BY ZULKIFLI SULONG, FEATURES AND ANALYSIS EDITOR
Published: 7 July 2014
Former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor Tan Sri Professor Dr Ghauth Jasmon says he was scolded because of the work done by UMcedel. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, July 7, 2014.
A former Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor has revealed that he was constantly harassed by Putrajaya over the unflattering findings by the university’s research centre, lending weight to claims that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was unhappy with its work.
Tan Sri Professor Dr Ghauth Jasmon, who served as vice-chancellor at the public university from 2008 to 2013, said a senior politician had scolded him for not controlling former Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) director Professor Datuk Dr Redzuan Othman. "The political masters (from Putrajaya) were angry with me because of Prof Redzuan," Ghauth told The Malaysian Insider via the Whatsapp messaging service.
"I was scolded by a politician because of Redzuan and UMcedel and was warned about my job (as vice-chancellor),” he said.
He said a day after the 13th general election, he had received an earful from a senior member of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration.
"I got a scolding and reminder the day after the general election, around 11am."
"The person told me that as VC, I should control Redzuan and not allow him to speak freely," said Ghauth.
Alhough he refused to reveal the person's identity, Ghauth confirmed it was a well-placed politician.
In the run-up to the election, the Barisan Nasional coalition had been rattled by UMcedel's findings which showed the prime minister trailing behind opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
A UMcedel poll showed that more than 60% of voters surveyed favoured Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) manifesto, compared with just 50% who preferred BN’s election pledges.
It also showed that 43% of respondents believed that Anwar was qualified to be prime minister, pipping Najib by four percentage points.
Najib had rubbished the findings and many BN supporters had questioned the methodology.
UMcedel, in its reply, had noted that Najib had been pleased with earlier surveys after he assumed office which had painted a positive picture of him and the BN.
However, despite the projections, BN won the 13th general election albeit with a reduced majority, capturing 133 parliamentary seats. Pakatan, meanwhile, clinched 89 out of the 222 parliamentary seats.
Ghauth said despite the pressure from Putrajaya, he had defended Redzuan.
"UM is an academic institution, not (a) political institution. My job as VC is to defend the sanctity of the academic institution,” he said.
"Regardless of whether people are happy or not, the academic freedom of the institution is above everything."
Ghauth was the 10th vice-chancellor of UM and served for five years before his contract ended in 2013.
Prior to that, he was the founder and chief executive officer of Universiti Multimedia for 11 years.
UMcedel was set up during Ghauth's tenure as vice-chancellor. First approved by the university's senate, UMcedel was later endorsed by the UM board of directors chaired by Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.
The university terminated Redzuan's services as UMcedel director on March 31, although his contract only expired on December 31, 2014.
Redzuan's tenure as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was also not renewed on July 1, even though he was said to have received the highest votes from the academic staff to continue heading the faculty. Ghauth said he was saddened over what happened to Redzuan, but added that he was still hopeful and believed in UM.
He said that Arshad was also initially unhappy with Redzuan's work in UMcedel.
"Yes, at one time he became angry with me because of UMcedel... But after a presentation by Redzuan to the board, Arshad changed his mind and endorsed UMcedel and I could see him becoming friendly with Redzuan.
"The entire UM board was happy with Redzuan’s presentation and endorsed UMcedel at that meeting," said Ghauth, adding that the senate, which he chaired, had already approved its establishment.
Ghauth said he and his peers had planned to steer UM into the list of top 100 universities in the world by 2015.
"I set the target of taking UM into the top 100 by 2015. I personally believed this would bring up Malaysia's standing globally."
But he was doubtful that UM could reach the goal under the current circumstances.
"I am not sure but I sense that it will be very tough," he said.
UM has announced its goal of entering the QS World University Ranking's top 100 by 2015.
Although it is the top varsity in the country, UM was ranked at 167 in 2013/2014 by QS, a huge drop from its 2012 ranking of 156. – July 7, 2014.