Political interference in academia

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Kadir Jasin - Photograph: The Malaysian Insider/Seth Akmal.

The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) is deeply concerned with the recent public comments made by the media and communications adviser to the prime minister, Kadir Jasin.

Kadir, apparently, was upset with the writings and revelations of a lone, rather junior, academic from UKM, Abdul Muein Abadi.

Abdul Muein, who is currently working on his PhD in Leiden, Holland, had incurred Kadir’s wrath by writing an article which asserted that the Pakatan government had sold RM20bn in assets since winning the 2018 general election. The short article was published in UMNO-Online, Umno’s official news portal.

It is a rather shaky article that has 40 points, accompanied by links and very little discussion or analysis. It is the kind of sensationalist, pseudo-academic piece that throws a few reports together, without context or explanation.

Based on this flimsy piece, Kadir started hurling accusations of a conspiracy by the oft-mentioned but seldom analysed `deep state’.

In his diatribe, Kadir lumped together Abdul Muein with the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia vice-chancellor and the chair of the university’s board of directors as possible deep state conspirators.

And he then asserted that Education Minister Maszlee Malik was being taken for a ride by these evildoers.

Yes, this outburst was based on an article that was less than 1,00 words long.

Kadir evidently is no academic. Otherwise he would have easily differentiated between a well-discussed academic analysis and, really, a first year undergraduate piece like Abdul Muein’s.

But Gerak’s more serious contention is that, even if it had been a thorough well-researched and analysed paper criticising the Pakatan government, so what?

READ MORE:  Four academics must debate, defend their work at Rome Statute forum

Academic freedom and responsibility means seeking truths and verifying them. And often the truth need not necessarily be our truth and will hurt. Differences of opinion and dissent are part and parcel of academia, of knowledge acquisition and generation.

If the work is faulty and clearly biased, it is our task – and indeed even Kadir’s – to criticise the work, reveal its limitations and failings, and come up with a counter.

This was what happened earlier this year when the substandard work on the Statute of Rome, by the four now-disgraced academics from International Islamic University Malaysia (UIA), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) was systematically and comprehensively critiqued and dismissed by real experts.

That these four did not defend their stand at all speaks volumes of their shame and possible loss of face and credibility.

None of us asked for them to be disciplined or even sacked. No one asked the Ministry of Education and the minister to interfere and punish them.

For Gerak, it must be the same with Abdul Muein and his article. Criticise his work if we must, question his value as a scholar perhaps. But let us not get so paranoid as to believe, without a shred of evidence, that there is this big conspiracy.

Kadir may be the PM’s media and communications adviser. But as far as academia is concerned, he must not be our censor.

What Kadir is doing is political interference. What he is implying that the education minister must do is also political interference. This is not – and must not be – the way of the new Malaysia.

READ MORE:  Defend yourselves, ‘Rome Statute academics’

Gerak consistently rejects political interference in academia. Such interference is one of the major reasons why Malaysian academia is in the sad state it is in.

Academic reform, however, slow, is taking place. But it won’t go very far if we allow these kinds of actions – by people who should know better – to continue.

Gerak executive committee

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