A betrayal of university’s core values

Student activism appears to be going through a revival lately, with the constant “invasion” by several universities in an attempt to curb their activities.

Khoo Ying Hooi | Published: 10 November 2014

Student activism appears to be going through a revival lately, with the constant “invasion” by several universities in an attempt to curb their activities.

The latest being the 10 undergraduates detained for “illegal” assembly in Kota Kinabalu. The 10 include Fahmi Zainol, the Universiti Malaya student leader who made headlines recently.

It was reported they were detained while distributing pamphlets on the abolishment of Sedition Act at Jalan Gaya before proceeding to Universiti Malaysia Sabah as part of their “Jelajah Reformasi” road tour.

The response of the authorities on recent student activities affirms one thing – they see these students as a threat.

As I have written many times in the past, a university is a place not only to gain knowledge, but also a place for the students to acquire whatever skills needed before they step into the working world.

If we take a glance at the universities’ missions, visions and core values, most to a certain extent appear to “cherish” differing opinions. There is also a consensus that the function of a university is not only for teaching and learning, but also to produce quality students.

But how do we define quality students?

Let’s use the oldest public university in Malaysia, Universiti Malaya as an example.

There are eight core values: integrity, respect, academic freedom, open-mindedness, accountability, professionalism, meritocracy, teamwork, creativity and social responsibility.

The third core value is academic freedom. According to the definition, academic freedom encompasses the following:

  1. Recognises the primary role of our university as an institution that advances and disseminates knowledge for the betterment of humanity.
  2. Encourages activities that generate and disseminate knowledge beneficial to the nation and humanity.
  3. Tolerates viewpoints or activities that differ from own perspectives.
  4. Appreciates and promotes the expression and exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints.
  5. Does not engage in illegal or immoral activities under the guise of academic pursuit.
  6. Exercises academic freedom in a responsible and ethical manner.
  7. Values the spirit of free inquiry; its promotion will lead to intellectual growth and enlightenment; its erosion will lead to misguidance and intellectual decline.

From the description, the university does seem to be an “open space”.

For instance, the university encourages activities that generate and disseminate knowledge beneficial to the nation and humanity.

Are the current students’ activities not considered as activities that could generate knowledge beneficial for the nation and humanity?

What happened in the recent “tussle” between students and university management, unfortunately, did not reflect the spirit of the core values that UM intends to uphold.

Students, especially those specialising in the social sciences, tend to be interested in political and social issues, be it at the national or international level.

It is because they have an interest in political and social issues that some of them choose to further study in the field of social sciences.

We might also recall the UKM4 of four political science students disciplined for taking part in politics. The four were in the Hulu Selangor constituency during the campaign period for the parliamentary by-election.

Imagine if students are only allowed to learn about politics from lectures or textbooks, how can they know what politics is all about?

Forums, such as the recent one on “From class to Kamunting: remembering academic repression”, featuring Dr Syed Husin Ali and Dr Kua Kia Soong, at the Tun Mohamed Suffian Auditorium at the Law Faculty must be applauded and allowed to continue.

Such intellectual debate should be allowed to flourish without any restrictions. Otherwise, we would risk producing leaders who are close-minded and not capable of being thinkers.

The disciplinary hearing against eight UM students, dubbed the UM8, who were charged with illegally holding a rally on the campus for opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been postponed to November 18.

Whether the “Occupy University” moves to show solidarity with the UM8 by about 100 students and the petition by UM alumni, academics and concerned individuals could make any impact on the postponement or any decision later on, it is too early to judge.

But what is clear now, public pressure does work to a certain extent. – November 10, 2014.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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