BY ELIZABETH ZACHARIAH
Published: 2 July 2014
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah says he had learnt of the Education Ministry's interference about two months ago. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Faisal Salehhuddin, July 2, 2014.
Former deputy higher education minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has offered a detailed explanation on why he resigned from his post in Universiti Malaya (UM) in solidarity with the head of the varsity's research centre, saying academic freedom is something that cannot be compromised.
Saifuddin, who is an Umno member, had resigned from his post as a senior research fellow in UM in protest against the forced resignation of Professor Datuk Dr Mohamad Redzuan Othman, the head of the varsity's Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel).
And although UM had said yesterday that there was no interference in the removal of Redzuan, Saifuddin, who is also the Global Movement of Moderates head, said the professor was ordered to resign as UMcedel director "because of orders from certain quarters in the Education Ministry".
Saifuddin told The Malaysian Insider that he had learnt of the ministry's interference about two months ago.
"I knew about this from the beginning. I know Professor Redzuan was called by the management of the university and he was informed that the Education Ministry was not very happy with him and he was asked to resign," the former Umno Supreme Council member said, adding that he later confirmed this with the university's vice-chancellor (VC).
"To the best of my knowledge, the VC was contacted by someone from the ministry and the message was that Redzuan should not continue as the director of UMcedel."
Saifuddin said certain issues such as education, fighting corruption and unity cannot be compromised, adding that in this case, he knew he had to make a firm stand.
"When it comes to things like academic quality and freedom, these are some things you cannot compromise. You have to take a stand," Saifuddin told The Malaysian Insider.
"They are also fundamental. One simply cannot look at these things from a partisan perspective.
The Malaysian Insider had reported on Monday that the Education Ministry had told Redzuan to quit as UMcedel director, while his tenure as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the university was also not renewed.
UMcedel had irked Putrajaya with its various survey findings on Malaysian politics which had shown the ruling Barisan Nasional in a bad light.
However, UM vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Amin Jalaludin yesterday denied that the ministry had pressured Redzuan to resign, adding that the decision to remove the academic was made after taking into account the university’s interests, and was not due to any outside pressure.
“The decision was made after University Malaya took into account Professor Mohammad Redzuan’s retirement next year, and to give the opportunity for his deputy, Dr Amir Saifude Ghazali to accustom himself with the responsibilities of a director of an independent research body.
Saifuddin, who is also an alumni of UM, said he was saddened by the news and after Redzuan’s tenure as dean for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was also not renewed, he decided to resign as well.
"I thought, 'why is this happening again?' and 'what is wrong with our system?'"
He was referring to previous cases of interference by Putrajaya, including the suspension of constitutional law expert Dr Aziz Bari from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) for questioning the Sultan of Selangor's decree in the raid of the Damansara Utama Methodist Centre in October 2011.
"It was okay for IIUM to investigate him. That is fair and part of governance. But before police could finish conducting their probe, he was suspended and not allowed into the campus compound.
"He is not a criminal. It was as though he was already guilty," Saifuddin said.
Saifuddin, who was then the deputy minister of higher education, defended Aziz and urged the university to revoke the order. He was later not allowed to participate in a IIUM forum.
Saifuddin, however, said that he would not leave Umno, a component party of the Barisan Nasional coalition.
"No, I don't think so. I always believed there is nothing in Umno or BN that cannot be corrected by what is right.
"I understand that you have to follow the party line. But there are certain things that are dear to me personally such as education. If incidents like this happen, you cannot toe the party line," said Saifuddin who is also the National Unity Consultative Council member. – July 2, 2014.