31 May 2007

We’ve drawn a blank with UUM - why?


Dr Azly Rahman

I refer to the letter Siapakah yang hipokrit dan pengecut? by Ariff Wahab of Kelab Penyelidik Politik Malaysia (KPPM). I appreciate the concern for the explanation of the different definitions between ‘patriotism’ and ‘cowardice’. I do not think Ariff is aware of the history of the situation. Let us clarify the matter.

I restated my willingness to serve Universiti Utara Malaysia only after the last two clauses of the Surat Akujanji are revised/removed, to ensure that my wife and I or any fellow academician will not be victimised by any politically-motivated administrator in the course of our service. But all avenues of mediation and resolution seem to still be closed under the present university administration, although we thought that things have changed for the better. We are still hoping that things will radically change and that we will be able to serve without fear or favour.

If necessary, for Ariff's and KPPM's further research, we can reproduce our 19-page letter to the Yang Di Pertuan Agung, the prime minister, and several other cabinet ministers, all of which were never replied. We may also produce other documents to Universiti Utara Malaysia concerning the reason for the dismissal. This will provide a composite picture of the situation and the possible solution. It will highlight the origin of the crisis and how the nature of the administration before Dr Nordin Kardi was appointed.

We have attempted to offer to serve the institution in the best possibly mediated ways but the administration has refused to agree. I had earlier decided to meet with the top official of the ministry to better facilitate the mediation process. I had hoped that this would be the best solution, as what Datuk Professor Hasan Said and Tan Sri Ani Arope, who mediated the issue, believed in.
I hope my letter to the vice-chancellor of UUM, written almost one year ago and reproduced below will help Ariff and his organisation understand my stand and the issue better and reconstruct his understanding of the meaning of ‘patriotism’. The letter was never replied to.
These questions will still remain until they are resolved through legal means or otherwise:

  • Why has Universiti Utara Malaysia refused to let me come in and teach? I believe I can be of great service to our students.

  • Will Universiti Utara Malaysia allow us, as patriotic Malaysians, to serve our students in a different (and still meaningful) capacity while refusing to sign off the last two clauses (of The Surat Akujanji) that will be detrimental to our rights to uphold the freedom of speech in the classroom?

How might we feel protected in an educational setting that once suspended a student, Rizal Anan, for asking critical questions in a forum? Where do one find justice in this matter? How should one serve an organisation if the two clauses are written as such for academicians who are supposed to encourage others to think creatively, critically, and to make a stand based on ethical grounds?

The Surat Akujanji is a man-made document in which the authors of the power/knowledge matrix wish to colonise the minds of those who sign it. It contains clauses that will guarantee the author the enforcement of any command now and in the future; commands that will be crafted to meet the needs of maintaining unnecessary control over others.

Here are just three instances of how it may be abused:

1. If for example, the vice-chancellor wishes to institutionalise faculty-wide National Service training against the wishes of the faculty, or Biro Tata Negara mind-control sessions that run counter to the universal philosophy of human freedom, the administration can take action against those who refuse to comply. There will be many avenues of abuse. And if one's constitutional rights are violated, one cannot seek help outside of the university. This is clearly unconstitutional.

2. If a vice-chancellor does not like the contents of lecture of a political science lecturer whose job is to encourage critical sensibility, then the lecturer can be commanded to tailor his/her lectures to the dictates of the 'official knowledge' sanctioned by the state. Even worse, the lecturer will be monitored during his/her lecture sessions until enough evidence is gathered to warrant dismissal.

3. If a lecturer finds it unfair or unconstitutional that students be suspended for asking questions in public forums, as happened in the case of Rizal Anan of UUM, will the pledge of loyalty stop the lecturer from protesting to the university administration or to express his/her views publicly through the media?

These are a few illustrations of the potential offerings from the reservoir of abuse the Akujanji can impose on the academicians who sign it. This is why it is important for the two clauses to be removed.

This - the systematic stupefication of intellectuals - is the fundamental character of an authoritarian regime we must all learn to recognise and stop from sprouting. Mutiara and I will continue to soldier on until we see a revised version of the Surat Akujanji. We cannot compromise on our demands. We wish to make our public universities the dignified place they so badly deserve to be.

