The forced resignation of Edmund Terence Gomez from Malaysia's most prestigious university, Universiti Malaya, illustrates a continued decay in the standards and practices of higher education.
Despite the impressive investment in education through the 1990s, professional standards have dropped to a level that respected scholars and quality teachers are being pushed out of the system. This trend is especially evident in the social sciences. The end result is that a generation of younger scholars, students and ultimately society at large are losing out.
Gomez's work is both pioneering and of the highest quality. As a meticulous scholar Gomez examines the complex relationship between business and politics, race relations and regional political economy, writing path breaking books and articles that have changed the understanding of Malaysia. His role in the classroom as an educator committed to his country and role model to fellow scholars is less known, but equally important in deepening an intellectual community. His resignation significantly damages the perception of Malaysia's public universities abroad.
Gomez's resignation is part of a broader developing pattern within public universities in Malaysia observed from afar. Academic freedom, a cornerstone of democratic governance and necessary conduit for knowledge, has worrisomely contracted. Independent scholars like Gomez have less space to contribute to knowledge, less support to conduct research that deepens understanding of the problems facing developing countries, whether it is political openness or economic competitiveness.
At the same time, academic standards have dropped as political loyalty is rewarded over publications and job performance. Promotions appear to be based on personal relationships and political affiliations rather than on professionalism. Leadership positions within universities have become venues to fawn over politicians rather than to educate.