On 19th April 2012, the Malaysian Government passed an amendment to the University & University Colleges Act 1971, seemingly granting the political freedoms for which student groups have been championing for decades. Granted, the changes to the laws were not perfect at all. But at least we have moved forward, so much so that many heralded a new age of liberty for local graduates.
But for those from the University of Malaya, we are about to be proven very wrong.
On the 27th of August 2012, the university’s Student Affairs Department released a new code of conduct titled “Kod Tatakelakuan Aktiviti-Aktiviti Politik Di Dalam Kampus Universiti Malaya”.
It started off with a reluctant acknowledgment: “berdasarkan kepercayaan yang tinggi terhadap kematangan pelajar-pelajar pada masa kini”, only to bulldoze those pretty phrases to shreds in the coming 8 pages of constipated reading.
1) Unnecessary Administrative Procedures
On page 5, among the “Aktiviti-Aktiviti Yang Dibenarkan Dalam Kampus” are:
iii. Mengeluarkan kenyataan akhbar mengenai politik yang berkaitan dengan kajian atau kursus akademik yang diikuti oleh pelajar melalui dan diluluskan oleh Pejabat Hubungan Antarabangsa & Korporat (ICR), Universiti Malaya;
One wonders why is there a need for a student to drive all the way to the International & Corporate Relations Office, and wait for days to get the statement processed through painful bureaucracy – just so he/she could write an opinion on Najib’s 1Malaysia in The Star. Also, perhaps out of sheer technological incomprehensibility (I’m sure they accidentally left it out), does writing a socio-political commentary at online portals such as The Malaysian Insider or Loyarburok require a stamp of approval first, too? Imagine Lord Bobo’s rage!
In s15(4)(a) of the Act, it states “Notwithstanding subsection (3), a student of the University shall not be prevented from making a statement on an academic matter which relates to a subject on which he is engaged in study or research”. It seems that the authorities are going all out in exploiting the phrase “shall not be prevented” to squeeze freedom to its bare minimum. It’s like saying: “Yes, you’re not prevented to enter my house. But first go jog 3 rounds at that field, bike 5 laps around this estate, and buy me a Ramly burger from the other side of town”.
We’re supposed to taste more freedom with the new Act, but this is the same paternalistic and possessive attitude of the administration that continues to dictate us like pitiful schoolchildren.
The same goes to:
iv. Menganjurkan aktiviti akademik yang melibatkan ahli parti politik dengan kebenaran Universiti Malaya;
v. Menjemput mana-mana orang yang bukan pelajar atau pekerja Universiti untuk mesyuarat, seminar, bengkel, kuliah, tutorial atau program yang seumpamanya dengan kelulusan Naib Canselor Universiti Malaya.
Since the amendment, almost every activity now – political or not – requires the approval of university authorities. What’s even more surprising is rule (v) – it seems to indicate that even if the law faculty wants a practising lawyer to deliver a boring talk on Corporate deals, Ghauth Jasmon himself has to pen a signature down!
I am not deliberately discrediting the merits of the university’s black-and-white bureaucracy. But just go ask any UM student and they will attest to you the horrors of this university’s administrative process. Simple applications would languish for weeks without a response – that is, if you’re lucky that the document still hasn’t got lost as it gets kicked around through layers upon layers of stuff (and staff).
An ideal scenario would be for students to merely inform the authorities of what they intend to do. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 may be used as an example in this respect: notifications to the authorities are performed days before a gathering. Monitoring can be done if necessary. In turn, several simple guidelines to ensure students comply with academic decency can be issued, and a warning letter given if the student flouts them. It’s a harmonious, win-win situation.
2) Since when did University of Malaya become the FBI?
I had to rub my eyes several times on this one, just to make sure I wasn’t in some North Korean gulag. Perhaps the most shocking and unbelievable regulation so far is:
Pelajar perlu mengisytiharkan secara bertulis kepada Universiti Malaya penglibatan mereka dalam parti politik di luar Kampus. Ini adalah untuk membolehkan Universiti Malaya memantau prestasi akademik pelajar yang terlibat agar tidak terjejas.
It is utterly disturbing how the university shows such disrespect at our private dealings outside campus. Besides, what will they do which such information? Passed around in a shady room of Deans, Senate Members and Chancellors like CIA’s Most Wanted List? What’s worrying is that such data can be passed around departments, and it may spell trouble if a student joins a party which falls in the bad books of certain staff. Come to think of it, since politics is now accepted as an outer-space plague harbouring the doom of mankind, anyone on that list would be unnecessarily stigmatised.
The reason given is as appalling as it is laughable – seriously, to survey academic performances? Don’t we already have existing mechanisms in place to do so? Do politically-active students achieving GPAs lower than 2.0 have a ‘privilege’ to attend some special rehabilitation program now?
