Waste of funds and injustice in public universities

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LETTER | Lately, many members of the university community have expressed resentment, expressing concern, anger and frustration at a series of issues besieging the higher education community in this country.

These problems, among others, involved the cover-up of cases of sexual harassment, the appointment of inappropriate candidates as vice-chancellors, the appointment of politicians as members of university boards, the predominance of academic staff of questionable quality and the apparent increase in the appearance of kangkung teachers among us.

Among the issues listed above, I would like to draw attention to issues that have relatively not been discussed in detail; the prevalence of academics of questionable quality and prosperity kangkung culture among our teachers.

On the issue of the quality of academic staff, it must be admitted that we have a panoply of academics within our higher education system, ranging from those who are totally useless to those with a high level of credibility.

Academics are appointed to their positions from junior lecturers to senior professors on the basis of a prescribed level of quality adopted by all public universities. The criteria and level of their subsequent promotions, however, differ from one university to another.

This is the starting point where the quality disparity begins. Senior universities tend to be more strict in their selection of promotions, while newer universities tend to be more lenient in their consideration.

The resulting result has led to a situation where we have academics in the same discipline and holding the same degree, but with disparate academic proficiency levels.

In higher universities where strict criteria are applied, it would take years for teachers to develop their knowledge and, more importantly, their experience and maturity before they could be considered promoted as associate professors or professors.

In some newer universities, however, promotions as associate professors and professors are generously granted to those with even barely ten years of teaching experience. This is particularly revealing in the fields of the social sciences.

Ironically, some of these associate professors and professors are barely on par in terms of academic competence with lecturers or senior lecturers teaching at higher universities.

The rush to promote less qualified academics by these universities is in part driven by the desire of universities to improve their image by adding more “experts” to their roster of academic staff in their service. Never mind that these “experts” are likely to keep a low profile and would try to avoid any external exposure for fear that their lack of competence is exposed.

In addition to being an exercise in image improvement, the promotions carried out have also served to reward those who are good at polishing apples and those who have the “right” political attitude.

Contrary to the image they were supposed to convey, this category of academics, like a herd of donkeys comfortably installed in their enclosure, is useless in pushing the limits of academic knowledge.

To preserve this unbalanced status quo and ensure that this vicious circle of mediocrity continues, these academics would go so far as to establish a cartel among themselves just to ensure that academics of credible reputations are not admitted among them.

These academics are, however, useful in endorsing the views and political arguments of the government of the day. With the titles, Dr, Associate Professor or Professor, these academics lend hollow credibility to these political arguments, intended for the consumption of the thoughtless and easily impressionable public.

Their arguments are mostly devoid of theory or academic facts which are the prerequisites for credibility and the basis of any academic discourse.

Kangkung the teachers come from this talent pool. As pointed out by Sharifah Munirah Alatas in his Malaysiakini item June 28, 2021 “Metaphors and kangkung professors ”, this kangkung phenomenon is even more apparent nowadays.

As Sharifah rightly pointed out, with the proliferation of online webinars and roundtables by the presence of the Covid 19 pandemic, more and more academics, including those hiding behind so far their titles, manifest themselves and take advantage of this laissez-faire environment to peddle. their “expertise” online.

In addition to producing kangkung academics, unfairly rewarding those who do not deserve it with easy promotion and denying those who deserve the recognition they deserve, the current system of academic staff appraisal organized by individual universities is a potential source of waste of public funds.

The amount of taxpayer dollars spent on these underachieving academics may well be funneled into other deserving national efforts, especially when the country struggles to cope with the current Covid 19 situation.

As a workaround, it is suggested that standardized promotion criteria and standards, covering all academic disciplines, be jointly formulated and monitored by universities.

The promotion evaluation exercise should emphasize objectivity, quality and equality at all levels.

Only with such a mechanism in place could we identify the real academics from the pseudo-academics who occupy our higher education system.


The writer is an academic at a public university and an exco member of Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak).

The views expressed here are those of the author / contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Malaysiakini.


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