Again, my appreciation for Ariff Wahab's letter concerning ‘patriotism’. It is certainly good and necessary to hear from many sides. We need organisations like yours.

Letter to UUM Vice-chancellor, August 2006:

‘Dear Yg. Bhg. Dato' Dr. Nordin Kardi,

Assalamualaikum wbr.

May this email find you, your family, and your organisation in peace and in the best of health.

My name is Azly Abdul-Rahman, a former faculty member of Universiti Utara Malaysia, Sintok dismissed during the tenure of its previous vice chancellor Allahyarham Dato' Kol. Professor Dr. Ahmad Fawzi Hj. Basri. My wife Dr. Mutiara Mohamad (both graduates of Columbia University, New York) was also dismissed at the same time. I believe you and the UUM teaching community are well aware of the issue surrounding our dismissal; an issue well-documented in alternative news portals and blogs as well as one being brought up in the Malaysian Parliament during the tenure of Dato' Shafie Saleh, the previous Minister of Higher Education.

I am currently in Malaysia among others, to resolve the issue with Universiti Utara Malaysia.

Yesterday, accompanied by Tan Sri Haji Ani Arope, Chairperson of Universiti Sains Malaysia, I was granted an audience with Dato' Professor Dr. Hasan Said, Director-General of Malaysian Higher Education. The meeting was arranged by Tan Sri Hj. Ani, (a man I will dearly remember as one who unselfishly helps others to seek justice). I presented my case surrounding the dismissal, especially our disagreement with the last two clauses which were not clearly explained to us. Just by asking for an explanation to these clauses, we were dismissed, punished, and stripped off of our life-long earned retirement benefits.

Dato' Professor Dr Hasan Said helped resolved the issue in the most amicable manner and offered suggestions that will possibly end this foreseeable long dispute. I read this as a progressive move by the Ministry, under the promising leadership of Dato' Mustapha Mohamad.

Dato' Professor Hasan suggested the following:

1. That I meet with you to resolve the issue and to begin discussing avenues for cooperation in the capacity as a Visiting Professor only if Universiti Utara agrees to ‘reinstate us in that capacity’ or,

2. That I contribute in the capacity of Visiting Professor on a ‘rotational basis’ at Malaysian universities that would have programmess/centers/institutes relevant to the area of expertise I can offer.

Dr Mutiara can offer her services in the area of institutional collaboration and student and faculty exchange programmes between UUM and universities in the United States. She is currently the Director of The Programme in Language Culture, and Professional Advancement at one of New Jersey's foremost private university. I have been involved in the New Jersey public education and have been an adjunct professor in five different departments in various universities in New York and New Jersey.

I was also, during my two-week stay here in Malaysia, been made aware that you are an educational leader who is open enough to work out peaceful solutions to the issue; unlike your predecessor Dato' Professor Kol. Dr. Ahmad Fawzi (May Allah Bless his Soul).

Dr. Mutiara and I wish to contribute to Universiti Utara Malaysia in the capacity of Visiting Professors to advice students in the doctoral programme and to share the valuable experience we have acquired during our stay here in the United Sates; experience as students as well as faculty members of American universities.

Universiti Utara Malaysia remained in our heart as a place to contribute even though Fate has decreed that the previous vice chancellor (may Allah Bless his Soul) would have a difficult time dealing with the differences he has, especially, with me. I believe the thought of signing the Surat Akujanji especially under him was unimaginable; for fear that we will continue to be victimised when we come home to serve in an educational institution that ought to promote freedom of thought and social justice. I now wish to reconstruct the negative perception I have been holding.

In addition, the proposition voiced by Dato' Professor Hasan Said during the meeting will eliminate the need for Dr. Mutiara and I to go through the legal and political processes which we foresee will be tedious, complex, complicating, and morally and publicly damaging even to UUM as well as to our Ministry of Higher Education.

I believe we will, by Allah's Grace and by our own design, be able to avoid such a treacherous route and focus our time and energy in educating the bright young minds in our public universities, consistent with the true meaning of education as a ‘gentle profession that develops the human mind and draws out the best in each and every human being’.

But let potentially destructive things pass and progressive ideas come our way under your wisdom and your leadership.

I hope to hear from you concerning a possible meeting time, at the earliest date possible. I will be leaving for the United States on August 19 (two weeks from today) and would like to resolve this matter before that date.'

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