Not satisfied with being the authoritative parent, it now even wants to play the cop – Special Branch, at that. No joke.
3) Regulations Popping Out From Thin Air
On page 6, among the “Aktiviti-Aktiviti Yang Dilarang” are:
i. terlibat dalam aktiviti parti politik di dalam Kampus, termasuklah menyebarkan maklumat,propaganda atau ideologi berkaitan parti politik melalui ceramah, taklimat, menyebarkan risalah, mempamerkan sepanduk, poster atau dalam apa jua bentuk penyebaran secara lisan atau apa-apa bentuk dokumen termasuklah melalui media elektronik
ii. berurusan dengan parti politik atau mana-mana persatuan di luar Kampus tanpa kebenaran Universiti Malaya, termasuklah membuat penyataan secara bertulis dan/atau tidak bertulis di dalam Kampus bagi pihak parti politik atau mengutip derma/sumbangan di dalam Kampus bagi pihak parti politik, atau perkara-perkara yang seumpamanya
iii. menyatakan sokongan atau simpati atau bangkangan terhadap mana-mana parti politik melalui penggunaan mana-mana simbol atau apa-apa yang melambangkan parti politik termasuklah dengan pakaian, topi, lencana atau sebagainya, di dalam Kampus
s15(2)(c) reads: “A student of the university shall not be involved in political party activities within the campus”. Such a vague description of “political party activities” can be easily abused and has in fact been opposed at Parliamentary debate stages.
On “political party activities”, YB Tony Pua said: “Saya hendak bertanya adakah ianya lebih baik jika tidak ada dan kalau memang hendak kurangkan kempen pilihan raya dalam universiti, kita letak “tidak boleh kempen pilihan raya dalam university”. Jangan biarkan ada satu klausa seperti ini dan selepas itu ditafsirkan oleh setiap universiti secara berlainan apabila mereka mentadbir pengurusan mengenai penuntut dalam universiti. He further mentioned: “Saya rasa perkataan-perkataan yang digunakan di dalam fasal ini adalah terlalu longgar. Apa pun boleh dihadkan dan tidak boleh digunakan. Misalnya, buat masa ini adakah ini mengehadkan seseorang daripada politik daripada masuk ke universiti?” (italics mine)
And University of Malaya, true to itself, has successfully confirmed our Parliamentarians’ worst fears (including YB Khairy Jamaluddin; check out the Hansard). Every single thing having a connection with politics (however that may be perceived) – from the harmless act of collecting political donations to pinning on an UMNO badge – is hereby banned.
Dire attention must be paid to Rule (i), which seems to prohibit us from spreading information, propaganda and ideology on political parties via electronic media within campus. One would probably understand if physical acts of support be prevented from campus, but it is just tragic that they want to clamp down on cyberspace as well. Beyond that, it also shows their dismal grasp of new media – because a video of Anwar Ibrahim still gets to my friend’s Facebook wall even if I posted it from home. How does posting it from the university library make me any more guilty or liable?
Sure, everything’s according to law. But more than anything else, it sends a bigger message to the world out there just how unflinching this university can be in ditching democratic principles and freedom of expression out the window. Just like that.
4) “Thou shall have no punishment without representation”
The Code also authorises a “Jawatankuasa Adjudikasi” to hold trial proceedings for students who disobey the regulations. It is comprised of a Dean or Faculty/Academy/Center Director as Chairman, 2 academics and 2 staffs from the Management & Professional Department, if the Chairman deems necessary. But it has no representation whatsoever from the student community itself. At the very least, such adjudication bodies should include members of the Student’s Representative Council to ensure that the empathy from peers gets a fair share in the ultimate decision.
To the UM authorities, it’s time you wake up from your long slumber. It just baffles me how phrases like “mempertingkatkan martabat pelajar dan seterusnya menyumbang kepada penjagaan nama baik dan imej Universiti” gets thrown around without batting an eyelid, while the rest of the academic community and civil society laughs at your baby-sitting exploits.
It is sad that, instead of debating on the salient freedoms of Constitutional Law and the limits of democratic expression, I have to drag myself to this dirty cesspool of petty arguments that shouldn’t even have seen the light of day. It is sad that, instead of spending time researching on my project paper to become the 4.0 CGPA student you so adore, you come up with such Orwellian regulations which compel me to respond at the risk of losing my self-respect as a law student if I don’t.
Universities are supposed to be liberators of the mind, not acting like my parents or some Secret Police force.
I have faith that there are still people in the higher echelons who desire an open academic system, one where students don’t need to look at the back of their shoulders with every move they make. Please, let us explore, let us debate, let us make mistakes and let us learn in an unshackled environment.
Only then will University of Malaya truly become the world-class university it so desires to be.
“There’s no such thing as part freedom”
– Nelson Mandela