Sunday, April 27, 2008

Farewell, Rustam Sani

This is a little belated but we recently lost Rustam Sani, aged 64, academic, poet, activist, politician and blogger. I did not know him personally but from what I've heard other people say, he was someone who was respected by people of all races and religions. You can read about him here, here and here. Farewell Rustam. Just like Adlan Benan, you left us too soon.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Got into Harvard, Rejected by JPA

Lee Jia Hui got into Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth and Cornell but got rejected by JPA and Bank Negara. He explains his rejections (for the scholarships) by his vocal nature. I'm not surprised that he was rejected. I can imagine the eyes of the interviewers bulging as he was discussing his interest in politics, sexuality and self-identity. But I'm glad that he was full funding from Harvard. Goes to show that if you're smart, if you want to do something out of the box and if you are willing to work hard at the application process, you can find funding sources to study overseas, especially in a place like the US. Maybe not everyone can get into Harvard but there are plenty of liberal arts colleges with generous funding opportunities.

Abolish JPA scholarships for undergraduates

RM500,000. That's approximately the amount of money which JPA spends to send one scholar overseas to study in the US or the UK. It probably costs a bit less to send a scholar to Australia but not by much. But the sad fact is that the % of JPA scholars who come back to Malaysia and work for the government in some capacity or another is close to 0%. Given that this is the case, JPA has two choices: (1) drastically reduce the number of JPA scholarships given out (2) implement a comprehensive system of making sure that JPA scholars come back and serve out their bonds in one capacity or another. I would go for option (1) given that (2) is very difficult to implement and carry out, at least in the short term. In other words, why waste RM500,000 on a scholar who is not likely to serve the government or even to come back to Malaysia?

This issue has often been discussed in this blog but I have to flog it again because once again, I've noticed that many of my friends who have received JPA scholarships or loans have not decided to return to Malaysia to serve out their bond. In one sense, I shouldn't blame them because:

(i) JPA does not make an effort to look for decent jobs for them
(ii) Even if JPA plugs them into the civil service, they will die of boredom because there is no specific program within the JPA which is specially catered for JPA scholars
(iii) JPA does not chase after them to repay their bonds / value of their scholarship (unlike for those who have borrowed money under the PTPN)

As the costs of an overseas education continues to soar, I really don't see the value of sending JPA scholars overseas for an undergraduate degree after which they are not compelled to come back to repay their bonds with a length of public service of some sort. You'd never see the Singapore government allow any of their PSC scholars and other GLC scholars given this luxury even though they probably could afford it more than the Malaysian government.

If the JPA cannot introduce some sort of human resource management program that is equivalent to a management trainee program for JPA scholars, then it is better for them to cut down the number of JPA scholars at the undergraduate level drastically. After all, how much does Malaysia benefit from spending half a million ringgit to send a scholar to Oxford or Cambridge who most likely won't return to Malaysia or even if they do, won't work for the government? It is likely that many of these bright young individuals would be able to find alternative sources of funding to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Even if they cannot afford to go to Oxford or Cambridge, it is no great loss (either to themselves or to the country) if they were to take a less expensive option such as doing a 2 + 1 or studying at Nottingham or Monash in Malaysia.

If they stay back in Malaysia, they will still be able to contribute to the economy. There is nothing which states that an Oxford or Cambridge graduate will contribute more to the economy compared to a Monash or Nottingham graduate.

In my opinion, I think it is much more cost effective and it would yield higher returns for the JPA money to be diverted towards sponsoring scholars at the Masters or PhD levels. Many of these scholars would be those currently studying or teaching in the public universities. And there is already a system in place whereby these scholars who get sponsored to go overseas are bonded and have to come back to their 'home' university to teach and serve out their bond. It is much less likely that the money spent on a PhD student, which works out to be about the same as sponsoring an undergraduate, will be wasted in a similar manner. It will also fulfill the government objective of raising the number of PhDs in our public universities.

This doesn't mean that the process of awarding of the PhD sponsorships should not be cleaned up and made more transparent. I've been a keen advocate of making that process more transparent in previous posts. Diverting resources in this manner would allow more deserving and capable scholars in our public universities to pursue their PhD programs abroad.

I know many parents and students will object to this proposal. But given that the money spent on undergraduate JPA scholars goes down the drain, at least from the perspective of returns to the country, I think that these objections are not very tenable.

