Malaysiakini Letter

Prof, reveal your ethnic relations team

Published on  |  Modified on

I refer to the recent news interview given by Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, chief coordinator of the revised ethnic relations module in which he discussed and justified his participation in the work.

Firstly, I would like to thank him for acknowledging the role that I played in helping with his early research and in regarding me as one of his 'gurus'. I hope I mentored him not only on the craft of scholarship but also on the importance of seeking and disseminating knowledge through fair and objective procedures and methods, and adherence to standards of truth, fairness and respect.

There are compelling reasons why there needs to be a full public and professional discussion and analysis of the work on the ethnic relations teaching module. One is the appropriateness of an officially sanctioned module, which requires cabinet approval before finalisation, whilst at the same time, is severely and deliberately restrictive in drawing upon inputs from other professional and public stakeholders.

The best scholarship emerges when there is a robust and open exchange of a diversity of ideas. This has been missing and the path taken in preparing the module smacks of poor standards of scholarship, lurching perilously close to a top down and undemocratic approach.

The second relates to the procedures used in entrusting the work to an individual and his own select team of researchers. If the intention of the course is to encourage the skills of critical thinking and to foster transparency and openness in teaching the subject of race relations in the country, then surely the manner in which the work has been commissioned and carried out defeats the very purpose it is intended to serve.

A third reason is that the work has been undertaken with public funds to serve the overall national educational policy. As such, it is in the interest of transparency and accountability that full information on the draft should be made available to the public right from the start.

In this regard, Prof Shamsul's rationalisation of his refusal to name his research team is weak and disingenuous. Not providing the names and academic credentials of those engaged in the enterprise is akin to asking the public to endorse a contract for an important infrastructure without knowing who the contractors are potentially a recipe for disaster.

Indeed, the disclosure of the names and participation of highly qualified scholars and individuals would restore public confidence in the scholarly standard of the module, in its academic and social relevance and objectivity, and in its fair and representative handling of a complex and difficult topic that is of much concern to educators and the larger Malaysian public.

It is still not too late to undo the damage arising from the mishandling of this important issue. I call upon Prof Shamsul to lend his support to the press statement made by 16 civil society organisations on Jan 29, 2007 calling for greater transparency and participation in the finalisation of the module and for a postponement of the release of the draft to enable public inputs to be incorporated.

I call upon other academics, especially social scientists, to voice their views and concerns on the module, the manner in which it has been designed and most importantly, the content when it becomes available.

Finally, I call upon the Malaysian Social Science Association (PSSM), as the custodian of social science scholarship in the country, and whose members are actively engaged in social science research and teaching, to provide a statement of its position on this important matter which carries strong implications for the integrity of the discipline and profession, and to monitor future developments.

Should the PSSM continue to be a silent consenting party on this matter, it will undermine the objectives and purpose for which the association was set up to pursue.