Adelaide University has recently removed the name of Sarawak governor and former chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud from its plaza near its Law School in response to criticism about its dealings with Taib.
The university acted after succumbing to pressure from the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) and Australian environmental NGO the Bob Brown Foundation for the past two years to stop honouring Taib, whom they accused of having benefited from illegal logging of tropical rainforests in Sarawak.
BMF said in a press statement that the university had come under fire from civil society and the Australian Green party over its relationship with Taib, with whom it had helped raise A$400,000 (RM120,418.51) in personal donations, an amount it alleged exceeded the former chief minister's income.
The university had in 2008 named the plaza the 'Taib Mahmud Chief Minister of Sarawak Court' on its premises in what BMF claimed was “to show its appreciation of his significant support” and “personal generosity”.
Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell brought up the issue in the South Australian Parliament in 2015.
Parnell welcomed the move but criticised the university for its lack of transparency in its dealings with Taib.
Adelaide University spokesperson Lachlan Parker confirmed that the university council had “some months ago decided to rename the court the Colombo Plan Alumni Court and that the signage is currently being amended to reflect its decision”, BMF said.
BMF and the Bob Brown Foundation had called on Adelaide University to pay back the A$400,000 (about RM1.2 million) that it received from Taib. The donations were made between 1987 and 2006.
“In November 2015, indigenous Penan community leaders from Sarawak sent a letter to the university's vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington asking the university to pay back all the funds that it received from Taib as the money was urgently needed for the development of Sarawak’s rural communities and rainforest conservation,” said BMF.
“The university never replied to the letter,” it added.
Adelaide University told The Australian daily in 2013 that the university accepted Taib's gift in good faith "many years ago".
"No gifts have been accepted from him for more than seven years.
"The scholarships and facility named following Taib's gifts involved permanent trust obligations and agreements with which the university is bound to comply," a spokesperson reportedly said.
Malaysiakini is contacting Adelaide University for a response.