In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear what our readers have to say about this!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Helping kids in rural areas

My wife and I have been volunteering as Math tuition teachers for a few kids from a Vietnamese hill tribe who have recently migrated to the US as refugees. It has been a challenge as well as a blessing and our experience of teaching these kids led us to draw comparisons between them and some of the Orang Asli and Sarawak and Sabah Bumiputera and even Malay kids in rural Malaysia.

We teach 3 or 4 kids out of the 8 kids in the family and we focus primarily on Math. We teach them on a Tuesday evening and other volunteers teach them English, History and other subjects on the other days of the week (not including weekends). These kids are really sweet and innocent but they also come from a background where many things we take for granted are just not taught or not known.

For example, when we told them that we were from Malaysia, they didn't even know where Malaysia was. To them, we might as well have been from India or Africa since they couldn't place Malaysia on a map. (They also had not heard of Siem Reap in neighboring Cambodia) I won't be too surprised if many orang Asli kids in Peninsular Malaysia or Iban kids in Sarawak or Kadazan kids in Sabah in the interior areas do not know where Vietnam was either.

They also had a very limited understand of what money was which made it difficult for me to teach one of the kids - a 12 year old - about money. He had some difficultly in answering me when I asked him how much would he have left if I gave him a 20 dollar bill and asked him to give me two 5 dollar bills in return.

Also absent was any understanding of what geometry and geometric shapes are which makes it difficult to explain concepts such as the difference between area and perimeter.

They have made vast improvements since coming to the US probably because they have had volunteer tuition teachers come to them almost every day of the week for the past year or so. They receive very little personal attention from their own class teachers because of the large class sizes in their school. And yet, I suspect that they are still some way behind their peers.

This experience made me think the following - If these kids, with the help of volunteers who come to them everyday of the week, have trouble keeping up with their peers, how much more challenging is it for the Orang Asli and Malay kids in the rural areas to keep up with their urban peers? I think many of them would have the same kinds of problems of context which these Vietnamese refugees face. Many things which urban kids take for granted, such as the concept of money, geography, travel, newspapers, etc... are more or less absent in the rural areas in Malaysia. It is not that surprising, given this context, that some schools in Sabah have a 100% fail rate when it comes to UPSR or PMR exams!

My heart really goes out to these kids in the rural areas since very little is down to help them with their educational deficiencies. I know of some social organizations and programs which are organized by people in urban areas to travel to some of these more rural areas to help the people out but these efforts are mostly restricted to development projects or activities. It is much more difficult to sustain an effort which ships in volunteers to give tuition to these kids on a weekly much less daily basis.

One way to rectify this shortcoming is to send in more teachers to teach in these rural areas. I remember hearing about the MOE giving more hardship and transportation allowances to teachers who have to travel long distances to teach in rural schools in Sabah and Sarawak. Perhaps these sorts of efforts can be increased. Also, a similar program to the one in the US called Teach for America, where recent college graduates commit themselves to teach in an under resourced urban or rural school for 2 years can be introduced. This can be done with subsidies from the government as well as strategic partnerships with local companies. I think as Malaysians become richer and more educated, the willingness to serve in these volunteer and semi-volunteer capacities will also increase. The challenge here is to create the infrastructure for these volunteers to serve.

Another possibility is to give financial incentives to parents of many of these kids from disadvantages families which are contingent on these kids staying in school. Such a program, called Opportunidades, has been implemented in Mexico for the past decade or so and is in the process of being copied in certain urban and economically deprived areas in the US.

I really think that education is the most important means by which these kids in rural areas can escape from a cycle of poverty and want. Government policy is one way of helping these kids out. Another is through the efforts of dedicated and motivated young people. We all can do our own little part.

P.S. I'm well aware that many urban kids who come from less well to do families face similar challenges. I remember trying to give tuition to some kids from a Chinese Village just off Old Klang Road. Most of them preferred to play with the computer instead of sitting down and revising their Math problems. But these challenges are multiplied in the rural areas because of the lack of resources in their schools.

