USM scraps plan to allow non-academics to vote for deans

Universiti Sains Malaysia has scrapped plans to include non-academics in its nomination and voting procedures for the selection of deans for the 2022-2024 term.

The decision, made at the eleventh hour, came following an open letter on July 11 by the university’s Academic and Administrative Staff Association (PKAP) that was addressed to its registrar, Dr Musa Ali. The nomination is scheduled for tomorrow (9am-4pm) via the university’s e-Dekan online system.

Copies of the letter were also sent to USM’s vice-chancellor Prof Dr Faisal Rafiq Mahamd Adikan, USM’s Board of Governors chairman Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin, Malaysian Academic Movement chairman Prof Zaharom Nain, and the Malaysian Academic Association Congress president Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Idrus Mohd Masirin.

In its letter, PKAP cited Twentytwo13’s July 6 report quoting current and previous academics from the university as saying that the participation of non-academics in the nomination and selection process of deans was unconstitutional.

PKAP also referred to Twentytwo13’s July 7 report, quoting Musa as saying that the inclusion of non-academics was above board, and that it would ensure democracy.

PKAP said provisions under Section 18(3) and (4) of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (AUKU) and Section 29(4),(5),(6) and (7) of USM’s Constitution, were clear regarding the role played by the vice-chancellor and academics in the consultation and selection process of a dean in an academic institution, and the role of the vice-chancellor and non-academics in the selection of a non-academic head in a non-academic centre.

The views of constitutional expert Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi were also attached in PKAP’s letter to Musa.

Shad, who referred to the provisions under the USM Constitution, including Section 29(4), said the vice-chancellor shall, after consultation with the academic employee of each faculty or school, appoint a dean in respect to each faculty or school, and at least one deputy dean, and the board shall be informed of the appointments as soon as may be.

He said it was also stated in Section 29(6) that the matter of appointments of heads of academic institutes, academic centres, research centres and academies, enjoins the vice-chancellor to consult with “academic employees”.

“The contentious issue is whether the vice-chancellor can broaden the consultation process to include the administrative staff and give these staff an equal right to vote with the academic staff on the matter of appointment of the dean.

“The crux of the question is, does the vice-chancellor’s enhanced democratic practice conform with the USM’s Constitution?” he said.

“The (university’s) proposal to consult academics as well as non-academics, to include all stakeholders and to enfranchise both academics and non-academics equally is democratically laudable,” said Shad, who had helped draft USM’s Constitution.

“But it (the move to include non-academics to nominate and vote) is a clear violation of the present provision of the USM Constitution. Perhaps, amendments to the USM Constitution are needed. Till then, we have to obey the law as it is. It is not permissible to disregard the law if it does not meet our standards of fairness and due process.”

He added: “In a democracy, we must censure freely, but obey promptly.”

Following PKAP’s letter, Musa, who is also the nomination committee chairman, issued a new notice for the selection of deans for the 2022-2024 term.

The new notice, which overrides the June 30 notice, states that only academics will be allowed to participate in the nomination and voting process, as stated in the constitution.

Musa said the decision to only allow academics to participate was made following PKAP’s letter to the registrar and Shad’s views.

When contacted, PKAP president Assoc Prof Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk said he welcomed Musa’s decision.

“The university has made the right decision by adhering to the constitutional requirement,” Azeem said.

He said while he understands non-academics will be disappointed over the university’s latest decision, there must be due diligence over the issue of legality.

“PKAP is not against non-academics voting for deans. But if it is to be done, the USM Constitution must first be amended. There is no point in allowing non-academics to vote if such a decision can be declared null and void in a court of law,” he added.

A USM senior lecturer, who requested anonymity, lauded the university for its quick action in addressing the matter.

“We must adhere to the USM Constitution. It is also good to note the university is listening to the concerns that were raised. I am sure the university has the best interests of academics and non-academics in mind.”

USM’s former professor of chemistry, Datuk Dr Omar Shawkataly said it was wrong for the university to include non-academics in the process in the first place.

“Laws are there to be followed. A university is not like a pasar malam (night market),” said Omar.

“You cannot put up a red umbrella this week, a blue umbrella next week and a yellow one the following week. All actions and decisions made, must be in line with AUKU and the USM Constitution.

“Amending the constitution and AUKU can be done. But it will be a long process. If changes are to be made, they must be done in a proper manner,” he added.

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