Appointment of 26-year-old minister's aide to UM board courts backlash

PETALING JAYA: The appointment of a 26-year-old performing arts graduate into Universiti Malaya’s board of directors has kicked off a controversy.

The announcement on the new appointment was made by UM on Monday (Oct 4), leading to criticism from various quarters, with some alleging that strings were pulled due to Danesh Raj Nagarajan being an aide to former Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Azalina has rebuked the allegations in a statement, stating that she was unaware of the appointment, until it had been announced.

The appointment of Danesh Raj was also defended by Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 5).

"His appointment is based on his involvement with the university's alumni. This is the right time to give our trust to the young, especially by seeing their performance as members of the board of directors," she said.

In a statement on Thursday (Oct 7), the Universiti Malaya Students’ Union (KMUM) said that UM was no place for political appointees.

"Firstly, the KMUM is for the idea to empower young leaders. However, one important criteria must not be overlooked, which is the competence of the leader in executing the responsibilities given.

"At this time, KMUM fails to see the benefits of the appointment of Mr Danesh to the board of directors. Even though Mr Danesh is a Perdana Fellow and an assistant Fellow at his college, are we lacking more competent candidates to hold this role, especially after considering factors such as academic meritocracy, industry experiences, gender equality, and other factors?” KMUM said.

It added that his involvement in politics has brought his appointment into question.

"We also question his political involvement, having held youth positions in MIC, and we believe that higher education institutions must be free from any political influence or hold," it said.

The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) also questioned his political links in a statement on Tuesday.

"We argued in July that blatant political appointments of this nature have been a tragic tradition in many of our public universities that has contributed to the decline of higher education. And that this nonsense must stop.

"We reiterate this stand with this latest political manoeuvring and farcical appointment," it said.

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