The Elephant in the Room

A long column in Malaysiakini on education reforms by a Malaysian Professor who is currently teaching in Qatar. I agree with many of his points such as the need to appoint a proper search committee for the VCs of our public universities and the need to bring back English into the public universities. But the elephant in the room in terms of educational reform, especially in our public universities are left out. I'm speaking of the policies of racial preference, particularly in the recruitment and retention of academics. I'll talk more about this in a subsequent post. In the meantime, the column is reproduced below.

Please subscribe to Malaysiakini if you haven't done so already!

Our education system: Time for radical change
Mohamed Zain | Apr 3, 08 1:31pm

It is quite obvious now that Malaysia is heading towards a two-party system. This is certainly good for the country. There will more checks and balances. The winning and ruling party cannot do things according to their whims and fancies without worrying about the possibility of losing the next election.

Thus, as the country is heading towards a political maturity some drastic changes in our education systems are called for and perhaps are becoming inevitable. It does not matter which of the two eventual political parties rules the country. But the changes that I would like to suggest here are for the benefit of the country.

It is imperative that in this era of globalization and the fact that we want to make Malaysia more competitive as well as to make it a regional educational hub for attracting foreign students, we need to improve the quality of our education so that it is comparable if not better than the best in Southeast Asia.

Let me start first with our school systems. The outputs of the schools are the inputs of the universities. Thus, if we want to produce good products the raw materials must be of good quality as well. Every citizen of the country must have access to education. Hence, it must be made mandatory that every child attends school at least up to the lower secondary level. Thus, the school
education in this country must be free for all. And it must be fee all the way up to the high school level.

Next, we need to have good and qualified teachers for our schools. Thus, most if not all the teachers, must have a bachelor’s degree in education. Those without a degree majoring in education need to also have a teaching credential such as the one-year diploma in education offered by some of the local universities.

Lately, we have heard a lot about the need for the country to have a meritocracy system. This can only happen if we have a level playing field for all our school children. Thus, if we are really serious about implementing such a system facilities of the rural schools must be comparable to those of the urban ones.

All schools – whether urban or rural-based - need to have, among others, good Internet access, instructional aides, library, sport, and other facilities.

While there is a need for us to have a common national language so that all our citizens can communicate with each other in our multi-ethnic country, it makes a lot of sense that our children are multi-lingual as well. The current situations that most Malays can speak Bahasa Malaysia and perhaps English, but most on-Malays can speak at least two and perhaps three or more languages.

Hence, this imbalance needs to be addressed. Malay students should be encouraged to learn Chinese or another local language as well. Once our students have the choice to choose their additional language (especially their mother-tongue) in addition to the national language in the national schools, then the need to have he separate Chinese and Tamil schools (vernacular schools) in the country will disappear.

The presence of these vernacular schools in the country goes against he spirit of national integration. Of course, the offering of other languages for our students must be based on demand and it must be cost effective. More third language teachers must also be trained.

Bringing back English

Later, I will talk about the need to reintroduce English as the medium of instructions in universities. Thus, to prepare for this, the teaching of the English Language in schools need to be upgraded so that when the students enter universities, they will not be handicapped. Hence, more English language teachers need to be trained in the country.

Last, but certainly not the least, we need to introduce a semester system in all ur schools. This system needs to be standardized and synchronized with those of the developed world. In other words, our schools should have fall, spring and summer semesters where most students will go to school during the fall and spring semesters and they will take a vacation during the summer semester.

During the summer the older children, particularly those in cities and towns can start learning to earn money by taking up part-time or short-term employments in such places as fast-food restaurants or shops in the shopping malls. Of course, the system needs to be synchronized with the university system as well, so that on graduation, they will not be idle too long while waiting to enter universities.

I will now talk about the required reforms for our universities.

Universities are excellent places for our country to train its citizens and future leaders in its efforts to fulfill the needs for skilled and knowledgeable human resources. University students are excellent change agents for the country. Thus, first and foremost we need to amend the Universities and Colleges ct of 1971 (UCA). The clauses that prohibit or restrict the independence of cademics and students must be removed.

There is also an urgent need for us to abolish the mandatory requirement for the employees to sign the ridiculous and silly “Akujanji”. University employees, particularly the academics, should not be made to obey the instructions of the overnment or political masters’ blindly. Instead, intellectual discourse should be encouraged because it can be a good source of creativity and innovation for the country.

