Barking up the wrong tree
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - The New Strait Time
April 26, 2019
Books, despite being banned, are available and accessible in many university libraries for the purpose of knowledge-seeking and for referral.
LAST week, a ’professor’ from a private university suggested that all 20 public universities in Malaysia be closed down or reduced to trade schools of sorts. This unsolicited idea appeared in an article in an online portal, entitled, “Time to close down all our 20 public universities?”
Be that as it may, it is a matter of opinion that the academic world allows and tolerates. Sometimes it reflects on the person concerned more than anything else. Whether it is something that one agrees with or otherwise is an entirely different question altogether. The jury is still out, academically speaking, depending on how rigorous and sound the argument put forward. So what are the issues at hand?
Foremost, the author’s unhappiness seems to revolve around a particular book (without prejudice) being banned by the High Court recently. This can be upsetting to say the least, but then again, banning of books in Malaysia is not a particularly new phenomenon.
Some well-noted intellectuals and academicians have had their works banned too in the most arbitrary manner not too long ago. And many have protested (including in this column) about such anti-intellectual practices. But so far life goes on without any attempt to implicate any institution, let alone the public universities. So why the hullabaloo this time?
Perhaps it has something to do with a religious body, that allegedly after being consulted by the court, arrived at the said decision to ban the book concerned. Still what remains baffling is what that has to do with any university to warrant it to be closed down?
Should the call be directed towards the religious body or even the court, it would be more logical; but certainly not towards the universities — more specifically zooming in at the public universities. This alone raises many other motives in trying to understand if there is an axe to grind.
If the unhappiness is about the “assumed” authority of the said religious body to decipher what the “truth” is and, therefore, by some stretch of the imagination implies that public universities have somehow been perceived to lose their standing in this regard, then to close them down is no less draconian and offensive.
Because, figuratively, it is tantamount to “banning” thousands of books in one go. Coming from someone with a “professorial” claim makes the suggestion far too simplistic for any serious consideration.
Lest we forget, the academic world is not one that takes orders from whoever and whenever willy-nilly. Books, despite being banned, are available and accessible in many university libraries for the purpose of knowledge-seeking and for referral.
This is almost basic to the raison d’etre of any credible library and the universities that house them, notably public universities, in Malaysia. To miss this point speaks volumes of the ludicrousness of the idea to close them down, or otherwise the person probably blurted out the idea unthinkingly.
It holds no water whatsoever, academically speaking, unless of course this came from some weird experience somewhere only privy to the person concerned.
Or it may be linked to something having to do with “repetition, conformity, conditioning and patterned thoughts” being “the bread and butter of today’s universities”? If so it would be utterly dishonest intellectually not to rope in the private universities as well because as stated they “also mark the death of critical thinking and innovative thought”. So why single out just the public ones?
What is more ironic is that the controversy raised in the article is no less guilty like what the universities are being accused of, namely it is equally repetitious, conditioned with patterned thoughts as those posted previously. It is long on sentiments, but short on substance to justify why any university must be closed down. In fact none of the “heroic personalities” cited were on record to even suggest anything like it.
To cite an analogy, just because the court upholds a ministry decision to “defend” the failure to implement some “controversial” architectural guidelines, so to speak; it does not mean that all architecture faculties and departments must be closed down and their professors shipped out.
To suggest otherwise is plain silly, as in the Malay proverb: marahkan nyamuk kelambu dibakar. More like barking up the wrong tree!
The writer is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia