Friday, October 21, 2011

Stop Intimidation of Malaysian Academics

The Government and University authorities must stop the intimidation of academics who expresses views and opinions differing from the ruling establishment

It is extremely disturbing that academic Professor Dr Aziz Bari has been subjected to rapid fire intimidation by the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), followed by the Royal Malaysian Police and now asked to show cause by the Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA). All the above over-the-top action was a result of Dr Aziz having expressed his learned opinion of the Malaysian Constitution and its laws, which is his area of expertise.

We are not in agreement with the opinions expressed by Dr Aziz all of the time, but we believe that everyone, what more academics in the relevant fields of study, must have the right to voice their views on all matters relating to the Constitution. After all, Malaysia is a country founded on the rule of law, and not one which is enslaved to an absolute authority.

The actions by the Government and University authorities will only prove that there is little room for academic freedom in our tertiary institutions, and that the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is used as the tool to ensure rigid conformity among the academics and the students.

The recent release of the Times Higher Education (THE) 400 Top World University Ranking 2011/12, where not a single Malaysian university is included has shown the dire circumstances of our local universities.

On the other hand, only 1 university, Universiti Malaya out of more than 50 universities in Malaysia made it into the QS 200 World University Rankings 2011/12, and that is because the “high impact research and citations” criteria is much lower than that of THE methodology.

In contrast, 60 Asian Universities made it into the THE 400 Top World University Ranking, with 16 from Japan, 10 from China, eight from Taiwan, seven from South Korea, six from Hong Kong, two from Singapore, and one each from India and Thailand.

The poor quality of our universities is a clear outcome from the fact that top Malaysian academics are turned off by the way Malaysian universities are managed, and often prefer to migrate to top universities in the region and the world to pursue their academic career. As a result, our Malaysian students face the double whammy of not only having weaker academics as their lecturers and tutors, they are prevented from exercising their critical thinking and analytical faculties as a result of the restrictive UUCA.

In the interest of arresting the decline in standards of our universities, we call upon the authorities to stop applying undue pressure on Malaysian academics from speaking their minds. The MCMC and police should immediately withdraw their attempt to harass Dr Aziz Bari for merely providing his opinions of the law. At the same time, UIA must withdraw their show cause letter which has added credence to the common perception that university authorities in Malaysia lacks independence and serves merely as a cat’s paw for the ruling party to suppress dissenting opinions.

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