Top and senior management are crucial to the success of any organizations. In the past, the appointments of university vice-chancellor and his/her deputies re made or at least required the approval of the minister.

This practice has not to stop because most appointments were based on the candidates’ political affiliations or inclinations rather on merits. Appointments of someone to these posts should be made based on the suitability and the capabilities of the candidates for the jobs. They should be made by a search committee instead.

Revise salaries

In a big company or a corporation the appointment of the chief executive officer is made by the board of directors. Therefore, the appointment of the vice-chancellor or the president of a university should be made by the board of regents or a similar body. Of
course, some of the members of the committee can be appointed by the minister.

Similarly, the appointment of deans can also be made via a search committee. Vacant positions for deans or even departmental chairs could also be advertised and relevant media such as newspapers or websites like the Chronicle of Higher Education to invite more capable candidates.

The salaries of academics should be revised. The current salaries for academics, articularly the starting salary for an assistant professor (someone with a PhD) s pathetically low and very unattractive and need to be increased to a level that is comparable to those in Singapore.

The salary scales of academics should also be different from those of other government servants. After all, the nature of their jobs and the required cademic qualifications are different. The current practice where the salaries or academics are decided by the Public Service Department officers always favour the civil servants, particularly the so-called PTD (administrative and diplomatic services) officers and not the academics.

Attractive salaries will not only attract the best candidates but it will also attract more top graduates to be interested in becoming academics by opting to become tutors after their first degree and to pursue their graduate degree leading to a PhD in their field. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.”

Government should also set aside funds to enable our best graduates from universities who are interested in becoming tutors to get enough stipends and scholarships to carry out their graduate research at the research universities in the country. This will help the country save money by not having to send them to foreign universities.

Nevertheless, top graduates should also be sent to study abroad but they should only be limited to those who manage to secure laces in the top universities of the world or in those areas of expertise that are lacking in the country.

If we look at the list of academics in all our universities, we cannot help but otice that a substantial percentage if not the majority of them are holders of only a master’s degree instead of a PhD. This deficiency needs to be urgently ddressed. Once the salary scheme is revised appropriately, this problem can be overcome gradually as more top students will be interested in pursuing research which culminates in a PhD degree.

We should be aware that before anyone, especially a prospective foreign student, begins to apply for a place in a university, s/he will first visit the niversity’s website and among the first information they will seek is the list of academic staff of the prospective department where s/he plans to study.

Thus, well qualified teaching staff will attract more students. Hence, this should bode well towards making Malaysia an education hub for the region by attracting more foreign students from all over to enroll in our universities, particularly the private ones.

The academic ranking of positions in universities should also be standardized across all the universities in the country. It should be based on academic qualifications and experiences in teaching, research, and community work.

A person with a master’s degree should only be given a position of a lecturer. Those with a PhD should start as an assistant professor. As s/he gains more experience and produces more outputs in those three areas of work s/he can gradually climb the academic ladder to associate professor and eventually to the rank of a full professor.

The English language is now regarded as the international language. Just look at he availability of television networks across the world which broadcast free rograms in English via the satellites in their efforts to reach international udiences.

The major and common ones from among the countries whose native language is not English includes Al-Jazeera International (Qatar), DW TV Germany), Euronews (European Union), France 24, Russia Today, CCTV9 (China), and Arirang TV (Korea).

Thus, there is no doubt that our citizens now need to be proficient in English. And the best way to do just that is to revert the teaching of our students in our universities, especially in important fields of specializations such as business, economics, sciences, and engineering to English. After all, most of the text books in these fields are in English.

Here, I am assuming that our school children who graduated from high schools are lready proficient in our national language, in addition to one or two more of ther languages. We cannot compromise on this for the sake on peace and harmony n our country.

Malaysia needs to improve its competitiveness level in order to face the challenge of globalization and to remain relevant in this world. In this globalize world our citizens need to participate meaningfully in whatever international activities, be it business, economic, social, political, legal, or governmental. Thus, they must be proficient in English. Period.

Many universities in the Middle East and the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain) countries have already switched heir medium of instructions, especially for programs in business, economics, sciences, and engineering, from Arabic to English. It is not too late for us to do the same.

Exchange of academics

The current practice in the country of allowing private universities to offer academic programs in English while not allowing the government ones to do so is ot only discriminatory but it is also disadvantageous to those who graduate rom the government universities since they will be less conversant in English nd thus making them more difficult to find jobs in the industry where English is very much in use.

