University Discourse Should Be Free and Transparent

Proposer:

Bilqis Hijjas

Affiliations:

ReformARTsi

Policy Code:

2a Freedom of Expression

Problem Statement / Issue:

In June 2021, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia cancelled a talk by Dato’ Ramli Ibrahim, a Malay proponent of Indian classical dance, on the advice of the university’s Islamic centre. This is a recent example of restrictions upon freedom of expression, discussion and thought that are regularly imposed upon university communities in Malaysia.

Although the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) was amended in 2018 to allow university students to partake in political activity, local students and faculty are still subject to disciplinary hearings, event cancellation and other restrictions imposed by university authorities, often in response to activities deemed politically sensitive. UUCA Section 16 grants the university vice-chancellor the power to suspend or dissolve any group or organisation of students “unsuitable to the wellbeing of the students or the university”. As the UTM example indicates, there is no clear chain of command for such decision making, and the system is open to arbitrary action and abuse.

Value(s) and Belief(s):

Public universities in Malaysia should aspire to the highest levels of intellectual discourse, nurturing critical thinking and debate, unfettered by narrow moralistic values and religious or political doctrine. Religious and other bodies of the university should not be empowered to censor the intellectual curiosity of faculty and students.

Proposal of Solution and Call to Action:

Societies and faculties of public universities in Malaysia should be allowed to organize talks, debates, and other campus events without arbitrary oversight or risk of cancellation by other university bodies such as religious centres. There should be clear guidelines of the chain of command in universities which determines who is authorised to cancel an event and on what grounds. There should be a responsive and transparent system of appeal, addressed to a panel of representatives including university students and faculty, to respond to requests to cancel events. Finally, the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) should be abolished in its entirety, as it continues to encourage a culture of fear on local campuses and stifle student voices.

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