Professor Chandra Muzaffar's turn to be axed? Aliran condemns the manner of the non-renewal of Professor Chandra Muzaffar's contract of employment as the Director of the Centre for Civilisational Dialogue, Universiti Malaya. In that capacity, Chandra had helped to establish Universiti Malaya's reputation as an academic institution and broaden its links with international institutions of higher learning.
Nonetheless, Chandra was only informed yesterday (23 February) that his contract of employment, due to expire on 28 February 1999, would not be renewed. Until yesterday, the Universiti Malaya management had given no prior notice of any dissatisfaction with Chandra's performance of duties, no prior warning that he had in any way violated the terms of his contract, and no prior indication that his contract would not be renewed.
Under the circumstances, Aliran considers that the non-renewal of Professor Chandra's contract is tantamount to an undeserved, unceremonious and politically motivated sacking of an academician who has long been a highly respected figure of courageous and honest dissent in this country. Clearly the public will understand that Chandra, President of JUST, Protem Vice-President of ADIL, and founding Aliran President, is the latest victim of the campaign of persecution that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has launched against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his associates since September 1998.
No one will say that the Malaysian academia has been distinguished by a proud record of principled dissent since the enactment of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1975. But it is well known that increasing numbers of students and academicians have become openly critical of Dr Mahathir and his allies in government and in UMNO. Increasing numbers of the academic community have supported the widening movement for Reformasi in various ways.
Among them, Chandra, who has won international honours for his academic achievements and social activism, is probably the best known. Hence, the non-renewal of Professor Chandra's contract signals an assault on the academic institutions of this country and an attempt to stifle dissent by intimidating the academicians themselves. Aliran finds this assault to be all the more insidious because the administration of the oldest, premier, university of this country, not only did not defend fundamental principles of academic freedom and the autonomy of the university, but allowed itself to be an instrument of partisan politics.
By so dismissively refusing to renew Chandra's contract, the Universiti Malaya management has also exposed its scant regard for the fate of many of its own students. Chandra's undergraduate students are just about to take their examinations while his postgraduate students have now abruptly lost the benefit of his supervision of their theses and dissertations.
Aliran has learnt that the Universiti Malaya management tersely cited the present economic condition as the reason for not extending Chandra's services. Chandra, however, has publicly disputed the validity of that reason.
In view of this, Aliran challenges the Universiti Malaya management to participate in a public forum on this issue. Aliran is prepared to host such an open forum at which the representative(s) of the Universiti Malaya's management and Chandra himself can establish the real and full reasons for the non-renewal of Chandra's contract. Only thus can Universiti Malaya hope to retrieve its reputation as an academic institution that is not beholden to the dictates of vindictive politicians.
Aliran Executive Committee
24 February 1999