kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Essence of a university

I WAS excited at the mention of an Umno University by the new Kedah Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah. But I do not want to dwell on the existence — real or imagined — of such an institution.

Suffice to say that it is an idea whose time has come for at least three reasons.

Firstly, like many business entities that dream of their versions of the so-called “corporate university”, political entities may want to consider the same, tailor-made to their own political slant and mission.

Secondly, the “proxy university” — as it stands today — can now be dismantled or reconfigured.

Thirdly, this will immediately rid universities of any form of outside (political) interferences — directly or indirectly, intentional or otherwise — and open the way to realise and reclaim their status as tertiary institutions characterised by at least the following criteria.

Firstly, there is inherent institutional autonomy and academic freedom. As such, unlike political parties or business sectors, universities do not have particular “party” lines to toe, other than being ethical and exercising decorum in the search for knowledge.

In other words, independence of thought and freedom of expression are highly regarded and upheld. It follows that debates and dissents are means to advance and scrutinise knowledge without fear or favour.

The idea of toeing just one school of thought in a university is, therefore, untenable. Diversity and transdisciplinarity are the name of the game to enable knowledge to flourish.

Secondly, the first criterion is imperative because the ultimate mission of a university is the search for truth which fundamentally means to prepare the mindset and heart for the future by advancing “new” knowledge(s).

We must be open-minded and compassionate in this undertaking based on the highest standards and rigour so that the beneficiaries are not misled by the unscrupulous backed by invested interests — political or business — that are in cahoots with them.

It is in this context that debates and dissents are encouraged, for it is about the authority of ideas, not the idea of authorities ultimately.

Thirdly, to ensure that the above works and delivers well, the culture of collegiality must be the norm.

Ranks and positions are nominal, to say the least. Pulling rank, for example, is despicable in the academic culture. It is quickly recognised as a bankruptcy of ideas and that one’s standing is already compromised.

“I am the vice chancellor, follow my orders!” is unheard of in a university worth its salt. Vice chancellors are among equals who are respected for their knowledge and acumen, not position.

This is perhaps the major difference in the political and business sectors.

Therefore, in a tertiary education environment, collegiality is higher prized with the demarcation between the professional and the personal kept distinct and distant.

Loyalty is earned rather than salaried. Fourthly, “trust” is the keyword in universities.

There are less written rules in knowledge-seeking and dissemination behaviours as long as ethics and decorum are closely adhered too.

Participation and consultation — not stonewalling — are means to enhance trust.

Therefore, the slew of top-down regulations, circulars and so-called general orders are strange to university settings and academic culture.

The irony of this can be immediately detected when comparing the public and private universities where the former is relatively over-regulated, apart from being more politically inclined — some more than others.

Last but not least, the leadership must be courageous enough to see the above criteria through in reinstating the stature and “real” meaning of a university.

In the absence of any one of the following — institutional autonomy, academic freedom, the search for truth, collegiality, respect for ideas, and ethics and trust — the university does not exist in essence.

The dilemma ahead of us is indeed a serious and urgent one.
Dzulkifli Abdul Razak NST Learning Curve 23 February 2016 @ 6:31 PM
Tags: universiti
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