Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Sunday, 31st January 2010:
Khaled should not turn the clock back but boldly go forward to foster the spirit of academic freedom among university lecturers and students by supporting UM Vice Chancellor Ghauth Jasmon’s handling of the campus polls controversy
Higher Education Minister Datuk Khaled Nordin should not turn the clock back but boldly go forward to foster the spirit of academic freedom among university lecturers and students by supporting University of Malaya Vice Chancellor Ghauth Jasmon’s handling of the campus polls controversy.
Khaled should not undermine Ghauth’s authority as UM VC by attacking or criticizing the latter’s decision to suspend the controversial campus election to allow an independent testing of the e-voting system as well as to investigate allegations of bias and partisanship of the deputy vice chancellor of student affairs (HEP) Azarae Idris.
There is talk that Khaled is so unhappy with Ghauth that moves are afoot to replace him with a new Vice Chancellor for University of Malaya.
Khaled should quash such talk and deny any such moves without any delay as any such arbitrary and high-handed Ministerial interference in university autonomy will have far-reaching consequences and bring to nought all recent efforts to restore University of Malaya’s status as one of the world’s Top 200 universities.
It is open secret that UMNO and UMNO Youth leaders were blatantly involved in the recent as well as previous campus elections, not only in University of Malaya but also in other public universities - not only directly but also through their proxies in the various university administrations.
As Higher Education Minister, Khaled should stay strictly above these political machinations and accept the verdict of the students, even if they want to put in power and responsibility a pro-student coalition instead of a pro-administration bloc.
It is no disaster for academic excellence and university autonomy or the quest for international recognition for the university as one of the world’s leading universities if student management is run by pro-university student group rather than by a pro-administration bloc.
It is not completely a coincidence that University of Malaya has started last year the climb-back into the World’s Top 200 Universities bracket in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) 2009 ranking after falling out of the Top 200 Universities ranking for two years in 2007 and 2008.
University of Malaya’s precipitous fall from grace from one of the internationally-recognised Top Universities in the world in the sixties started in 2004, when from 89th ranking in the THES Top 200 Universities 2004, it started a free-fall to No. 169 in 2005, 192 in 2006, then falling out of the Top 200 bracket altogether in 2007 (ranked No. 246) and 2008 (ranked No. 230), before making a comeback in 2009 when it climbed 50 places to be ranked No. 180 in 2009.
From 2004 to 2008, the pro-Aspirasi or pro-administration group won control of the student union in the campus – the period when University of Malaya started the fall into the “black hole” of international university rankings.
In 2009, the pro-Mahasiswa group regained control of the campus student body, which also witnessed a climb-back of University of Malaya to the THES Top 200 Universities ranking.
I commend the Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah for speaking up to ask the university authorities to be fair and not to expel the nine varsity students who were detained by police on Jan 23 in Kuala Lumpur for demonstrating against the campus election process.
Saifuddin should go one step further to ensure that the police does not press charges against the nine varsity students concerned, as the students should not be criminalised for their idealistic pursuit of greater campus democracy, academic freedom and university autonomy.
I am disappointed that the other Higher Education Deputy Minister, Dr. Hou Kok Chung, has opted out to stay on the sidelines in the cause to restore campus democracy, academic freedom and university excellence considering that he was an academician with University of Malaya before taking part in the last general elections.
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timor