G25 expresses its deep disappointment at the four public universities and their vice-chancellors for co-organising the recently held Kongres Maruah Melayu where the speeches left most Malaysians shell-shocked at the level to which race and religion have been exploited to make demands in support of dignity for the Malays and Islam.
The universities have a duty to explain to the public their reasons for taking an active role as co-organisers in support of the rally. The public is entitled to hear their explanation as the universities are funded by government allocations paid from tax payers’ money.
G25 accepts the view that universities must not live in the ivory tower but instead come down to earth to play an active role in society and nation building. As universities are the highest centres for learning and academic wisdom, they have the right of autonomy to decide what forums they wish to participate in. We respect their academic autonomy but on our part as a civil society organisation which advocates moderation and tolerance among the communities and transparency and accountability on policy matters of public interest, we in G25 view the various speeches and resolutions as being totally contrary to the public aspirations for the New Malaysia and as articulated in the government’s newly announced Shared Prosperity Vision or Wawasan Kemakmuran Bersama.
The vice chancellors have the right to disagree with the government’s concept of shared prosperity, its reform agenda or with the notion of sharing political and administrative power with non-malay political leaders or maintaining the country’s character as a secular constitutional democracy. However, as heads of academic institutions they should be non-political in making their speeches and explain their ideas in a constructive manner. In the case of Kongres Maruah, the four vice-chancellors and other academics clearly knew what their presence at the gathering means. Their prominence as opening speaker and publicly recommending racist and undemocratic policy reforms expose their agenda to partake in political shenanigans. This is precisely what universities and academia should avoid. We are criticising their support of the rabble-rousing that the event was meant to do. The entire event was not perceived as a fact-finding forum, nor was it a gathering of students and scholars meant to debate national issues of concern to all races and religions of Malaysia. It was deliberately done like a political rally. This is objectionable.
We wish to assure the vice chancellors that we G25 are strong advocates for university autonomy and academic freedom but like all institutions, with freedom comes the responsibility for universities to be accountable to the people as they are paying for the costs of running the universities. G25 recently co-organised a forum on the unity of the Ummah. Academics and students participated, and it was hosted by a public institution of higher education. If we compare the Kongres to our last Forum, it would be clear that such public gatherings, be it forums or congresses, do not blatantly project any political agenda. They are meant to increase knowledge and educate.
If the vice chancellors are well informed, they will know that all those regimes that used tribal and sectarian hatred to promote their supremacist politics, have ended up in the dustbin of history, condemned by their own people for bringing chaos, anarchy and poverty to their countries. Millions of lives were lost unnecessarily because of the greed for power by their leaders. We in Malaysia must not allow the universities to get away with supporting those who use destructive Nazi tactics of dividing the people to facilitate the desperate politicians to play on the emotions of the ordinary people in their greed for power. Such speeches when made by Vice-Chancellors cross the line of academia and render their position as heads of public institutions no longer tenable.