Teaching is a subversive act

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I refer to the letter Isu Azly Rahman: kerajaan patut disalahkan

I thank you Saudara 'Bidin' for your honest, humbling, encouraging, and objective comment concerning the issue raised. I congratulate you for being accepted as a new lecturer in Universiti Utara Malaysia. Indeed, teaching is one of the most noble professions I have been encouraging many to take up. You will feel a sense of liberation being in the company of bright young men and women of all ethnic groups.

I continue to reiterate my stand in this issue - I will be honored to serve Universiti Utara Malaysia in the area of teaching thinking skills, education, and the social, political, and philosophical sciences. As I have stated in my letter to the new vice-chancellor, one that was never replied to, I have offered possible avenues of peaceful conflict resolution. I only received a one-sentence reply from the deputy vice-chancellor of academics, I quote: '... the management does not concur with your proposal ...'

My wife and I have actually been dismissed twice. One was during the time of the previous vice- chancellor, Dr Ahmad Fawzi Basri who denied us an explanation on the legality of the last two clauses of the Surat Akujanji, and the latest was when our offer to serve was denied with that one-sentence e-mail. Perhaps Mr Bidin, friends, colleagues, and former students of UUM might benefit from my questions below concerning our refusal to 'pledge our blind loyalty' to the then vice-chancellor Dr Fawzi Basri:

1. Why would we sign the letter and abide to the command and dictates of a leader who was out to destroy the work that I was entrusted to do as the then director of the newly established Center for Innovations in Education?

2. Why would we respect a leader that once stormed a meeting I was chairing on the setting up of UUM's distance learning project, interrupted it and disrupted the entire session much to the amazement and bewilderment of the faculty members in that room? He was not even invited to the meeting.

3. Why would I want to work under an academician who once questioned my suggestion to use Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of The Oppressed in a new course offering. I doubt if he had understood the classic text.

4. Why would I be subjecting myself and my wife (and colleagues) to the rule of an academic leader whose primary interest is to gain political mileage out of his/her position and who does not care about freedom of speech?

5. Why would our commitment and contribution be legally bound by a university leadership that actually suspend students for having critical views of issues they ought to have as citizens of a free nation?

6. Why would I pledge loyalty to one who was known to rise to power and design strategies based on Sun Tzi's Art of War and that sent others scrambling for cover, to resign, or simply be asked to be transferred elsewhere? Would you work in such an unhealthy and politically charged environment when your honest intention is to teach and develop those young minds so that they can be the most employable graduates?

Universities are not indoor political-futsal stadiums nor are they arenas for gladiators. Reading about the former and deceased vice-chancellor at the height of his power sent chills down my spine (May Allah Bless his soul and forgive him and us all).

What do you value as an educator, Mr Bidin? Help develop thinking skills or help advance totalitarianism? Would you sign a pledge of loyalty under such as an administrator?

Universiti Utara Malaysia is a great place to work. It is pristine and provides a conducive environment for reflective thinking. I was a member of the senate and a director of a center before I was blessed with the opportunity to pursue my studies. My wife was a deputy dean of the then School of Languages and Scientific Thinking. Like many faculty members of a young and promising university that offers courses such as 'Ilmu Pemikiran' and 'Etika', we served selflessly, leaving our young children for long hours to get our work for the university done. We applaud our colleagues for their sacrifices as well.

Universiti Utara Malaysia need a new breed of lecturers brave enough to teach students to question authority - be it in the field of knowledge they are pursuing or in activities of the universities that run counter to the philosophy, mission, and vision of the university. Our nation is in danger of turning into a fascist state. The signs are there - the political stranglehold on universities, mass media control of the minds of our children, government control of election processes, political appointment of university administrators, student apathy, witch-hunts for students who have alternative political opinions, massive corruption, violent crimes, dispossessed youth, etc. These are issues that must be discussed freely in all universities and in Universiti Utara Malaysia so that we may find a 'dialogical solution' to them and not put a 'death sentence' for discussing them.

Universiti Utara Malaysia lecturers need to be encouraged to speak up and have differing viewpoints and not have talented and valuable intellectual resources criminalised, politicised, and ostracised. These lecturers must help students with the skills of thinking and let them develop their own opinion however radical and peacefully absurd they might be. This is what my colleagues and I taught students in Universiti Utara Malaysia for six years - to create new paradigms of looking at things.

We still wish to serve UUM. Let UUM think of ways for Dr Mutiara and I to come in and serve - but only after the last two clauses of the 'Akujanji' are removed though. This will be the just thing to do.

I believe the Academic Union of University Utara Malaysia should devote an entire meeting towards removing those oppressive clauses, to call for a revocation of the 'Surat Akujanji' and next to repeal the University and University Colleges Act so that old and new lecturers can think freely and teach freely. In fact all the Persatu(s) of all our public universities should do that so that there will be a better smart-partnership and synergy between the university administrators and he faculties. We do not wish to see leaders abusing power for one's own glory.

Would you, Mr Bidin, propose for UUM's Persatu to call for such a meeting? Again, Mr. Bidin. I thank you for your kind words and I wish you all the best in being and becoming an educator. Like the French philosopher Anatole France once said: 'Teaching is a subversive act'. I believe in that - we must help students subvert normal thinking and all those taken-for-granted views and break new frontiers of understanding. I wish to do more of this should I be given the opportunity to come back in and teach. But first, remove those two clauses that take away our rights as citizens of a sovereign nation. We are not a fascist state.

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