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I refer to your reports on Universiti Malaya's rejection of my application for secondment to the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in Geneva.

Following my appointment at UNRISD, my wife, Dr Sharmani Patricia Gabriel, on May 20 had informed UM's Head of the Department of English at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, where she is a lecturer, that she intended to apply for two years' unpaid leave from January 2006.

This application for leave, as my wife had explained in her letter, was so that she and our three children would be able to join me in Geneva. On Tuesday (May 24), my wife received a written response from her head which stated:

'I must emphasise to you that I will not support your application for unpaid leave. We will expect you to resume your duties in Semester 2, 2005/2006.'

My wife is currently on a nine-month sabbatical and is scheduled to return to UM on Dec 26 this year. The reason cited by the head of department for the decision was that some staff members were retiring, resigning or going on sabbatical.

If there is a problem when an application for unpaid leave is made, it is customary for the management - before coming to a decision - to discuss this matter with the lecturer concerned to reach a mutually agreeable or amicable resolution.

According to university regulations, a lecturer is allowed to apply for a period of up to three years of unpaid leave to accompany a spouse on an overseas posting. This provision is in place to ensure that families are allowed to remain together.

First, UM's management chose to reject my application for secondment to UNRISD even though I was originally given strong verbal assurance by the university's vice-chancellor himself that my application would be approved.

Now, my wife has been told by her head of her department that any application for unpaid leave will not be entertained. This effectively means that my family will not be able to join me in Geneva.

I am deeply disappointed with the unprofessional, non-consultative, high-handed and autocratic behaviour of the university authorities. The manner in which my application for secondment was rejected and my wife was told that her application for unpaid leave would not be supported, to my mind, suggests a serious case of victimisation and abuse of power by the university authorities.

I feel that the management of the university has failed to handle my application for secondment in a rational and just manner, and is now acting callously to prevent my family from joining me in Geneva.

I call on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Higher Education Minister Dr Shafie Salleh to review this issue to ensure that my application for secondment to UNRISD is given a fair and compassionate hearing.

The writer is associate professor at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti Malaya.