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LETTER | On the proposed appointment of Education Minister Maszlee Malik as the president of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and the ensuing developments, we the following undersigned civil society organisations hold the following positions:

Our education minister should not head any university to avoid conflict of interests. An education minister who is concurrently the president of IIUM would be caught in a split of loyalty towards the ministry and the university as the two have legitimate institutional interests that are and should not be identical.

On the one hand, the minister should not favour any university based on personal linkages as he must be fair to all higher learning institutions. On the other hand, the IIUM president must be prepared to fight for the best interests of the university or universities in general, which the education ministry may not necessarily agree with.

Such a distinction of roles is pertinent for the healthy functioning of both the ministry and universities and a shared leadership in one person is bound to compromise such check-and-balance and undermine the legitimate interests of either if not both parties.

We salute the education minister’s pledge to liberate, reform and advance our universities towards excellence but all these require legal and organisational reforms, not management control.

Starting with the repeal of Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, the minister should work to end power concentration, non-transparency, unaccountability, authoritarianism and cronyism in our tertiary institutions and not replace old academia warlords with himself or his appointees.

The argument that the education minister doubling up as IIUM president will save RM500,000 annually as Maszlee said he will work without a salary is completely misplaced as the check-and-balance between the education ministry and universities is not an item for cost-cutting.

If this logic is to be applied across the board, then all cabinet ministers would have to helm many government-linked institutions and corporations. This would likely result in the minister’s attention and energy split too thin and likely result in poor leadership and management of both the ministries and the government-linked bodies.

It is time to cease our indulgence for supermen and superwomen. It is also time to cease overburdening people and concentrating power in a few as cost-cutting measure. In particular, the education sector must be allotted adequate budgets to invest in new leadership and avoid overburdening and concentrating of power in a few.

The past precedents of two sitting education ministers, Anwar Ibrahim and Najib Abdul Razak, holding the IIUM presidency, which reflected the old Malaysia practice that personal linkages ensures development, must not continue in the New Malaysia which the education minister helped to install on May 9.

In a clear appreciation of new realities, the prime minister-in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim, has set an excellent example by declining the offer of the IIUM presidency and this should be emulated by the new education minister.

The education minister should honourably decline the appointment of the IIUM presidency by sultan of Pahang as the constitutional head of IIUM. He can certainly recommend a towering academic/intellectual who can enhance autonomy and stature of the university, both at home and in the world, without a ministerial office.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has made it clear that the minister's appointment is not cast in stone. A graceful decline by the education minister will allow a smooth return to the drawing board.

The arrest of two IIUM students on Sept 8 night for protesting the education minister’s appointment as the IIUM president, the first student arrests since May 9, is much regretted. We note the contradicting accounts by the education minister and the police on the arrests.

We hereby appeal to the education minister's wisdom for a decision that would uphold the freedom of universities from undesirable influence and political interference. We believe this is a cause the education minister himself identifies with especially when he was the subject of such occurrences in the past.

The above stand is endorsed by:

1. Agora Society
2. Angkatan Mahasiswa Universiti Malaya (Amum)
3. Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (Wargaaman)
4. Bersih 2.0
5. Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies (Huayan) 华研
6. Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
7. Challenger Malaysia
8. Challenges Foundation
9. Childline Malaysia
10. Community Action Network (CAN)
11. Demokrat Universiti Malaya (DUM)
12. Engage 愿景工程
13. Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (Prima)
14. Gabungan Persatuan Guru-Guru Sekolah Cina Malaysia (Jiaozong) 教总
15. Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, Malaysia (Gopio Malaysia)
16. Greenfriends Sabah
17. Health Equity Initiatives
18. Justice for Sisters
19. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
20. KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) 隆雪华堂
21. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiwa Independent (Kami)
22. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG) 林连玉基金
23. Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (Mash)
24. Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & (MCCBCHST) 马来西亚五大宗教理事会
25. Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (Mipas)
26. Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (Mitra)
27. Malaysia Muda
28. Malaysian Youth Care Association (Prihatin)
29. Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
30. Merdeka Education Centre 独立教育中心
31. My Petaling Jaya (MyPJ)
32. MySkills Foundation
33. National Human Rights Society (Hakam)
34. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH) 森华堂
35. North South Initiative (NSI)
36. Oriental Hearts & Mind Study Institute (Ohmsi)
37. Partners of Community Organisation, Sabah (Pacos Trust)
38. Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak)
39. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
40. Persatuan Bahasa Cina Universiti Malaya 马来亚大学大华文学会
41. Persatuan Bekas Siswah Universiti dan Kolej Di China, Msia (LiuHua) 马来西亚留华同学会
42. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
43. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor Dan Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
44. Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (Rapat)
45. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita (PSW)
46. Sabah Women's Action Resource Group (Sawo)
47. Sahabat Rakyat 人民之友
48. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
49. Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Hokkien Association Youth Section 雪隆福青
50. Sisters in Islam
51. Society for the Promotion of Human Rights, Malaysia (Proham)
52. Suaram 人民之声
53. Suara Siswa Universiti Malaya (SSUM)
54.Tamil Foundation Malaysia 淡米尔基金
55. Tenaganita
56. Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy赵明福民主基金会
57. Tindak Malaysia (TM)
58. United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) 董总
59. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (Ucsaam) 校友联总
60. University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) 马大新青年
61. Women Development Organisation Malaysia (WDO)
62. Youth Era

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