Vigilance needed when vetting speakers

PETALING JAYA: All institutes of higher learning must have air-tight procedures and guidelines to vet potential speakers and collaborators, say academics.

Calling for more stringent checks on potential speakers, especially by renowned academic institutions planning on inviting them, educationist Tan Sri Dr T. Marimuthu said when a talk is given in a university, it must be intellectual and not political.

“A speaker should also understand the sensitivity of certain topics as Malaysia is a multicultural society, and should not stray from their planned content.

“I am sure Universiti Malaya (UM) would’ve done its due diligence before inviting the speaker.

ALSO READ: Keep people like Gilley out!

“Nobody could have expected the speaker to transgress from the topic at hand,” said UM’s former professor of education when responding to the controversy surrounding a talk at the varsity by American academic Bruce Gilley.

Universiti Sains Malaysia political science lecturer Dr Zaharul Abdullah said doing a comprehensive background check on potential speakers and collaborators can help mitigate potential controversies.

“This background check should encompass not only credential verification, employment history, criminal background and reference checks, but also a review of the lecturer’s online presence, including social media profiles and professional websites, to assess their public image and behaviour,” he said.

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He said it was also crucial to carry out an ethical review to evaluate the speaker’s past conduct and statements to ensure alignment with the institution and host country’s values and ethical standards.

“In the case of Gilley, credential verification alone would have shown that some of his works had been widely rejected.

“Nevertheless, it’s important to conduct these checks while being sensitive to principles of academic freedom.

“Transparency, respect for privacy, and a mechanism for potential speakers to appeal any adverse findings or to clarify any information discovered during the background checks, are essential to ensure fairness,” said Zaharul.

ALSO READ: UM to tighten processes, guidelines after Gilley controversy

On Wednesday, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir ordered that all planned programmes and activities involving Gilley be cancelled.

UM was also instructed to investigate the incident and submit a report to the ministry.

Zambry, in the statement, also reminded all agencies under the higher education ministry to be alert and conduct background checks before inviting people to an event, and all decisions must take into account sensitivities, and be aligned with the government’s policies and stance.

“Although institutions of higher education are given autonomy to decide on intellectual programmes, it does not mean they have complete freedom to ignore the sensitivities of Malaysia’s majority,” he said.

On Tuesday, Gilley, a political science professor from Portland State University, was slammed on social media after he claimed that Malaysia had pushed for a “second Holocaust against the Jewish people” during a keynote address entitled “Will Malaysia Become an Active Middle Power” at UM.

An excerpt from his speech, stating that “a country whose political leaders advocate a second Holocaust against the Jewish people will never be a serious player in world affairs, and will certainly never be a friend or partner of the United States”, was later posted on his X account.

Comments from angry social media users and students led to Gilley removing the post “for the safety and well-being of my colleagues” at UM.

“The quote from my keynote address reflects my views alone.

“I regret the harms I have caused to my academic colleagues,” he posted.

Gilley has since left the country.

Announcing that he had “safely departed” on X yesterday, Gilley said he was “one step ahead” and that it was not safe for him to travel here.

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UM , Universiti Malaya , Education , Bruce Gilley , USM


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