The private and public dimensions of our dismissal

comments     Dr Azly Rahman, Dr Mutiara Mohamad     Published     Updated

We refer to the malaysiakini report UUM: Azly and wife owe us RM1.25 mil .

Since we highlighted our plight to the media, we have stated that we were dismissed by Universiti Utara Malaysia on two counts; being denied a no-pay leave upon the completion of our studies and refusing to sign the Surat Akujanji.

The application for a no-pay leave is a 'private' matter explained clearly to the university while the Surat Akujanji issue is a 'public' matter of interest. Let us make the two clearer so that the issue of 'being ungrateful and not wanting to serve the country' will not arise.

We believe that the public is not interested in reading the following legitimate and personal reasons behind our requests for extensions for our study and then for a no-pay leave till September 2006 upon the completion of our studies. In no particular order of importance, among the reasons are:

  • Having to endure extreme financial, and economic hardship as a direct aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 that happened at the beginning of our studies, in which we were suddenly living below the American poverty line with the loss of 75 percent of our finances and had to take up minimum-wage jobs while attending graduate school and supporting our family,

  • Having a loved one with a terminal illness that consequently resulted in death,
  • Dr Mutiara Mohamad experiencing years of debilitating medical condition in which it has recently culminated in a major surgery,
  • Undergoing numerous hospital and specialist's visits when one of our children underwent diagnosis for the causes of his unilateral loss of hearing,
  • Undergoing the long process of rigorous requirement of Columbia University doctoral candidacy (90 graduate credits and two comprehensive exams plus a dissertation),
  • Having to go through the long and arduous process of preparing a Columbia University dissertation report,
  • Needing several changes of dissertation advisors, and having to coordinate for the availability of the full dissertation committee for the final defence,
  • Experiencing the emotional trauma from the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers which happened literally in our backyard,
  • Enduring the discontinuation of scholarships and all forms of financial aid from UUM towards the end of our studies, and a host of other hardships we which finally overcame and persevered through even when all means of economic resources had dried out.
  • In the course of pursuing studies such as a doctoral degree, one had to sometimes battle with circumstances beyond one's control. We are sure UUM has had the experience of dealing with its faculty members caught in similar circumstances. Only perseverance and strength of will will decide if one triumphs against all odds. We were dismissed for not reporting home when we needed extra time to resolve the economic repercussions due to some of the above issues.

    Having reluctantly revealed the 'private' reasons, we believe the public is more interested in understanding why we were dismissed for refusing to sign the Surat Akujanji and for asking the university what the last two clauses mean. We failed to get satisfactory answers on how our rights will still be protected by agreeing to sign the letter. We had refused to sign the pledge after being repeatedly asked to do so.

    The public is interested in knowing that one can actually be dismissed and lose everything by taking a stand against the letter of the Oath of Loyalty, although one is already confirmed in the job and although the Surat Akujanji was a later addition to existing rules/circulars already in place.

    The media has picked up the latter as it is a more important issue to the academic community, the students, and the civil servants. It reflects how repressive the oath can be and shows the consequence of not abiding to the pledge.

    Despite being terminated, in the summer (August) of 2006, with the help of the Ministry of Higher Education, we suggested to UUM how we can resolve this issue by serving the university in a non-traditional way (eg by doing collaborative projects with the institutions we are affiliated with in the US with UUM, dissertation advisement, lectures, etc) but our proposal was rejected with no explanation given. This decision is not in line with our government's 'brain gain' policy.

    Had we been given the much-needed no-pay leave, we would by now have already gone back to serve the university. Had we been given the explanation and guarantees that the Surat Akujanji will not criminalise and victimise us as academics with a voice and a stand to make, we would have signed it. Better still, had the letter not existed, the universities will not be seeing a petition sent to the prime minister and currently circulated to major Malaysian public universities to have it removed.

    We must differentiate between the private and the public dimensions of the issue. However, our plight is no longer a private matter because there is a public (universal) dimension to it. We have lost our jobs in Malaysia as a consequence of, among others, our refusal to sign the pledge. The amount the university is claiming from us will take us perhaps five lifetimes to settle. We shall leave the complexity of the issue to our lawyers. It is a personal matter the public is perhaps not interested in reading about.

    Nevertheless, we hope the public will appreciate our explanation of the private and public dimensions of the issue. Let us now work on removing the repressive oath of loyalty, so that no academician will be fired for refusing to sign it nor any student will be suspended for asking questions in a public forum and so forth.

    It is hypocritical that if we had signed the Surat Akujanji, we would not even be allowed to seek and engage outside help (legal or otherwise) for any grievances we have, yet the university has all the rights to do so. Again, we reiterate, although already confirmed in our jobs, we were still dismissed for refusing to sign a document that was forced onto us in the middle of our career.

    In this letter, we have decided to explain the 'private' reasons for our request for a no-pay leave so that we may clarify any misconceptions surrounding our dismissal. However, let us now focus on how we should resolve the public issue.

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