Axed UM VC says its because she’s a woman
Beh Lih Yi November 17, 2008
Former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor Rafiah Salim has alleged gender bias by the government towards local academicians amidst the controversy of her not being re-appointed to the post.
The first woman to head a public university in the country, Rafiah’s contract was not renewed recently and she was informed on the decision merely 48 hours before the expiry of her term.
She was appointed in May 2006.
“Just because we are women and we don’t have that thing between the legs so we are not good,” she told Malaysiakini in an one-hour interview today held at her new office at UM.
Former vice-chancellors of UM, the country’s oldest public university, are often granted an office premise to conduct research and development.
“It’s so sad because there is this a ministry in charge of higher education and you expect them to be more liberal and advanced in their thinking,” the 61-year-old former law lecturer and former Bank Negara assistant governor argued.
Explaining her allegation of gender bias, Rafiah said she recently learnt that the women VCs were only given a two-year contract while male VCs were given a three-year contract. This included her successor Prof Dr Ghauth Jasmon.
“Doesn’t this [show they are] more confident in men than in women?” she questioned.
Clashes with deputy minister
Rafiah’s contract was extended for another six months in May this year until the government’s decision to discontinue her services recently.
Following this decision, she has locked horns with Deputy Higher Education Minister Idris Haron after the latter gave an explanation in Parliament on why her contract was not renewed.
Idris (left) had said that UM needed someone with a high level of performance who could elevate the university’s status and the new appointee, Ghauth, had vast experience in public universities.
The decision to discontinue Rafiah’s contract also sparked off a debate in Parliament with some women parliamentarians raising their concern that the issue involved gender inequality.
Former national unity and social development minister Napsiah Omar also expressed her displeasure over the decision.
On this, an irked Rafiah argued: “I don’t care why they have replaced me but what I am upset about is the defamatory remarks that the deputy minister made in Parliament.
“He was really casting aspersions on my capability, track record and insinuating that I didn’t perform.
“He could have given whatever excuse he wants [although] I know it’s difficult for him to justify it because it’s a gender thing [...] but because he can’t provide an explanation, he cast aspersions on me.
“If he had said it outside Parliament, I can sue him. I have 34 years of an excellent career,” said Rafiah.
Defending her two-and-a-half year term at UM, she said the transformation plan she laid out for the university was on track and one example was that she has successfully increased the number of UM publications from 3,300 three years ago to 5,882 as of June this year.
The former VC, who came all prepared for the interview complete with her ‘report card’ also pointed out that the university has managed to climb the Times Higher Education World University’s rankings from 246 last year to 230 this year.
“When were just about to come up, they stop me,” she lamented, adding that she was not told how she did not perform well.
‘I couldn’t be bothered anymore’
Despite her anger, Rafiah denied she was bitter over the episode other that what Idris has said in Parliament. She said she was of the view that it was the ministry’s prerogative to appoint their candidate.
“They have a right to appoint a monkey if they want,” she told Malaysiakini.
Rafiah also stressed that she was not interested in seeking reinstatement to the post.
“I am not interested in reinstatement. I am not interested in the job anymore, I have moved on. I have booked my holiday to see my grandchildren and I have started my book [...] but suddenly he (Idris) comes and defames me,” she said.
Rafiah was obviously upset over the 48-hour notice given to her over the non-renewal of her contract, saying this showed the ministry’s lack of respect for ‘basic human decency’.
According to her, the decision not to extend her contract had already been made beforehand - even before the search committee tasked with appointing the VC had interviewed her.
“The system is flawed, he (Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin) talks of transparency… what transparency? Was it advertised? What are the criteria? Do any of us know the criteria they are looking for?” she asked.
Rafiah, however, declined to comment when asked on how the selection process could be improved.
“Don’t correct it, I am already out [...] I couldn’t be bothered anymore,” she replied.
Khaled, who was Rafiah’s student when the latter was a UM law lecturer, has called for the debate over the controversy to stop.
The minister also stressed that new UM VC’s appointment was made according to procedures and the decision was final.
Tomorrow: Rafiah reveals political interference in UM