The country's oldest university, Universiti Malaya (UM), is set to lose another renowned academic and re-open the debate on the lack of academic freedom in Malaysian institutions after Putrajaya refused to extend the contract of a bright and upcoming professor, allegedly because he did not support Umno, the ruling Malay party in the federal government, a source has revealed.
Universiti Malaya has yet to appoint a new deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academic affairs.
Deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international) Professor Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, will not be getting an extension on his contract, while another deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Datuk Dr Rohana Yusof, who is in charge of student affairs, is set to be replaced for being too lenient with students, the source from the university said.
Hamdi's three-year contract as vice-chancellor ended on December 31 last year and he is now an ordinary lecturer at UM's Faculty of Engineering. However, he is expected to take a sabbatical soon.
“I understand that the Education Ministry did not approve the extension of my contract after my name was submitted by UM,” Hamdi told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.
Three weeks after he vacated the office, UM has yet to appoint a new deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academic affairs.
Meanwhile, Rohana is said to be replaced over recent incidents involving student and academic freedom.
"UM will get a deputy vice chancellor in charge of student affairs who is stricter," said the source, noting that under Rohana’s watch, students had forced their way past the campus gates on October 27 last year to carry out a banned talk featuring opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Under Rohana, students had also gathered on campus in November last year to protest the disciplinary action taken against eight of their peers who had organised the talk.
UM, founded in 1949, has long been a nurturing ground for student leaders, some of whom today are ministers, politicians and leaders in society. But appointments of university heads, or vice-chancellors, are made by the federal government.
The source noted that Hamdi had a stellar track record and is ranked among the university's youngest and brightest after being promoted to a full professor in 2010 at the age of 39, while serving as the Head of UM's Department of Engineering.
Hamdi, who hails from Muar, Johor, is a fellow with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (United Kingdom) and a chartered engineer registered with the UK Engineering Council.
"Even though he has an excellent track record, including in administrative matters, and is among the best, his tenure will not be extended," said the source, adding that it was a huge loss for UM.
"Professor Hamdi's potential is enormous."
The source blamed the current vice-chancellor for being too weak and subservient to Umno.
"There is no room for differences of opinion as being a supporter of Umno is now the main criteria," said the source.
UM may also lose Professor Datuk Dr Redhuan Othman if it chooses not to re-hire him once he retires in March. His looming retirement was given as the reason his tenure as Dean for the Faculty of Arts and Science was not extended after his term ended in June last year.
Last year, Redhuan was removed as director of Universiti Malaya's Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) after his research left the ruling parties unhappy.
"It is unfortunate if this happens because Redhuan has proven he is an excellent professor, including producing the most number of PhD graduates in the last convocation.
"Given UM's trend of hiring retired professors, as well as the fact that his services are needed, this issue may not arise.
"Besides, all the deans and many professors who were recently retired have continued working for the university," said the source.
UM had recently reappointed the director of the Research Centre for Malay Excellence, Professor Datuk Dr Yaacob Harun, following his retirement.
The director of UM's Centre for Continuing Education (UMCCed) Profesor Datuk Dr Mansor Mat Isa was also reappointed despite having retired.
UM has been plagued with problems since the Education Ministry announced the appointment of Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Amin Jalaludin as the new vice-chancellor of UM.
He was seen as having failed to stand up for his staff when associate professor Dr Azmi Sharom was charged with sedition last year over his comments on the Perak constitutional crisis.
There were also rumblings of unhappiness when the former president of the elected student body, Fahmi Zainol, was suspended for two semesters for organising the talk featuring Anwar. Some felt UM had been too partisan in handling the affair.
Complaints centred around the fact that UM had allowed Umno leaders on campus to give speeches and meet students, but the same courtesy was not extended to Anwar, a UM alumni and opposition leader.
Amin is said to be weak and unable to protect his staff and the interests of UM since taking over the position from Tan Sri Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon on November 2013.
Ghauth was known for fiercely protecting his academic staff from political interference.
His firm stance had allowed UM to enjoy academic freedom during his time at the helm of the university. – January 23, 2015.