At the very last minute, despite the intervention of the Students Representative Council and earlier agreement, UTM Deputy Vice Chancellor Zulkifli Mohd Ghazali refused to give approval for the Chinese New Year annual exhibition to be held in the campus.
The UTM Deputy Registrar for Student Activities Division, Mohd Tajudddin
Othman denied that the university had obstructed student cultural activities
and told malaysiakini three reasons why the Chinese New Year
annual exhibition was not approved:
It is a poor reflection on Mohd Tajuddin's qualifications and competence to be an university administrator, particularly in charge of student affairs, that he could give such ridiculous, contradictory and downright unacceptable reasons for the ban on the Chinese New Year annual exhibition on the campus.
The first reason is ridiculous and unacceptable, for the university administration should know that the students had started preparations for the exhibition since last October after they had obtained verbal approval and encouragement from the Unit Kebudayaan under the department of Hal Ehwal Pelajar (Students Affairs).
It is in fact the height of irresponsibility on the part of the UTM administration to waste the time of the student organizers for four months in preparing for the Chinese New Year annual exhibition and then to ban it at the last minute - knowing full well that this would only drive the event to be held outside the campus.
The first reason contradicts the second one, for if the university did not want the students facing examinations to be distracted, then there should be more reason to postpone the Rakan Muda Cultural Festival which would involve a greater proportion of the student population.
In any event, the second reason of the Rakan Muda Cultural Festival organized by the Ministry of Youths and Sports cannot be a legitimate reason to ban a student activity organized by the students themselves - and in any event, why should both events be regarded as mutually exclusive?
The worst reason of all is the third one, allegedly the administration policy only to encourage student activities which involve racial integration and not for one community only.
Does this mean that the the UTM administration would also not encourage the holding of Hari Raya, Christmas, Deepavali, Ponggol celebrationhs as these would involve the students of only one community and not all communities to be found in Malaysia?
By this logic, the universities in Malaysia would be the bastion of intolerance and obscurantism in refusing to acknowledge and respect the cultural diversity in Malaysia, which is the country's greatest strength in the information era of the 21st century.
University administrators should be encouraging the holding of more cultural events by students manifesting the rich cultural diversity in Malaysia, and finding ways for all Malaysians to be involved in such activities rather than banning them.
University administrators might be able to get away with such sectarian and narrow-minded thinking and explanations in the seventies, eighties and even early nineties, but they are now completely unacceptable with the dawn of the new millennium when students and society expect the universities to be the cutting edge of new thinking and consciousness and not the holdouts of outmoded thinking and prejudices.
The UTM student leadership should be commended for showing a Malaysian consciousness transcending race and religion among the new university student population, as reflected in the protest by some 100 UTM students in submitting a memorandum of protest to the UTM Vice Chancellor Datuk Ahmad Zaharuddin over the ban of the Chinese New Year exhibition led by the Students Representative Council's Secretary-General Zulkifli Abdul Manan.
The time has come for the students of the new millennium to educate the university administrators of the previous millennium that they must catch up with the new thinking and aspirations of the new generation of Malaysians.
I call on the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad to give
personal attention to this problem for when he was the Vice Chancellor
of Universiti Sains Malaysia, he was not known for setting a good example
of showing respect for cultural diversity or student freedom. He
must now make sure that his example in this aspect of university administration,
which is a blot on his record as USM Vice Chancellor, should never be emulated
by the present generation of vice chancellors in the local universities.
Musa Mohamad should send out a directive to all university vice chancellors to rescind all student policies which are insensitive to the various languages, cultures, religions and customs in the country