LETTER | Malaysia Academic Movement (Gerak) condemns in no uncertain terms the decision by the authorities at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) to cancel a student forum featuring political activist Hishamuddin Rais.
Prior to GE14, Hishamuddin had been barred from entering public universities principally because of his activism and his pro-Pakatan Harapan stand.
This was supposed to have changed after Harapan’s win in GE14, particularly since the new Education Minister Maszlee Malik had announced a slew of reforms.
Such reforms include the declaration and directive that Malaysian public universities are now free to hold academic programs such as political debates and forums.
In light of Maszlee’s widely-reported declaration, the UKM decision makes no sense and reeks of an attempt to retain the bad habits of the previous regime and to snub Maszlee.
Hishamuddin’s case evidently is not an isolated one.
Indeed, Gerak is shocked and appalled to hear of an earlier retraction of an invitation to renown National University of Singapore sociology professor Dr Syed Farid Alatas.
Syed Farid was supposed to have delivered a keynote address at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) in September, but was then rebuffed, purportedly due to his (wrongly perceived) religious belief and his critical writings.
Gerak believes these incidences – which also go against the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech – are very much due to there being no change in university leadership and the mindset of those heading these establishments.
The old guard evidently still dominates public universities and poses a serious challenge to higher education reform.
Gerak applauds Maszlee’s action in rebuking UKM’s vice-chancellor for the Hishamuddin fiasco but we find this response weak and insufficient.
Gerak demands an overhaul of the leadership of public universities. All public university top leadership from the chairmen, board members, vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors must be replaced immediately with reformist academics.
We strongly believe that the higher education reform that Maszlee’s envisions will not see the light of the day as long as the old guard remains.
We are supposed to be entering the era of a much-touted ‘New Malaysia’. Hence, blatant forms of discrimination, outright violation of academic freedom, and sheer ignorance coupled with arrogance (bodoh sombong) - rampant in our public universities under the previous regime – must be crushed.
To be replaced with a university environment that celebrates freedom, creativity and different points of view.
This letter is signed by Professor Zaharom Nain, Associate Professor Dr Faisal S Hazis and Gerak executive committee.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.