I was invited to judge a mooting competition at Universiti Malaya and I accepted earlier on. Then this debacle came around. I decided to withdraw my participation. This was my statement:-
“Dear Organising Committee,
I am writing this e-mail to inform you of my withdrawal from participation in the 2019 Tun Suffian Moot Competition as a 2nd Preliminary Round Judge. I thought it best to inform you soonest to enable the Organising Committee time to find a suitable replacement.
I cannot in good conscience participate as a returning judge in view of the recent adverse news of the University’s management and handling of its students in the wake of comments made by the University’s Vice-Chancellor at the recently concluded Malay Congress, which advertised the University as being a co-organiser of that event.
Without getting into the veracity of the Vice-Chancellor’s statement or the validity of the grievance by the students affected, I am surprised that the University is unable to view this episode as an exercise of fundamental liberties, in this instance, the freedom of expression.
There is also that the students are not allowed to challenge or question critically, the original source of the grievance that would be the comments of the Vice-Chancellor. It is said that University is a place where bad ideas go to die.
The idea that the students need to decide on a “proper forum” to address their grievance and to be penalised if they don’t, smacks of privilege and classist attitudes which are counterproductive to the values of academia, to which the benefits of a vibrant and open academic environment serve public interest.
I think the views of the students are important and should have been addressed. I view the Vice Chancellor’s remarks at the Malay Congress as exclusionary with to the benefit of one racial interest and predicated on a fiction. There is a Federal Constitution, which all Malaysians derive their rights and liberties from. There is no such thing as a “social contract”, which is a casual but dangerous euphemism designed to propagate ideas contrary to the values and freedoms afforded by the Federal Constitution.
Even if that view is deeply divisive or contentious, I do believe that the affected students have that right to question the Vice-Chancellor’s statements. To that end, if the Vice-Chancellor can state his views, he should be able to defend them on moment’s notice without having to fix meetings or the likes of which would imply deflection or a reluctance to address.
The Vice-Chancellor is accountable to the students of the University. As a member of the public, I believe the students represent the values and standards expected of the University’s reputation. The same is expected of the Vice-Chancellor and members of his administration. After all, they guide and administer the students while they are at the University.
Further to that, were the Vice-Chancellor’s statements made in a manner that is inclusionary of all segments of society within the University, or do the comments promote a classist, segregational or hierarchical view of Malaysia that is to be ingrained into the psyche of the students, despite the caution in the Federal Constitution that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law?
It may be that the questions and statements are nuanced and complex, and very much so, the Vice-Chancellor is accountable for his remarks and must make every effort to defend his statements when his students require him to do so. It is clear that the University’s students understand the nature and scope of protesting and expressing themselves better than their lecturers or administrators.
To deprive the affected students of the privilege of receiving their graduation scrolls, is not only petty, it reeks of unmitigated overreaction, at best and at worst, bullying. That the University’s administrators cannot understand this, is to my mind horrifyingly reflective of the state of our public universities.
To add insult to injury, there has been no open or vigorous discussions made over the statements of the Vice-Chancellor, which exacerbates the impression that the University is punishing the affected students without context or determination of the Vice-Chancellor’s statement. Thus it raises the view, in my opinion, that there is an element of unreasonableness and irrationality.
To re-iterate and re-state my position, I believe my continued participation in this event of esteemed tradition in honour of one of the most respected members of our Judiciary while this very public matter remains unresolved, flies in the face of the memory of that member of the Judiciary, as well as, the values expected of my profession to be upheld pursuant to the Legal Profession Act 1976 and as a citizen of Malaysia, the Federal Constitution.
I will not offer any opportunity for my participation to be viewed as a matter of complicity with the acts of the University’s participation against the affected students. I stand in solidarity with the affected students and encourage the students of the University to challenge this iniquity, demand for accountability in the administration of the University and above all else, preserve the welfare of its students.
c.c. 1. Ministry of Education
3. Bar Council of Malaysia”
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