These graduates will depend more on the government for jobs. The current situation where there are many unemployed undergraduates is probably the result of this practice.

Last, but again certainly not the least, there is a need to for the country to introduce the semester system into our universities. Just as I proposed for our chool system above, our universities need to adopt a semester system as practiced by the universities in other countries. Most universities in other, particularly developed countries have a tri-semester system comprising Fall September-January), Spring (February-June), and Summer (June-August).

By having a standardized and synchronized system with other countries it will facilitate exchange of academics between our universities with their foreign counterparts. It will also enable foreign students to enter our universities ithout having to wait too long after they graduated from their high schools. This will again help promote making Malaysia as the education hub.

During the summer holiday, summer classes can be offered to those students who want to graduate faster and the academics who are willing to teach classes during that time can earn extra income. Those students who do not take summer classes can take part-time or short-term employments in the town and cities, just like the case for older school students mentioned above, giving them an
opportunity to earn and save some money before returning to their school.

Those are some suggestions which I would like to propose to the government in order make Malaysia a better and a more competitive country.

DR MOHAMED ZAIN, PhD is Professor of Technology and Strategic Management in the College of Business and Economics of Qatar University, Doha. He can be reached at or

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Malaysian born US economist recruited as Penang advisor

Read this in the Star a few days ago. Dr Woo Wing Thye, currently at the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC based think tank, as well as a tenured economics professor at the University of California at Davis, has been recruited as a member of a new think tank set up by the DAP led Penang state government.

His CV is certainly impressive. He graduated from Swarthmore, a liberal arts college in Philadelphia, got an MA from Yale and then an MA and a PhD from Harvard. He's published numerous articles in peer review journals including a few articles with Jeffrey Sachs, someone which I've brought up a few times in this blog. He's also advised the US treasury, the IMF and the World Bank. Interesting, he was appointed as a member of the International Advisory Panel to the Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2005. Hopefully, he will play a complementary role to many of the other academics and specialists who are and will contribute their services to the new state government in Penang.

A friend of mine suggested that the new Penang state government hold a Penang 'diaspora' seminar / gathering for all those Penangites who have left the country but are now willing to contribute to building Penang up once again now that it is under opposition hands. My sense is that many of these individuals would have had concerns working for or with a BN led government because of the perception of corruption and human rights abuses often linked with the BN government. I certainly hope that many formerly disillusioned Penangites will step up to the plate and bring about positive changes to the 'Pearl of the Orient' state.

Monday, April 07, 2008

World Class Vice-Chancellor Needed for UM

Datuk Rafiah Salim was appointed as the vice-chancellor of Malaysia's premier university, Universiti Malaya for 2 years ago to replace the disgraced Kapten Datuk Professor Dr Hashim Yaacob, to reverse the rapidly failing standards and her contract ends this month.

While not many persons will dispute the fact that she was likely to have been a better vice-chancellor than her predecessor, her performance to date has been at best mediocre.

Under Datuk Rafiah's tenure:
  • Universiti Malaya continued to decline in terms of global rankings by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) dropping from 169th in 2005 before she took over, to 192nd in 2006 and 245th in 2007. The university remains unranked in the other respected Top 500 global universities ranking table compiled by Shanghai Jiaotung University.

  • Instead of taking the necessary steps to rectify the declining quality, Datuk Rafiah chose to comfort Malaysians with the fact that UM was ranked 13th among nations belonging to the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).

  • She also hauled up a university academic after he wrote an article that criticised the nature in which the university student elections was held which appeared in a local daily last year. He was ‘advised’ by the vice-chancellor not to write on matters related to the university, clearly perpetuating the limited room for critical thought and constructive dissent within our academic institutions. Despite that, Datuk Rafiah had the temerity of suggesting that "public university students had the freedom to express their thoughts and ideas" at a student forum held in August last year.
Therefore, I call upon the new Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Khaled Nordin to take the all important step that no other ministers had the courage to do - open the search for a new vice-chancellor for Universiti Malaya, not only to all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, but also for all qualified top academics around the world in order to revive the fortunes of our premier university.

