Shamed by a student

I’m shell-shocked! It’s a term I am taking from G25’s latest statement which expressed its disappointment at the four public universities and their vice-chancellors over the Malay Dignity Congress where it was said that Malaysia was for the Malays like China is for the Chinese and India is for the Indians and other such racist outpouring, which had left most Malaysians “shell-shocked”!

I couldn’t believe that academics could have abandoned reason and logic and stooped so low to ventilate by taking it out on the non-Malays when they should have honestly appraised themselves and their shortcomings. Nothing wrong with self-criticism; one grows stronger from it. Instead they used race and religion to divide. They were rightfully shamed by a young man who calmly exposed his vice-chancellor by unfurling a placard listing all the things his vice-chancellor should have done and didn’t do just after he received his scroll at the UM convocation. His vice-chancellor was on stage.

And, what did the vice-chancellor do? Did he call up this young man, Wong Yan Ke, and talk to him and advised like an academic should have done? No. Instead of talking with him and levelling with him as a teacher to the student, the vice-chancellor and others like him disappeared into the woodwork. He held his own but his detractors couldn’t hold their own and engage him in a mature discussion. When they couldn’t stand up for themselves, they, typically, ran to the powers that be for “help” like making police reports and getting the police involved or even the prime minister.

When asked to comment on what Wong had done, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he should have chosen the right channel. Wong gave an appropriate reply: What is the right channel when he had done everything to talk with his vice-chancellor and got no response?

The prime minister and his vice-chancellors should have attended my convocation 30 years ago. I graduated from a Top Ten public university in the States — the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Convocation was a simple ceremony in the varsity stadium. The academics’ stage was some 50 metres or more out in front of the students who sat in the covered stands.

The students in the front kept throwing apples, oranges, cookies, paper and rubbish at the stage. No one said anything. They let things happen. When the president of the university made his address, he said humourously: “Well, it’s good to see that your throwing is improving!” Throwing rubbish at the stage was the standard student practice and the university cleverly set the stage further away!

Because of the large number of undergrads involved, to graduate the respective name of the department would be called and all the students graduating from that department will stand up and move their tassels from the right to the left. Then, we are graduated.

At my graduation, when the business school was called up, there were boos and hoots. As far as the student community was concerned, business grads were trained to be crooks and they expressed their sentiments. No police report was made and no one was probed.

That is a university education — where academic leaders make provisions for students to speak their minds and dissent. They don’t penalise the students for speaking up and demonstrating, except when it gets violent or out of hand.

Wong thoughtfully made his point and got the attention he wanted. He is getting media coverage but his vice-chancellor can’t show his face. So much for Malay dignity.

Distasteful though it was, everyone knows the so-called Malay Dignity Congress was organised to foster Malay unity. Quite evidently, it was politically motivated. That can be understood but to downright insult the other races is totally unacceptable behaviour and must not be tolerated.

The Prime Minister’s presence at the congress and his subsequent silence over Malay racist rhetorics simply suggest that he has his own agenda and it has nothing to do with fulfilling the Pakatan Harapan manifesto. Well, he is free to play Malay politics, but my advice – for what it’s worth — is this: Don’t keep antagonizing the non-Malays. In some ways, at some point, it will backfire.


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