An Unfortunate Incident During a UM Students Program

I would like to express my profound regret with regards to events surrounding a Universiti Malaya (“UM”) students’ society program.

On 13 March 2009, I received an invitation to officiate the society’s Annual General Meeting (“AGM”) the next day.

Subsequently, at about 8.00 am on 14 March, I received a phone call from an individual claiming to be one of the leaders of the society on the number 013-2965731 claiming that there was pressure from the university authorities and that the society cancelled their invitation to me to officiate their AGM. However he stated that the ad-hoc committee of the AGM might not be informed and might still contact me as the decision was just made.

I then received an SMS from the same number expressing the students regret that it was cancelled and the willingness of the society to find a way to organise a program with me in the future.

At 9.30 am, I received a call from the students asking me on my location. I informed them of the previous call that stated that the society had cancelled its invitation. When they contacted the leader of the society that supposedly called me earlier, the leader insisted he did not call me.

Thus, in order to fulfil their invitation I decided to still attend the AGM. On the way, I received an SMS from the earlier individual claiming to be a leader of the society, asking to confirm whether I would still be attending and how the Student Affairs Department will harass the students should I decide to do so.

When I was not far from UM, the students informed me that the security guards were on the lookout should my car try to enter the campus. I was therefore brought in secretly on a student’s motorcycle.

After the AGM started, we were informed that UM was willing to allow me to continue being the guest of honour but they would not allow me to speak. If I chose to do so, there was a real possibility that UM might stop the AGM altogether.

Thankfully, my speech was well-received without any interference or harassment. I stressed the importance of Muslim students to show a good example to a multiracial society, how students can move forward and finally the importance of the students being the conscience of society and not being yes-men to any political party may it be UMNO, PAS or Keadilan.

Yet I observed a few suspicious parties were recording my speech.

I was also made to understand that the police was there at the program.

I agreed to accept the invitation as students activities have always been my priority as a former student activist and the youngest elected representative in the 12th General Elections. I have attended students programs in Universiti Industri Selangor and the International Islamic University Malaysia. I have also joined together with bersama YB Khairy Jamaluddin and YB Tony Pua in a program organised by the United Kingdom Executive Council for Malaysian Students (“UKEC”) as well as with YB Datuk Ir. Hj. Idris Haron, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education at the Malaysian Islamic Student Group (“MISG”) AGM in Houston, Texas. All of the programs were carried out smoothly without any major problems.

I am used to being treated like that as a Pakatan Rakyat leader. But I regret that students are exposed to such unprofessional antics that do not reflect UM as a respectable institution in Malaysia. Why should students be harassed in such a way to conduct their activities? What sort of values are we teaching our students?

At a time when crime rates are soaring and many Malaysians including students are living in fear, surely the police can focus on fighting crime, not harassing the AGM of a legitimate registered society in university!

The Minister for Higher Education YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin had previously insisted that the amendments made to the University and University Colleges Act (“UUCA”) last year was to free up the UUCA requirements including giving permission to all parties to enter the campus to talk on issues affecting students especially for the sake of providing the students with various sources of information. If the Minister or UM does not agree with the students, they should provide their views with the necessary arguments that reflects the tradition of academia. This incident will jeopardise the change that is needed. The time has come for students to be treated as adults and not unthinking children.

Universities as institutes of higher learning should protect freedom, critical thinking and courteousness that are valued by our culture. This incident will discredit UM to uphold these values.

I have written a letter to the Minister this morning to get his explanation, with a copy to UM to express my sense of regret. I have informed on my readiness to see the Minister or UM to discuss not to repeat this itself as well as to ensure our higher education can revive itself from this dire situation.

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