Universiti Malaya Academic Staff Association (PKAUM) views with great concern the recent developments surrounding Persatuan Mahasiswa Universiti Malaya’s (PMUM) event of October 27, “40 tahun dari UM ke penjara”, featuring UM alumnus Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
PKAUM affirms that Universiti Malaya, our place of work, learning, research and intellectual exchange, and a public university of a country aspiring for democratic maturity, must safeguard academic freedom and freedom of speech.
We urge Universiti Malaya to provide a safe environment for tonight’s “40 tahun dari UM ke penjara”, as UM has done for recent peaceful public assemblies by students as well as staff.
Universities must be safe havens for our youth to explore ideas and ideals, and to express their thoughts and sentiments. The only prohibitions should be on hate speech, defamation, violence, and other legal infringements, for which general laws are adequate.
Anwar is, of course, the leader of the federal opposition and his speech will assuredly touch on social and political matters. But how is this so bad for the university?
UM’s administration claims – before the event – that it will tarnish the image of the university. As thinking members of UM’s academic body, we do not see any basis for this fear.
PKAUM rejects the unwarranted labelling of this event as “illegal” and disapproves the threat of expulsion and penalties against PMUM president Fahmi Zainol.
Let us be mature, and let us nurture the maturity of our students, by encouraging diversity of ideas and opinions, instead of constricting exposure.
If anything critical is said of the university or the Malaysian government, the response should be to safeguard the same space to other parties. In fact, we are glad that two Umno political figures, Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed and Global Movement of Moderates CEO Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, participated in a student event on UM campus a few weeks ago.
The UM administration’s antagonistic stance toward PMUM’s October 27 gathering is inconsistent with aspirations to be an internationally recognised and top ranked institution.
We ought to emulate various leading global universities in Westminster parliamentary democracies, which open their doors to prominent persons and thought leaders – who are accountable to students and the academic community. In recent months, UK opposition leader Ed Milliband and Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, respectively, visited Cambridge University (QS ranked #2) and the University of Melbourne (QS #33), without disapproval and obstruction by the universities’ high offices.
Let us stop pretending that we can be a top university without guaranteeing and protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Azmi Sharom is president of PKAUM