PETALING JAYA: Universiti Malaya (UM) cannot revoke the degree of student activist Wong Yan Ke over his convocation day protest, says a former Universiti Malaya professor.
Datuk Dr Gurdial Singh Nijar, who is also human rights NGO Hakam's president, said the university senate could not revoke the degree under its rules as suggested by National Professors Council (MPN) Prof Datuk Dr Raduan Che Rose.
"With utmost respect, the statement by Prof Datuk Dr Raduan Che Rose that UM has the right to revoke or withhold the degree of its graduate who staged a protest during the university's convocation ceremony on Monday is misconceived in law," he said in a statement Friday (Oct 18).
Gurdial said the university was governed by the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 and thus cannot revoke a degree of its own accord.
"It provides for the adoption of a prescribed constitution, which reigns supreme. Any inconsistency with its provisions is invalid under section 8 of the Act.
"Under Section 53 of the constitution, the board of directors may recommend the revocation of a degree that has been awarded. But this power is circumscribed," he added.
He said the board must first be of the opinion that the graduate was guilty of "scandalous conduct".
This "conduct" is defined as when the graduate has given false information to obtain the degree.
"Then, too, the recommendation must be made by not less than two-thirds of all members of the board. The recommendation is made to the chancellor. The chancellor must give the graduate an opportunity to be heard before taking any action," he added.
He said Wong's protest did not fall within the definition of misconduct for which his degree could be revoked.
"Arbitrary action of the sort advocated by the National Professors Council, on the tail of a similar stance by an NGO, is not only against the law but is antithetical to the values of academic freedom and the ethos of a society governed by the rule of law," he said.
"There are other ways of engendering appropriate and respectful behaviour. In the final analysis, respect has to be earned and not imposed," Gurdial added.
On Monday (Oct 14), UM lodged a police report against Wong, who staged a solo protest calling for the resignation of the varsity's vice-chancellor, Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim.
Wong allegedly shouted "Ini Tanah Malaysia" while carrying a placard with the words "Tolak Rasis" (reject racism) and "Undur VC" (step down VC) on stage during his graduation after he received his degree scroll.
He said it was done to protest the VC's speech at the Malay Dignity Congress in Shah Alam.