Political divide jeopardises free speech in university

I have written issues revolved around academic freedom, education system and universities’ roles and functions numerous times. But I can’t help writing again for today’s column.

Khoo Ying Hooi | Published: 27 October 2014

I have written issues revolved around academic freedom, education system and universities’ roles and functions numerous times. But I can’t help writing again for today’s column.

During our kindergarten, primary and secondary schools’ years, we are generally being taught how to obey to the teachers and listen to instructions. We are hardly being taught how to think critically and more importantly, criticise constructively.

Then comes the university, university and college are considered as a place for the young adults to be independent and not relying on the lecturers. It is a place for the young adults to speak up and share thoughts, as well as to conduct research on their own without being told what to do.

I do agree that to some extent, we do need some guidance or what commonly termed as “house rules” for those wishing to gather and expression an opinion without endangering others.

But I can’t agree if we practise political divide among the university students, because it is simply unhealthy for our students to listen to only one side of the story.

By restricting their horizon of thinking, it means we are teaching the students that they are not equipped to live in a free society.

Disagreement is necessary; after all it is the way we learn.

That said, we should instead have faith and confidence to let our students to think on their own.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy appeal hearing is set for October 28 and 29. He has been invited by the University of Malaya Student Council (PMUM) to speak on the night before the hearing, so to mark his journey from a vocal student to the possibility of a jail term.

Its intention is simple, which is to revive academic freedom and freedom of speech within the university.

However, it has not been able to receive approval by the management.

The intolerance of ideas is prevalent in the country today. When the university, a place to seek knowledge, is polarised, it is not helping our students.

Malaysia would be a more nurturing country if the political differences between us were not so great. It is rather unfortunate that the universities have failed to see that it is precisely our differences about political, social and economic policies that it is so crucial for us to protect the right to free speech for all.

Instead, if we were to look at student activism from an alternative view, practising politics on campus could be an efficient way to prepare political leaders for the country.

Public authority should only limit free speech when it incites violence or unequivocally provokes insensitive discrimination against others.

Come to think about it, it is in fact scary when the students are prevented from having to listen to upsetting opinion about the country.

In short, universities must foster constructive debates, a practice that is absent from public life today. Having said that, universities must counter the widespread polarisation. After all, the fundamental to the mission of our universities is to promote diverse opinion and foster vigorous debate.

To put it simply, if the students are constantly being fed with “good news” and if this continues, then how are they going to prepare for the real world? – October 27, 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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