Academia under scrutiny

29 Oct 2019 / 18:58 H.

AS Bulan Akademia draws to a close, two words seem to fill the air – “unmitigated disaster”.‎ They apparently refer to a political entity, but have not gone down well judging from the rebuttals from the party concerned. It could become a drawn out battle of words since some veterans have come out to add their opinion to the polemics. We can only wait to see what the outcome will be.

Could there be a public debate that we have been missing all along? Certainly this fits well with the ideals of Bulan Akademia in urging academics to exercise their role as public intellectuals. Rightly, it should not be limited to any month or moment.

But as they say: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. So what about academia itself. Perhaps many are more familiar with the phrase: Pot calling the kettle black. It conveys the same meaning that those who are vulnerable to criticism about certain issues should be wary when criticising the same. Or at least be measured in the choice of words to be less emotional, academically speaking.

Some may be quick to relegate this ‎to institutions of learning (IOLs), as conventionally defined, and sparing the others, like “think tanks”and NGOs that are also embroiled in the same. Be that as it may, some of the latter may have been part of IOLs at some point in their life. Or still are, as some do keep academic titles such as professor, for example. As such, they cannot be totally excused from the present predicament, no matter what the verdict turns out to be. Academia is such that the experiences that it produced can never be totally obliterated.

Many of the graduates are bound to remember or recall some of their “memorable” experiences during their campus days. Even the slightest moment will be shared to rekindle the days gone by with fond memories.

“Water battles” and “ragging” may not mean much today, but the words will draw smiles from the more elderly alumni testifying to the “fun” that the events were associated with. No harm intended.

So what is more during lectures over the years. One can still vividly remember which lecturer said what even today. Although the lecturer might have forgotten, or otherwise tried to deny what was said or done due to the exigencies of time. There were simply too many students who knew the “truth” to just white wash it. Such is the power of the academe that could discern the “true” academics from the “pseudo” ones – no matter how hard the latter try to pretend. An unmitigated disaster indeed!

Worse, this may not be the last, given that last week ‎an official pronouncement was made on the formation of students’ unions replacing the prevailing student representative councils. The reverse was true some decades ago when the students’ unions were literally taken apart and substituted by a “pseudo” apparatus of the powers that be. The evidence for this is abundant with the then “campus elections” providing the best case. Fortunately, the latest campus election was better conducted, but for how long is the question. Why is this so? Because it would take quite some time to root a “real” change of mindset to be fully independent and courageously autonomous.

Meanwhile, the students remain vulnerable and this could lead to another unmitigated disaster, but of a different kind. Will there be “sugar daddies” with their own agenda eager to place the “new” construct under their infuence? There are already some indications of this when the suggestions to allow partisan politics to set up their offices in campuses (this was “vetoed” by the prime minister).

However, it may still happen off campus with the same consequences, if not worse, because the university is out of the picture. The only recourse left is to ensure that the students are well grounded with the ethos of universities. And that of each university, its history, core values and traditions, as well raison d’etre.

Unfortunately, all of these are not high in the student leadership agenda. Many are oblivious about them and generally not properly engaged by the university authorities. We saw recently what could happen if this is the case.

These are lessons that must be quickly learned to prepare for the final eventuality of a truly meaningful institution of learning. We have not even begun to talk about what could be some of the other unintended consequences based on (bitter) experiences that took place some 45 years ago which seem to be reemerging today. Hence historically, this is crucial to take into account, if yet another unmitigated disaster is to be avoided, this time involving the academia.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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