Tuesday, January 29, 2008

JPA Scholars Prevented from Blogging

This practice is nothing new in its spirit. I remember that JPA scholars were barred from going to listen to Anwar talk in the UK during the Reformasi period in 1998 / 1999. We got this letter from a JPA scholar stating some fears that his / her scholarship might be revoked because of blogging activities. I'll reproduce parts of the email below and then respond.

I'm a JPA scholarships holder who is bound to an overseas degree programme and I was awarded of this scholarship in 20XX. Recently, there was a scholar who was just awarded the scholarship in 20XX and was also an active blogger on blogspot.com, has her scholarships suspended and most probably be revoked. And the resons why her blog has garnered so much attention was because of some comments she had for her lecturers and the security guards in our college.

Subsequently, the director of the institution also gave her warning to any scholarships holder who is writing blog and giving commentary on political issues. Allegedly, some of the bloggers are also monitored by their sponsor, namely JPA. There is a more recent incident where a US-bound student who is famous of her polemic writing style and her open declaration as an atheist, was forced to delete her blog from blogspot.com. But, we have no evidents concerning that incident but one thing for sure, she really deleted her blog already.

As an active and devoted blogger, I must say I'm quite worried by the incident and I'm kind of forced to delete few of my posts under pressure. I don't know whether I'm under monitor or not but I'm pretty sure that JPA is having close eyes on all the scholar bloggers right now. Rumours are spreading like wildfire and to make thing worse, the director herself didn't really have a clear stand on the issue of whether a JPA-sponsored scholar can write blogs or not. She just commissioned us to write "responsibly" and "don't bite the hands that feed us". What are these supposed to mean?

I'm not writing to you just to voice up some random disgruntlement and frustration. We, as the scholarships holders just want to have our voice heard because apparently, no words have been leaked to any mainstream media and nobody has any inkling about what's happening in our institution.This is very frustrating. Now, we, the scholarships holders have no idea of what's really happening. What we want is the official statement, what should we do? What kind of content should we refrain from writing in our blog? Can scholars have our own blog? We have no official statement whatsoever.

I know there is no evidents to support my statement and as a scholar myself, I'm also facing a lot of dilemma like afraid of being discovered sending an email to an opposition leader or a prominent blogger. But, i think it's time to let everyone know our freedom of speech is restricted and some officers are apparently using our scholarships to threaten us for not speaking out what we are facing currently in the institution. The fear of losing the scholarships is simply too profound and my friend is also very concerned of my blog which has attracted quite a number of readers

It's an extremely sad situation to see some students cum bloggers who are always aware of socio-political issues and current issues forced to remain silent or act innocent. Although we have signed the contract, that doesn't mean we also have to sacrifice our freedom of speech. And I didn't see any specification in our contract that says the government-sponsored scholars are not allowed to "blog" or to voice out our opinions.

Is it wrong for JPA scholars to blog about political issues and to offer their view on them?

Let's think about such a problem arising in different contexts.

Would an undergraduate student who has been given a full scholarship to go to Harvard or Yale or Princeton not be allowed to blog about his or her criticisms of certain Harvard or Yale or Princeton policies? That Harvard's admission policies work against Asian Americans for example. That Harvard is not transparent about hiring policies in regards to minorities. That Harvard does not treat its service workers fairly. That Harvard does allow some of its grad students to unionize. (Fictitious examples of course)

Given the commitment to free speech among US universities including the top universities, I cannot imagine that any of these universities would revoke a scholarship to a student because this student has been critical of some university policy in a public forum, be it a blog or writing a letter to a major US newspaper.

From a more personal perspective, I'm currently under a Duke scholarship for my PhD program and I cannot imagine Duke revoking this scholarship just because I blogged about some of my criticisms of certain Duke policies.

Such moves would create such an outcry among the academic community (not to mention the possibility of lawsuits) would dissuade any university from having such a policy (or from carrying out such moves).

Furthermore, JPA scholars are funded by taxpayers funds. They are not obliged to support the government of the day and hence should not be prevented from blogging about their views whether they are supportive or are against the government of the day.

However, I probably would draw the line at making personal and vindictive attacks against the administrators of the JPA scholarship. I think criticizing politicians is fair game but when I use a blog to attack certain administrators within the civil service, for example by asserting that this scholar gets preferential treatment because he or she has a relationship with one of the administrator, is probably going too far. But everything else, including JPA policies, should be fair game.


