Academicians up in arms over decision to allow USM’s non-academic staff to nominate, vote for deans

Non-academic members from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) will now be able to nominate and vote for their faculty deans – a move described as “unprecedented” and “unconstitutional” by several of its professors.

Current and former members of USM’s academic fraternity said the inclusion of the non-academic staff – which has never been done before in the Penang university’s 52-year history – could result in the entire nomination and voting processes being considered null and void.

The nomination procedure for the selection of deans for the 2022-2024 term stated that the nomination of the dean/director of the faculties was based on discussions among the academicians. The nomination procedure was approved by USM’s management committee on June 16.

USM staff were, however, informed that non-academic members would also be involved in the nomination of deans, through a June 30 notice signed by nomination committee chairman, Dr Musa Ali.

The notice, sighted by Twentytwo13, stated that the nomination was scheduled for July 13 (9am-4pm) via the university’s e-Dekan online system.

The nomination procedure also stated that full-time, permanent, and contract academic and non-academic staff could vote. This included academic and non-academic members on sabbatical, study leave and those seconded to other agencies.

Candidates for the deans’ position must be full-time academicians.

The document also stated that the selection process would be based on votes obtained from academicians (70 per cent), non-academicians who are professionals and management staff (20 per cent), and non-academicians from the supporting group (10 per cent).

Speaking to Twentytwo13, a director of a department who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the June 30 statement contravened USM’s constitution.

Section 29(4) of the constitution states that the vice-chancellor has to, upon consultation with the academic staff of each education centre, appoint a dean and a deputy dean.

“This means nominations can only be done by the academic staff. The university’s June 30 notice contravenes Section 29(4),” said the director, who is an associate professor.

According to USM’s constitution, academic staff were professors, professor emeritus, research fellows, fellows, assistant professors, senior lecturers, lecturers, assistant lecturers, language teachers and tutors.

“Non-academics included clerks, accounts clerks and assistant registrars,” said the director.

“Bringing in non-academics into the nomination process has never happened before. This could lead to the entire nomination process being considered null and void,” he added.

Another senior lecturer from USM told Twentytwo13 that the change in direction should be justified.

“If the vice-chancellor wants to get non-academics on board, he needs to first sell the idea,” said the senior lecturer, who also requested anonymity.

“Is the current system broken that it warrants such a move?”

A spokesman from the university’s Academic and Administrative Staff Association (PKAP) said the body had yet to discuss the June 30 notice.

“I believe the management will ensure that the interests of academics and non-academics are protected,” he said.

“The practice on the selection of deans is not new. But the manner with which it is done must fall back on the constitution.”

He added the constitution was silent on whether or not non-academics should be consulted in the election of deans and heads of department.

The spokesman added although academics played a strong role in most universities, there were some institutions that were becoming more ‘liberal’, and this included bringing in more non-academics into their decision-making processes.

“It’s both good and bad. Ultimately, it depends on the direction the university intends to take,” he added.

The brouhaha over the nomination and voting process had also caught the interest of USM’s former professor of chemistry, Datuk Dr Omar Shawkataly.

He described the move as “unwarranted”.

Omar, a former member of the university’s senate, said the selection of deans could be done in several ways.

“One way is the vice-chancellor could ask a school or academic centre to submit three names for the appointment of a dean. The vice-chancellor is, however, not obligated to select the person with the highest number of votes. And the selection is warranted as long as there is consultation,” Omar said.

“But these processes do not involve non-academic staff, because you are choosing an academic head, i.e. the dean or the director of a research centre.

“This person (dean or head of the department) is not only the administrative head, but he also chairs the academic board of the school or research centre,” added the former PKAP vice-president.

“Those who drafted the university’s constitution were mindful of the academic roles of a dean, and as such, the nomination and voting of deans were not open to non-academics,” he added.

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