A must-do list for Dr Maszlee

  • Brave New World
  • Wednesday, 23 May 2018

I WAS informed by my editor that a few months ago I had said publicly that if Pakatan Harapan won, I would give them a two-week honeymoon before laying into them.

I hate it when people use your own words against you. Besides, I didn’t expect them to win, did I? Anyway, it has been exactly two weeks now, so let us begin.

But wait, there’s really not much to say at this point. These chaps haven’t started work properly, what with the new ministers having been sworn in just a couple of days ago.

Oh well, how about a few suggestions then. Twelve years ago, I started writing for this paper by penning an open letter to Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who was then the newly appointed education minister.

In the letter, I bemoaned the problems faced in higher education. Those problems still exist.

To be fair to the former minister, he actually responded to that article and took the trouble to try to fix things. But as was wont in the previous administration (how sweet it is to say “previous” administration), he was given a different portfolio.

Education was handed to some chap whom I remember very little about, except that when I had a chance to meet with him and speak about academic freedom, his eyes took on the look of a man thinking about lunch.

Now we have Dr Maszlee Malik as the new Education Minister. It has been a bit of a bumpy ride for him since the announcement that he was the Pakatan candidate for the post.

There was a petition against him because he was deemed by some to be an inappropriate choice. This was due primarily to allegations that he had supported controversial Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik.

Dr Maszlee has since come out to say that he did not support the content of what Dr Zakir said. Instead, the support was for Dr Zakir’s freedom of expression, which Dr Mazlee pointed out is something everyone has, regardless of creed.

Well then, that’s cool. Frankly, I don’t know what sort of person Dr Maszlee is. I have never met him and despite our newfound fervour in the democratic process, let us not forget that an elected government has a pretty broad mandate to make its own decisions.

We may not like it although we have the right to criticise it. But at the end of the day, unless the government’s decision is unlawful, we can’t stop it.

What is done is done and the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I will now direct the rest of this article to Dr Maszlee.

In my letter to Mustapa, I was very polite (well, as polite as I could be) because the previous administration was quite heavily into protocol and the like. I don’t think I have to be so with the new lot – at least for the time being, before they get used to power. So, here goes:

Hey dude, it’s nice to see a fellow academic get into government. Don’t let us down now. I’ve been reading the stuff you said you were going to do. It looks pretty good so far.

I am not sure how you intend to make school fun for kids though. It sounds a bit vague and New-Agey to me and as far as I can tell, the only thing that kids find fun is fun. Then again, I am sure that there is some sort of Nordic study you are aware of that suggests methods to make school a pleasure for our children.

What I really want to discuss is our universities. You mentioned repealing the Universities and Uni­versity Colleges Act because it stifles academic freedom.

This is true, but perhaps some amendments are all you need. The Act, as I am sure you know, is largely a dull document, full of bureaucratic details about the nature of a university. But it’s necessary stuff.

The things that are truly awful are the restrictions on our students’ freedom of assembly, association and expression. These provisions must be seen to.

But even that is not enough. Our young people get in trouble with the universities for simply asserting their rights not based on the Act per se, but via the individual rules that the universities have.

These are appalling regulations seemingly drafted by a bitter fascist trapped in a windowless grey government building who finds pleasure in punishing youths.

Therefore, it is not enough to bring the Act in line with human rights. The university discipline rules, too, must toe the line as established by the Constitution.

Apart from freeing our young minds, we must empower them to take responsibility for their lives and fates. For this, may I suggest that we return the power of students to form actual unions.

Scrap the pathetic and toothless “student councils” that exist now and bring back the unions of old (your new boss should remember those because he got rid of them).

A union with financial autonomy and the power to actually make a difference will ensure that the student body is independent and in a position to determine the way it is governed and treated by the university administration.

Speaking of university administration, it is time to take a serious look at the Student Affairs Depart­ments, which should be purely about student welfare and nothing else.

If we treat students like adults, we will get adult graduates.

Oh, academics must be treated like adults too. Please have a look at the repulsive Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act. You know, the one that says that academics can’t criticise the government or even praise it without first getting permission. The one which the odious “Aku Janji” is based upon. The one that I have been breaking all my professional life. That has to be scrapped.

Right, I must be caught up in the excitement of the times. This is the longest article I have written in a long time. I guess not fearing arrest does that to you. Anyway Maszlee (I can call you Maszlee right?), good luck and remember, we’ll be watching.

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Opinion , Azmi Sharom , Brave New World


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