Former dean of NUS and prominent political scientist K.J. Ratnam dies at 88


Professor K. J. Ratnam was a key member of the Department of Political Science at the University of Malaya in Singapore when it was first established in 1961. - UNIVERSITY SAINS MALAYSIA

SINGAPORE: The former dean and head of political science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Professor Emeritus Datuk K.J. Ratnam, died on March 10. He was 88.

NUS announced his death on its website on March 13, describing Prof Ratnam as a distinguished political scientist, educator and scholar.

“A prominent political scientist specialising in Malaysian politics and race relations, Prof Ratnam was the youngest professor in his generation,” NUS said.

Prof Ratnam was a key member of the Department of Political Science at the University of Malaya in Singapore when it was first established in 1961. He became the department head in 1965, the university added.

NUS president Tan Eng Chye expressed his condolences, acknowledging Prof Ratnam’s “impactful work in the fields of political science and academia that have developed generations of leaders”.

From 1965 to 1970, Prof Ratnam served as the head of political science at the University of Singapore, the predecessor institution to NUS.

In April 1966, The Straits Times reported that Prof Ratnam had been appointed dean of the university’s newly established Faculty of Social Sciences. Just 30 years old, the Kuala Lumpur-born academic was the youngest dean at the university.

Professor Tan said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our former colleague... A highly respected political scientist, educator and scholar, Prof Ratnam was instrumental in nurturing, for many decades, generations of leaders in both the public and private spheres in Singapore, Malaysia and beyond.”

Respected in academic circles for his commitment to thorough research and his contributions to academic discourse, Prof Tan said Prof Ratnam will also be dearly missed by generations of social sciences students who remember his passion for teaching and his inspiring mentorship.

“He had no doubt shaped the hearts and minds of many individuals in years past and present,” said Prof Tan.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, former head of the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in NUS, paid tribute to Prof Ratnam’s mentorship during her time as an undergraduate at what was then the University of Malaya, Singapore.

Prof Ratnam had mentored her when she joined the Department of Political Science in 1967, and later through her doctorate.

“K. J. Ratnam left a lasting impression on me, and I owe much of my intellectual development and open-mindedness to him,” said Prof Chan, who is also Ambassador-at-Large with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the NUS Board of Trustees.

“K. J. possessed a fine mind, and he captured one’s attention with his clear articulation of ideas.”

She remembered how Prof Ratnam warmly welcomed her suggestion to include certain articles in the seminar reading list, and how this revealed his humility and kindness.

“There was a quiet kindness about him and a great sense of humour. He was a man of dignity, and as a teacher he inspired by being the decent, honourable person that he was,” Prof Chan said.

“For me, K. J. was the exemplar of the best that academia and education could produce,” she added.

Professor Lionel Wee, who is dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at NUS, also paid tribute to Prof Ratnam’s impact on political science in Singapore.

“Prof Ratnam was a key contributor to the foundation of political science in Singapore, having been intricately involved in the setting up of the department in the University of Singapore,” he said.

In 1970, Prof Ratnam became the first dean of the School of Comparative Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

He later founded and directed the Centre for Policy Research, which conducted groundbreaking social science research and advised the Malaysian government on key issues like poverty and ethnic relations.

In 1993, he was granted the title of Professor Emeritus by Universiti Sains Malaysia for his contributions.

In 2003, he took on the prestigious Tuanku Chancellor Chair of Science and Technology Policy and Development at the same university.

Mohamad Abdullah, senior deputy registrar at USM, paid tribute to the late Prof Ratnam in a Facebook post on March 10.

Abdullah described the political scientist as an “active researcher”, having published many topics ranging from Malaysian politics to science and technology policy.

“We have lost another great thinker and respected figure in the field of political science, whose contributions to the intellectual world were significant,” Abdullah wrote in Bahasa Melayu.

Alternative news site Gutzy Asia said that in an e-mail sent by Prof Ratnam’s son, Kayan Ratnam, the latter said his father had a weak pulse over the last few days, and had scheduled a doctor’s appointment for March 11.

Kayan said that on the night of March 10, the nurse found his father “slumped over” while reading at the dining table.

“Our nurse found him like that and was unable to revive him. I arrived soon after with the ambulance, but nothing could be done,” Kayan said.

He added that his father passed away “doing something that gave him joy throughout life”. - The Straits Times/ANN

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