I have been reading with concern the correspondence in the Malaysian media about the University of Malaya's treatment of Dr Edmund Terence Gomez. I wish to bring to light some information about Gomez and his relation to the university that has yet to enter this debate.
I first met Gomez about seven years ago, when he was attached, for a while, to the University of Leeds. Towards the end of his stay in Britain, I tried to persuade him not to return to Malaysia.
I argued that he would easily get a permanent post in a British university, that he would be promoted more rapidly than if he returned home, that British academe was a better base from which to pursue an international scholarly career, and that his family's standard of living would dramatically improve if they were to remain in Britain.
While acknowledging that all I had suggested was probably true, Gomez insisted that his place was in Malaysia. He was committed to his students there and to his research on Malaysia's economic and political development.
Through his teaching and scholarship, he wished to continue to contribute, as an socially engaged intellectual, to the creation of a prosperous economy administered by a mature, self-confident, polity.
In early 2003, some time after he had returned to Malaysia, he asked me to act as a referee in support of his application for promotion to a full Professor. I was happy to do so and wrote to the University of Malaya commenting very favourably on his suitability for promotion. Some time later I discovered that Gomez had been denied promotion.
Given Gomez' international eminence, I was very surprised by this decision. Consequently, I wrote to the university's vice-chancellor to ask why Gomez had not been promoted. I pointed out to Professor Hashim Yaacob that Gomez was one of Malaysia's three most internationally eminent social scientists; that he was the only one of the three not to have a full Professorship; and that the other two were no longer (at that time) residents in Malaysia.
I also mentioned that I was aware that he had been approached to apply for professorships in both Japan and Britain but had refused to do so, wishing to continue to pursue his career at the University of Malaya. I did not receive a reply from the vice-chancellor.
Gomez had applied for leave of absence to take up the UN post in Geneva so that he could avail himself both of the exciting opportunities such a post would provide, and remain secure in the knowledge that he could return to the University of Malaya to continue the good work that he has undoubtedly done there.
In any university that I am aware of (and I have worked at leading universities in the US, Australia and Hong Kong, as well as Britain) Gomez's request for leave would have been granted.
In the hope that it is not too late, I would urge the University of Malaya to reconsider Gomez' application for leave. Should it fail to do so, I fear that Gomez may become a permanent addition to the 'brain drain' that I gather is beginning to damage Malaysian public universities.
The writer is Professor of International Economic Sociology at the Manchester Business School and School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester.