I READ with much empathy the letter “Appoint non-Malays as university vice-chancellors” by Datuk Seri Azman Ujang (The Star, June 12, 2021). He proposed that the government should take the historic step of appointing non-Malay professors as vice-chancellors of some of our public universities, saying that “This is indeed not only long overdue, but very, very long overdue...”.
Datuk Seri Azman believes that breaking this glass ceiling once and for all would move us towards a more inclusive education ecosystem befitting the multiracial nation that we are. However, I want to add that any non-Malay academicians appointed as vice-chancellors must be through their own merits and not because of ethnicity. But I am sure there are many qualified for the posts, as some of them have been appointed as vice-chancellors of renowned universities overseas.
I am the last of the Mohicans appointed as the director of a polytechnic under the Education Ministry in 1999. Even though the position of a polytechnic director is nowhere near that of a university vice-chancellor, I cherished the appreciation and trust given by the ministry.
It was a humbling experience for me to receive full support and co-operation from my staff and students who were predominantly Malay. I am sure it was an enlightening experience for them too to be under the leadership of a non-Malay director for the first time. Now 16 years after my retirement, I still maintain friendships with many of my former staff members and continue with my mission to build interethnic bridges and goodwill.
Sometime last year, a former Malay colleague forwarded to me some messages from his old schoolmates from Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Ipoh. Before the first movement control order was imposed in March 2020, a group of his old schoolmates visited a former teacher, Mr Lau Hak Hee, now living in Taiping, Perak. When they noticed the 86-year-old was using an old PVC reclining chair, they raised funds from among the old boys to buy him a powered recliner.
My friend also forwarded to me Mr Lau’s touching message: “I am nostalgic of the time when schools had many non-Malay teachers teaching Malay students. These teachers found fulfilment in teaching and were touched by the respect and gratitude of their students even after they had left school. I was one of the teachers.”
I also read in The Star in 2016 about how Sultan Ibrahim of Johor visited his 81-year-old former principal Mr Yeong Siew Mun who is now living in Penang ("Sultan Ibrahim visits his former principal", May 30, 2016). After exchanging pleasantries and fond memories of the good old times at the school, His Royal Highness presented Mr Yeong with a medallion and a watch commemorating his coronation, and later took him and his family to lunch at a nasi kandar restaurant.
These heart-warming stories highlight the positive impact of an open academic environment on Malaysian citizens. Datuk Seri Azman’s proposal to have non-Malay vice-chancellors in our public universities will not only reflect us as a multiracial nation but will also open the minds of staff and students in education institutions. It will also show appreciation and encouragement to non-Malay academicians who have contributed much to nation-building.
GAN CHEE KUAN