Focus View
A wrong move, UM!
FocusM team | 08 Dec 2017 00:30
Universiti Malaya’s gag order prohibiting its students from voicing out their views in public is regrettable.

What’s surprising is that the gag order comes from the country’s premier university, which is known to have produced many of the country’s leaders. UM’s newly-appointed vice-chancellor Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim has some tough questions to answer. 

With such a controversy erupting so soon after his appointment on Nov 1, it does not augur well for him. Prior to this, Abdul Rahim was vice-chancellor of Universiti Teknologi Petronas. 

As vice-chancellor, he must not forget that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. Education is not just about passing exams but also engaging in debate and critical thinking. 

In any country, the academic community must be allowed to express its views freely without fear or favour within the boundaries of the law. How else are they going to contribute to the well-being of society and the nation?

The government wants Abdul Rahim to contribute to the success of UM as a leading university in research, teaching, learning and the empowerment of the community. He is also tasked with putting UM on the list of the 100 best universities in the world.

One of the pre-requisites of becoming a world-class university is to attract foreign students as well as the best lecturers. How is UM going to attract them if it stifles freedom of speech? Do we see such gag orders in world-class universities like Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge?
 
As it is, UM has been making the news for the wrong reasons. It was without a vice-chancellor for nearly a year before Abdul Rahim came onboard. Its student elections have been controversial while the university has taken disciplinary action against several students for staging protests. 

UM should focus on how it can obtain sufficient funding for its research projects now that the government is cutting research grants to public universities. One way is to collaborate with the private sector in commercialising its research breakthroughs. This revenue would minimise its dependence on taxpayers’ funds.
 
At the end of the day, the success of a university is about how it can raise its standards to become world class and achieve excellence. But that will not happen if public perception of it is negative.