University vice-chancellors a pathetic lot

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My recent termination, the non-approval of leave for Terence Gomez of Universiti Malaya, the pressure applied on UPM's vice-chancellor Mohd Zohadie and the mere one-year extension for academic Shaharir Mohamad Zain of UKM represent few notable cases of senior academics who have been given a raw treatment by their respective universities and the Higher Education Ministry.

Of course, there are many other cases of senior academics who have just walked away silently rather than stand up and fight against the prevalent injustice in the various public universities. All these cases show that public universities in Malaysia suffer from a number of problems.

First, despite the talk of democracy, freedom and transparency, universities are run by the Higher Education Ministry as mere clerical appendages. While the new minister can do much to bring about reforms that are badly needed, he seems rather silent and content.

If not for the prime minister's intervention in the Edmund Terence Gomez case and the pressure from the staff of UM, the rot in the academia would have gone unnoticed. To date, the minister of higher education seems more interested in denying and condoning various kinds of malpractices in the universities.

Second, vice-chancellors of public universities are a pathetic lot. Very often, they have been appointed not on the basis of academic criteria, but whether they have the right political connections. In fact, there are grounds to believe that Umno seems to be playing an important role in terms of determining who should be vice-chancellors and their deputies.

Third, public universities in the country do not provide students and lecturers an environment in which knowledge and learning could be pursued without any restrictions. There is so much fear in campuses leading to the imposition of self-censorship.

How can you have the development of world-class universities when campus life is so sterile and monotonous? How can you have world-class universities when leaders of universities like vice-chancellors do not have the academic and intellectual abilities to provide the vision?

Frankly speaking, universities in the country - supposedly centres of learning and wisdom - are in a miserable state of affairs. Academics seem more interested in pleasing and humouring their immediate bosses rather engaging in research and learning.

Conditions in public universties are so bad that lecturers do not present proper lectures and their notes have not been updated for graduate courses. I do not intend to go into the whole list of litanies here. My forthcoming book on the nature and causes of the present malaise in the public universities should be able to elaborate in detail on this.

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