The Higher Education Ministry needs to:
  1. Establish the independence of the search and evaluation committee to ensure that the only criteria used for selection is the candidates' ability to improve the quality and standard of education at the relevant university, and not instead, the candidates' political links or connections.

  2. The quality of the committee members should be improved over time with greater emphasis on prominent and high-achieving academics. There's no reason why foreign “world class” academics could not be appointed to identify quality academics with sufficient intellectual prowess and administrative experience to lead our local universities.

  3. The shortlist of candidates should not be provided by the Ministry of Higher Education. We should not limit the candidates to civil servants who rose up the ranks or the deputy vice-chancellors who are part of the current malaise. The shortlist should instead be derived from the applications which are sourced from advertisements made globally in search for the best available candidate.
Only when a world-class academic cum administrator is selected to lead and given the free hand to reform and transform our universities, who won't be shackled by denial syndromes and political interference, then we can reverse the fortunes of the declining standards at our local institutions of higher learning.

And only when the standards of our institutions are raised, will we be able to provide the best quality education to our future generation, without which they will not be able to achieve their full potential. Correspondingly, Malaysia's ability to compete and progress in the competitive global environment would otherwise be impaired.

The end of Datuk Rafiah Salim's tenure provides the new Higher Education Minister the golden opportunity to execute what's best for Malaysia's future.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

'SLAB'ed in the face

This letter in Malaysiakini caught my eye today. The issue highlighted is the implementation of the Skim Latihan Akademik Bumiputera (SLAB) in regards to the medical profession. The views of this person is not unique. Check out related pots here and here. We've discussed SLAB in this blog here and here as well. The main issue of contention here is that this scheme is unfair and rewards people who are not as qualified.

When I did a google blog search on this issue, I came across a view from the 'other side', so to speak and I want to share it our readers. This post , written after the recently concluded elections, argues that Malays in Malaysia who are supporters of PAS and PKR have benefited from the NEP in many aspects, whether they were connected to UMNO or not. These include entry into institutes of higher education, scholarships for overseas education and yes, the SLAB scheme.

His views are, in my opinion, factually correct. Many Malays have benefited from the NEP, regardless of whether they were BN supporters or not. Some BN supporters and leaders might have benefited in a more direct fashion (contracts and such) but many Malays, regardless of income, would have benefited from the many social policies enacted under the NEP.

What I found quite interesting is the fact that the author is this view from the 'other' side makes no mention of the costs associated with these kinds of policies which others have pointed out. For example, is there a sacrifice in quality as a result of sending less qualified Malays for some of these scholarships? Would Malaysia benefit more from having a more merit base system of apportioning these scholarships? These questions go unanswered in his post. Perhaps these are issues which he is not concerned about. As long as the Malays benefit disproportionately from these schemes, he is not concerned about the quality of these graduates.

A more refreshing view I found was this letter in Malaysiakini, written by a more progressive Malay. He argues that it would be ideal if Malaysia could move to a multi-racial society where all are considered equal but current circumstances prevent this from happening, at least for now. He thinks that a better solution would be a slow move towards more progressive and merit based policies while at the same time, preserving the rights of the Malays in the constitution.

I am sympathetic to this view even though I'm not sure how exactly something like this might be implemented. One possibility which I envision is the slow removal of quotas in schemes like SLAB such that it can converge to a more merit based system in a defined period of time. For example, instead of giving junior Malay doctors fast track to SLAB while more senior non Malay doctors need to fulfill 4 years of service before they are eligible, policymakers can slowly decrease the 4 years needed by non Malays to let's say 2 years and increase the experience requirement for Malay doctors to 2 years. And instead of having a 90 / 10 quota, this could be slowly reduced to one that was more proportionate to the population of doctors e.g. 60 / 40.

I don't have major problems with recognizing the rights of the Malays in our constitution. But at the same time, there should be greater flexibility in interpreting and determining how these rights are implemented, especially in the field of higher education, where quality and scholarship ability are more important than the race of a person.

In regards to these kinds of issues, I would phrase the question as such: Would you prefer to be operated on by a doctor who is more qualified or would you prefer to be operated on by a doctor who is of the same race as you but might be not as qualified? Or, would you prefer your children at the university to be taught by a professor who is more qualified or would you prefer your kids to be taught by a professor of the same race who is less qualified?

I hope that the answer is obvious to most rational people.