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Friday, July 27, 2007

A VERY IMPORTANT PETITION

Academics on mission to conquer fear
Jul 25, 07 2:29pm

The nation’s campuses are still in the grip of fear. However, a group of academics are seeking to conquer it with their bold campaign against the Universiti Akujanji - a document pledging loyalty to the government which all students and academics are required to sign.

Led by Dr Syed Husin Ali (left) and Dr Lim Teck Ghee (right) - two former professors at Universiti Malaya, the country’s leading higher educational institution - the group has enlisted 38 of their colleagues to endorse a petition against the Akujanji.

The petition, which described the loyalty pledge as a “major deterrent to the healthy development of the universities” and demanded its immediate revocation, has been submitted to the government.

“The Akujanji has not only inculcated a culture of fear, passivity and uncritical thinking in the campuses. It has also eroded the fundamental right of freedom of association and expression that is so important to protect and enhance if our nation is to advance,” said a statement signed by the two former top academics.

It added that the Akujanji is antithetical to the development of the country’s universities and to the quality of teaching and scholarship.

Names not to be published

The list of endorsees appeared to prove their case. Of the 40 academics who gave their backing to the petition, 29 are no longer teaching at their respective educational institutions. [See full list below]

“The endorsers include many current serving academic staff from the nation's public universities, including some presently undertaking sabbatical and higher studies programs abroad. They have written to express support of the petition but have requested that their names not be published,” said the statement.

The petitioners said that many present university staff members were unable to include their names on the list “for fear of victimisation by the authorities”.

Among the big names who endorsed the petition is former deputy vice-chancellor at Universiti Malaya, Drs Abu Bakar A Hamid.

Those endorsees who are still at working at the nation’s universities are professors Dr Norchaya Talib, Dr Loh Wei Leng, associate professors Dr Azmi Sharom, Dr Terence Gomez (photo) and Dr Rosli Omar (all Universiti Malaya), professors Dr Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda, Dr Francis Loh Kok Wah and associate professor Dr Khoo Boo Teik (Universiti Sains Malaysia), lecturers Dr Mohamed Aslam Haneef and Nur Barizah Abu Bakar (International Islamic University Malaysia) and associate research fellow Wong Chin Huat (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia).

According to the petition organisers, one of the endorsers has lamented that the "shackling the minds of academics only makes eunuchs of our children's teachers”.

“We hope that the government can rise above narrow and self-serving political interests and do the right thing in revoking the Akujanji requirement.

“Failure to do so will only further undermine the ability and willingness of our academic community to engage in critical and independent thinking and scholarship that can make the difference to the building of an intellectually robust and progressive country,” added the joint press statement which was released today.

Reinstate sacked lecturers

The petition said that the requirement of loyalty to the government, which is found only in a few repressive university systems in the world, has stifled academic freedom in Malaysia “to an unprecedented extent”.

It called for on the government to reinstate Dr Azly Rahman, Dr Mutiara Mohamad - both of whom were lecturers at the Universiti Utara Malaysia - and other academicians who have been dismissed as a result of their opposition to the Akujanji.

Azly (photo), who is currently teaching in the United States along with his wife, Mutiara, writes a weekly column for independent news website malaysiakini.

“Similarly, others who have suffered in their career development due to the Akujanji should have their cases reviewed and should be provided with justice and redress. These are our academic prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly victimised and whose continued exclusion is a black mark against academia and our democratic system and values.”

In addition to the academics, 46 non-governmental organisations have also endorsed the petition.

Since 2002, all civil servants and local university students and staff are required to sign the Akujanji.


Sample of the Akujanji document

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