It is even more draconian than the very undemocratic Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which prohibits university lecturers and undergraduates from participating in any political or public activities regarded as critical of the government of the day, as the Aku Janji pledge will allow the government to reach into the campuses and lecture halls to police the lecturers and students and monitor their views to ascertain whether they violate the pledge of “loyalty to the government”.
This will constitute a gross interference and repression of academic and intellectual freedom of our university community - whether in teaching, researching, writing, learning, exchanging and disseminating information and opinion - which is the lifeblood for academic excellence in any system of higher education.
Even without the Aku Janji pledge, UMNO Youth has already acted as the self-appointed Police for University Political Correctness, as the UMNO Youth education bureau recently announced that it had compiled and submitted to the Education Minister a list of university lecturers allegedly involved in propagating anti-Government messages and activities in campus.
One can only imagine what could happen when all university lecturers and the 200,000 undergraduates in the public universities are required to take the “Aku Janji” pledge of Good Conduct, which started off with the declaration of “loyalty to the Government” and ending with the acknowledgement that any breach of the undertaking entailed disciplinary action!
Will all the campuses and lecture halls in the public universities in the country be infested with “agents” and “spies” to report to the authorities any dissenting views of lecturers and undergraduates which could be construed as violating the Aku Janji pledge of “loyalty to the government”?
The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had said that the signing of the pledge was to check "poisoning of the minds" of students so they "stick to the original purpose of entering universities to gain knowledge and not to indulge in anti-government activities".
In a world undergoing rapid changes, universities should not be just imparting knowledge, but educating students to become well-informed and deeply-motivated citizens, who can think critically, analyse problems of society, look for solutions to the problems of society, apply them and accept social responsibilities.
Will lecturers and students seeking to achieve these goals be regarded as violating the Aku Janji pledge of “loyalty to the government” if they express critical or even dissenting views from those of the government, without being anti-government or even being involved in any opposition political party?
The government has circulated a seven-page explanatory note as to how the nine-point Aku Janji could be violated by the civil servants, but it is completely silent as to how they could specifically affect university lecturers and students when in the pursuit of academic and intellectual freedom and responsibility, they “speak out on ethical, cultural and social problems completely independently and in full awareness of their responsibilities, exercising a kind of intellectual authority that society needs to help it to reflect, understand and act” (UNESCO World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century, 1998).
It is a sad commentary of the potent subversive effect of the September 11 terrorist attacks to the intellectual atmosphere and culture in Malaysia that there is no national movement or campaign - in fact, there is hardly a bleat of protest - against the most serious attack, and the institutionalisation of the repression, of academic and intellectual freedom in our institutions of higher learning.
Even the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), established specifically by statute to protect and promote human rights, has chosen to turn away from the most insidious violations of human rights embedded in the UNESCO World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century 1998. At the minimal, Suhakam should voice its alarm at the far-reaching implications of the Aku Janji requirement for university lecturers and students and call for it to be suspended until there could a full and extensive national review involving academicians and the civil society.