Thursday, September 08, 2005

37] Campus Elections - Here's What to Campaign For

Campus elections – here’s what to campaign for
Azly Rahman
Sep 5, 05 2:53pm

Great. Campus elections is back again.

Student involvement in politics always excites me – it is an important aspect of ‘lived democracy’. It reminds me of my college days as one who was and still is, fascinated by the translation of theory into practice. I had good professors, namely ex-Southeast Asian Peace Corp teachers who are children of the 1960s and who taught us the importance of activism. As a former student leader, the theories of radical critique of society we read in class were used as a foundation of our protests. In those days, it was against the system of apartheid.

Closer to Malaysian politics, I was a strong advocate of the philosophy of multiculturalism and cultural action for freedom. Till now though, I remain politically neutral, committed only to the advancement of transcultural philosophy. Activism in America is coming back in the form of a systematic, sustained, and concerted programme of anti-war radicalism with the children of the baby boomers from the ‘Blue states’ populating the movement.In the history of campus student activism, many student leaders became theoreticians and mentors to younger generations. Among them are Abbie Hoffmann, Stanley Aronowitz, Michael Harrington, Herbert Marcuse, Irving Howe, and many others.Electronic voting system suspect

Any totalitarian state will be fearful of student activism. Structures of domination are imposed, distractions designed, student movements monitored, and issues versus non-issues created. Television, the good ol’ tool of mass deception, is deployed to the fullest extent.The use of the electronic voting system (which is used in some campuses) is suspect in a country like Malaysia.

One should be aware of possible serious security issues involved; of tampering through the use of malicious computer codes. Whoever owns the means of producing technology will own the means of producing the desired results. Technology, contrary to what many would believe, is never neutral. What goes inside the design and execution of the software depends on the environment it is propagated in.

The cybernetic system/virtual environment is built with human constitutive interests. If computer technology can be used to subdue nations, destroy national economies through the buying and selling of currencies, control the movement of individuals through GPS (global positioning system) or satellite, reduce human beings to IDs or social security number, why not manipulate campus elections? Who monitors the validity, reliability, or the functioning of these electronic voting systems?

In addition to the above high-tech form of ‘control’, the use of primitive technologies of command and control such as voter intimidation, scare tactics, race-based enforcement of double standards in accessibility to campaigns, psychological warfare on the mind of the already docile Malaysian university students, and the use of the Universities and University Colleges Act to its fullest extent – also exemplify the functioning of the totalitarian state. The ideological-university apparatus is used to further the control of civil liberties and to destroy academic freedom.

"What must students fight for?"

Academic freedom is not a privilege given to universities. It has never been and will never be. It is an expression of the most fundamental right of any university. One cannot compromise this. It is the heart and soul of any institution of learning. It is not the prerogative of the higher education minister to grant or not to grant ‘academic freedom’. It is like saying that the air we breathe must now be managed by the environment minister.

Those guarantees to protect academic freedom must be stated explicitly in the mission statement of all our public universities. This entails the discarding of all documents of intellectual repression. I therefore see the fight to restore the autonomy of the universities and to help bring back free spirit of inquiry as the most fundamental struggle of campus/student politics right now.

I am sure other issues are important too – more buses on campus, to refuse to wear or not to wear the tie or the batik, to allow or not to allow Mawi or Siti Nurhaliza on campus, or to reduce the number of students in those university foundation classes. I am sure these issues are close to the experiences of the student.

However, I think the greatest war, or the perang agong, or the mahabharatta, or the mother of all battles, still remains the struggle against the systematic stupefication of the minds of the inhabitants of our campuses.

Here are what Malaysian students need to fight for:

• To stop the harassment of students.

• To discard the requirement of pledging to the Akujanji.

• To create/rejuvenate the culture of intellectualism.

• To improve university classroom teachings so that students’ critical and problem-solving skills can be improved.

• To create a sustainable culture of ‘higher-order’ thinking skills.

• To give uncompromising autonomy to university lecturers to think, act, and profess freely the belief they hold in their professional fields without them being harassed, intimidated, demanded ‘show-cause letters’ or even fired for asking questions.

• To replace university administrators that are merely interested in pushing his/her own personal political agenda by using the university resources.

• To ask for the resignation of the higher education minister; one who is interested in promoting a culture that is destroying the intellectual foundation of the university and one who refuses to act upon blatant injustices subjected to students and lecturers.

• To call for the abolishing of the repressive Internal Security Act and replace it with an Intellectual Sustainability Act.

"Students, your lecturers need help! "

Malaysian university lecturers are also keenly observing the campus elections for a good reason. It involves the intellectual survival of the lecturers. All of them were made to sign the Surat Akujanji “under economic duress”. Sign the pledge of totalitarianism, or lose your job! - was the clear message from the government. Students can help raise awareness to free the lecturers from the shackle of intellectual domination so that the latter will in turn be free from the fear of teaching freely.

The lecturers have been spending many years of teaching dangerously, under self-censorship and perhaps under surveillance from campus authorities. As homo academicus, they live in what Michel Foucault might say, the panopticon and synopticon of the academic police state. A teacher in his/her own lifetime impacts the life of thousands. A good teacher creates leaders, a terrible one can even possibly turn them into criminals.

How do we expect to create a nation of thinkers when we let the university administrators destroy thinking? “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” said the American philosopher-president Thomas Jefferson. We need more and more students who can articulate dissenting views well and be respected all the more. We need to allow students to ask questions that are fundamental to our need to create a truly intelligent society.

We need to create Socrates on campuses and not one-dimensional beings merely interested in amusing and entertaining themselves to death by this or that Malaysian Idol they vote into stardom through instant messaging services that profits cellular phone companies.

My ideal student will be one who will challenge me with radical perspectives so that I may also learn from him/her. My ideal student will be one who will stand for something and not fall for anything. These, in my almost 20 years of teaching in two continents, have been my cherished individuals – those I value as “the everyday Socrates”.

I may not necessarily agree with everything they believe in, but I will defend to the end, their rights to their own opinion, until Socratic dialogue makes us arrive at different levels of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

"My campaign message"

This must be exciting times on Malaysian campuses. It will be a good learning experience of translating theory to practice. Before my wife and I were dismissed from Universiti Utara Malaysia, a prominent colleague of mine designed a system of thinking called ‘Sistem Pemikiran 4L’ with the components Pemikiran Luhur, Lahir, Logik, dan Lateral. It is a very interesting way to conceptualise how human beings may use religion/ethics, brain science, logical thinking, and creativity to solve problems.

As years progress, little did I suspect then that the thinking system in UUM will evolve counter to the aspirations of true learning. It has evolved into a shrewd form of totalitarianism crafted by a misguided administrator who wished to kill human creativity. The regime was created and sanctioned by the state.

All university students should be taught how to think critically and creatively – to counter all forms of indoctrination and totalitarianism. My campaign message to students in all universities – fight for your rights to be respected and to allowed to be more intelligent. From the point of view of any ethical/religious system, the mind is a gift. We must therefore, destroy all theories of ignorance; those that are built upon arrogant bodies of knowledge.

Intellectual freedom in our universities is not a gift from the state; it is the inalienable right of the individual. Students must demand this for themselves – and for their lecturers. Have a safe, ethical, and educational campus election.

My vote is for radical transformation, for our nation to survive intellectually – nothing less!

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