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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

40] Letter to the Higher Education Minister

Letter to higher education minister
Azly Rahman
Sep 28, 05 12:43pm


Dear Dr Shafie, I write in reference to the malaysiakini report on your response to the refusal of my wife and I to sign the Akujanji. I had expected this to come officially from Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) nine months ago. As a leader of a non-political sector, you cannot let your political experience interfere with the decision-making process, whatever the hidden/embedded argument for national development might be. You must understand why Mutiara and I refused to sign the Surat Akujanji.

We are opposed of the last two clauses that symbolise the nature of totalitarianism you are propagating in our public universities. Your statement that there is nothing wrong in the Surat Akujanji and that it is like “a pledge to God” puzzles me. Your brief and unsatisfactory answers reflect your inability to analyse the difference between ‘abiding to God’ and ‘abiding to an organisation’ run by demi-gods.

You must understand what organisational culture means in the context of the present university and its culture and how institutions are becoming closely tied to ideologies and individuals that function as inscribers of ideologies. This is the fundamental character of the discourse on social and educational change you must learn to apply as a leader of the education sector.

You denied us our simple request; one that asks your ministry and UUM to explain to us if our constitutional rights and our rights to teach freely will be potentially violated should we sign the Surat Akujanji. UUM was asked three questions before we sign the letter. No explanation was given. Instead, you sanctioned our dismissal. Is this how you make decisions in a network of organisations called Malaysia's public universities?

You are not supposed to run a factory producing talking heads - you are supposed to run an institution called a university wherein universality of ideas must reign over the parochialism of political interests. Political doctrines inscribed onto the landscape of universities will not help create oases of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. You are not supposed to run a political party of yes-men and yes-women. You are supposed to run a network of 21st century learning organisations, as defined by theorists such as Peter Senge. You cannot let your political ideology interfere with the philosophical ideal of a university. You will only speed up the damage that is happening to the intellectual lives of my fellow academics and students.

"Request ignored"

Let me now refer to your statements regarding your refusal to revise the last two totalitarian clauses of the Surat Akujanji. You must understand our point of view. You sanctioned our dismissal from UUM without understanding why we refused to continue to serve in an organisation we believe will do injustice to our career and our calling as educators.

You do not have an idea of the reality of my relationship with the previous vice-chancellor - one that was based on my disagreement with his regime's systematic and desperate suppression of ideas. My past application for promotion was unfairly rejected without explanation and my questions for clarification on the Surat Akujanji were used as grounds for dismissing my wife and me. Mutiara and I merely wanted written guarantees that we would not be further victimised by UUM. We asked you to intervene by removing those two clauses, but you ignored our request.

Let us resolve this issue by what I see as a relevant analysis - not only of you as a leader of Malaysia’s public and private universities, but also of someone who is systematically trying to endanger the creative young minds of this nation. Your statement equating the pledge of loyalty to ‘Akujanji with God’ requires clarification. I do not think the analogy is accurate and it does not make philosophical sense either.

You must be able to make the correct distinction between one's refusal to pledge loyalty to an institution run by power-hungry vice-chancellors with the pledge of loyalty/communicative acts of submission and devotion to a just God that ought to be discovered personally.

"Potential for abuse"

You seem confused about the metaphysical nature of these two pledges. The Surat Akujanji is a man-made document in which the authors of the power/knowledge matrix wish to colonise the minds of those who sign it. In it contains clauses that will guarantee the author to enforce any commands now and in the future; commands that will be crafted to meet the needs of maintaining unnecessary control over others.

Here are just three instances of how it may be abused:

1. If for example, the vice-chancellor wishes to institutionalise faculty-wide National Service training against the wishes of the faculty, or Biro Tata Negara mind-control sessions that run counter to the universal philosophy of human freedom, the administration can take action against those who refuse to comply. There will be many avenues of abuse. And if one's constitutional rights are violated, one cannot seek help outside of the university. This is clearly wrong.

2. If a vice-chancellor does not like the contents of lecture of a political science lecturer whose job is to encourage critical sensibility, then the lecturer can be commanded to tailor his/her lectures to the dictates of the ‘official knowledge’ sanctioned by the state. Even worse, the lecturer will be monitored during his/her lecture sessions until enough evidence is gathered to warrant dismissal.

3. If a lecturer finds it unfair/a disgusting practice for students to be suspended for asking questions in public forums, as happened in the case of Rizal Anan of UUM, will the pledge of loyalty stop the lecturer from protesting to the university administration or to express his/her views publicly through the media? These are a few illustrations of the potential offerings from the reservoir of abuse the Akujanji can impose on the academicians who sign it. This is why it is important for the two clauses to be removed.

This - the systematic stupefication of the intellectuals - is the fundamental character of an authoritarian regime we must all learn to recognise and stop from sprouting. Mutiara and I will continue to soldier on until we see a revised version of the Surat Akujanji. We cannot compromise on our demands. We wish to make our public university a dignified place it so badly deserves to be.

"Ways to mediate"

As an educator who believes in the principles of peace education, I have a few suggestions on how you could mediate in UUM:

1. Replace the Surat Akujanji with a version that will come from UUM's own academic freedom committee. No lecturer who questions its contents has to be dismissed. This will constitute an act of corruption of power carrying legal implications with it as well.

2. Instruct each faculty/department to set up its own committee to propose, discuss, mediate and produce statement of guarantees of academic freedom. This is necessary to protect academicians from rampant abuse of power by its administrators.

3. Proclaim a statement of 'non-partisanship' with any political parties so that UUM can be free to think and not free to be further colonised. The university is a sacred intellectual space that must not be used as a tool of political demagogues.

4. Encourage students to be politically involved so that they may learn to be aware of better alternatives to the prevailing ideologies. No one has the sole claim to political truth.

5 Encourage all points of social, political, economic, religious and cultural points of view to prevail so that the next generation of students will be stronger intellectually. Give them the freedom to define their own political, economic and social future.

6. Train new lecturers in looking at structure of knowledge from multiple perspectives, be they from the Structural-Functionalist, Logical-Positivist, Post-Structuralist, Marxist and neo-Marxist, Religious, Futuristic, Ethnomethodological, and Phenomenological points of view so that they may challenge UUM students to deconstruct and reconstruct new knowledge. New UUM lecturers hunger for new knowledge that will help them break away from the mould of the old regime.

7. Encourage researchers in the Tun Dr Mahathir Leadership Foundation to do critical research on the hegemonic system of thought that was left by that prime minister of 22 years. UUM needs to create good breed of home-grow critical theorists that will help enlighten others on the meaning of totalitarianism of all cultural forms.

8. Encourage all UUM administrative staff members - from the vice-chancellor's chauffeur to the registrar - to continue pursuing knowledge both for personal and professional advancement and to understand the meaning of intellectual freedom and human rights in a campus that is increasingly turning to become yet another indoctrination camp.

9. Attract a more ethnically diverse Malaysians and international candidates for teaching faculty, to reflect the growing diversity of UUM's population. Hire lecturers who will not teach students what to think, but how to think.

10. Dive into the sea of possibilities of transformation and take risks on all spheres of governance and educational enterprises so that a truly intelligent UUM emerges.

With these radical changes, you have nothing to lose except your fear of progressive change. And our students will have nothing to lose except their mental chains. If you desire, I can help your ministry with possible ideas of reform.

Sincerely, Azly Rahman

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