Shawn Tan said...

Personally, I agree with your sentiment.

A scholar isn't beholden to any particular political party. Unlike what certain particular politicians may think, your ability to secure the scholarship did not depend on help from any political party. But if you went to them for help, then you should avoid slamming the people who have helped you. That's just not very nice. But if you got it on your own merit, then you aren't indebted to any particular person but the taxpayers. So, blog for the taxpayers' benefit.

Your frustration with the "unknown" is warranted. Our government thrives on fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). There is only one way to defeat FUD, and that's with the truth. But remember, that as an adult, everything that you do has consequences. As long as you're aware of what they are, do what you need to do. So, just blog on, without fear or fervour.

Good luck in your studies!

Anonymous said...

It looks like democracy. It sounds like democracy. But It seems like it is not democracy

Correct! Correct! Correct!

Fikri said...

Though in principle people probably shouldn't be censored for their blogs and opinions, I'd really like to know what it is the blogger actually wrote. I think it would help if someone could give a specific example (especially now since the blog has apparently been deleted).

And Anon, your comment made me laugh out loud in the office. Am garnering more than my fair share of quizzical looks from my colleagues... :)

The caterpillar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The caterpillar said...

Just realized that I've made a lot of mistakes in my previous comment and I would like to correct it.

I understand your frustration in pointing out the difficulties of voicing one's opinion publicly via blogging.

As a blogger and student myself, I feel that there are times when we are being too "loud" in expressing our views. When I use the word loud, it doesn't mean being vocal.Instead, I see the loudness of certain bloggers as an undesirable sound, unpleasent to the ears.

You might argue that the government is trying to put a restriction on our freedom of speech and expression.However, do bear in mind that being a blogger means that you also have a responsibilty towards people who reads it.

Use any words and quote if you want in your blog, but do promote moderation.However strong points that you might have, do it in a proper manner, think over and over again before you post it and be watchful of every single word that you used.

Bloggers who deleted their posts normally launched rude and offensive comments at how things are run in our country but they fail to understand that they are responsible for the words taht they used.Yes, you can talk about politics and discrimination but do be discreet in doing so.

Just my two cents regarding this matter.

Unknown said...

I am a US student from Ukraine. I have an experience of working part-time in an international student advisor's office at the school which I attended before. As I have noticed, Americans are often polite to foreigners, however they can deeply disrespect them because that know that their country is the only one, the best, and they enjoy observing, "testing", and manipulating, or even destroying sometimes the intellectual resources from other countries. There is no democracy in the US!
I, as a nursing student, believed in the US democracy at the beginning and openly criticized unfair policies in my school, such as acception worse students into the best programs at school, leaving behind those talented sometimes. I also did a speech about the weird policy to circumcize routinely all the newborn boys. I just forgot about the nationality of the school's administration.
They did not kick me out form the school. No. I just started suffering with a weird illness. I thought, I had some sideffects of the hepatitis B immunization. However, the symptoms were getting worse and worse, so I had to move back to my parents' house and forget about studying. I thought, I would die. I had to take a leave for one year. The doc. said I had a bad immune system, yet he did not point the reason. I believe, I was infected with something on purpose. I cannot decide whether to renew myself in the program since I've never recovered in full.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this post and I must tell you that I know the case of the student in US who is an atheist and had to close her blog.

This particular student's blog was among the top-ranked science blogs in the WORLD and it was not only an "atheist" blog. The most important thing it that the student was a NON-MUSLIM and had every right to be an atheist if she so pleased. Through JPA's ignorance, one of the top science blogs in the world had to be deleted just on the basis that the student was an atheist, and this incident is SIMPLY APPALING!

If it were any other sponsor, they would be fully supporting the student and being proud that their student managed to make such a mark in the international science blogging scene at such a young age. But no! They were too shallow minded to see beyong that dirty little "atheist" label.

What a disgrace and a loss of a brilliant, amazing talent!


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I heard from reliable sources that the atheist student was approached by a few publishers about working the ideas about evolution/creationism in her former blog into a book or something like that. She had wide support and encouragement from the US skeptical and scientific communities. After the JPA incident, she apparently has been so afraid of the whole scenario that she has refused to have anything to do with the ideas that made her blog so popular.

JPA claims to want to nurture LOCAL TALENT, but all they have done in this case is to KILL a young talent through their ignorance. SHAME ON JPA!

(so very angry and sad for her)