is not too much to ask isnt? In the end we will be all educated


Anonymous said...

So typical of Malaysia -- It is all eksen saja using tons of taxpayers money. Spend millions here and millions there, and nobody can question them. If you ask UM what it has done to improve quality, now they can point to Sachs being one of their profs. And the UMNO govt really got its money worth by having a so-called expert on poverty praising the govt. That is priceless. Now they have been given moral authority to continue with the NEP in the name of eradicating poverty.

Anonymous said...

What so great about Sach or Soros?

Over hyped??

Maybe UM should invite Donald Trump and Martha Stewart