The Tempinis diaries

May 20, 2008

Why Rafiah Salim Should Stay

Kian Ming has a post in Education Malaysia re-iterating their (Tony and Kian Ming’s) position that Rafiah Salim should be removed as the VC of University of Malaya. I believe that this is a such a wrong and populist position that I feel compelled to reply.

First, Rafiah Salim has been reported to be implementing many sensible moves in improving the university. These steps include (a) making annual publications in two peer-reviewed journals a key performance index for lecturers; (b) consulting external dons in matters of promotion; and (c) the signing of student exchange agreements. Rome was not build overnight. Tony Pua is being completely unfair to blame Rafiah Salim for the continued decline of University of Malaya’s ranking. Rather than taking a knee-jerk reaction (e.g. recruiting graduate students from the Middle East to improve the foreign student ratio), Rafiah Salim seems to have the courage and wisdom of taking the bull by the horns in the unheadline grabbing task of trying to promote a research culture in the university.

Second, Khaled “Save Sufiah Yusof” Nordin’s move of extending Rafiah Salim’s contract by only six months puts her and the university in an invidious position. This effectively creates a ‘lame duck’ Vice Chancellor. Matters are on hold. Nothing will get done. See story below from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Third, Kian Ming’s gripe against Rafiah Salim’s qualifications is again unfair. It is true that she does not (save for an Honorary PhD) have a PhD. But you have to consider what discipline she is in and what generation she is from. Rafiah Salim is a lawyer and many lawyers in her generation even in Oxbridge do not have PhDs. In fact, in many US Law Schools where law is a postgraduate degree – PhDs are not a pre-requisite for faculty members. I am sure Kian Ming will agree with me that a PhD is not evidence of leadership abilities. I have met enough dumb people with PhDs to last me a life time. While a PhD is an absolute must for new faculty hires especially in science and the social sciences, Rafiah Salim should not be faulted for not having a PhD. As the Vice Chancellor she is an administrator whose most important quality is leadership ability. Thus far, I think she has shown remarkable leadership abilities. Also, Kian Ming’s comparison with the Harvard President is totally unwarranted. University of Malaya is not Harvard and will never be Harvard. To benchmark University of Malaya to Harvard is just so wrongheaded I do not even know where to begin.

Fourth, universities are not corporations. Universities are mysterious organisations where sensitivity to culture matters. You can’t just come in and fire all the deadwood. The Vice Chancellor will face an open revolt and won’t last very long. See the story below on the ill-fated Oxford Vice Chancellor, John Hood, who tried to institute changes too abruptly. Needless to say, he didn’t last too long. I believe that Rafiah Salim being an insider of University of Malaya is the best person for the job currently.

Fifth, superstar professors may not work out in the long run. This is related to the culture point. A superstar professor might not stay with the university for long. See the story on NUS Business School’s Chris Earley who left after only 2 years as Dean. There is also a problem of ‘fit’. I don’t believe University of Malaya is ready for a superstar foreign Vice-Chancellor yet. Such an individual would probably leave the university in frustration after a while. We need someone like Rafiah Salim to raise the standard of the university to a respectable level before anyone abroad who is remotely decent would take the job. Also, witness the appointment of Dr. Tan Hock Lim by the Vice Chancellor of UKM, Sharifah Hapsah. Dr. Tan Hock Lim is no doubt a superstar but his appointment has created such ill-will and jealousy in and outside UKM that Sharifah Hapsah is now subject to (in my opinion, wholly unjustifable) attacks by Harakah. Change needs to be handled sensitively and incrementally in universities.

For all these reasons, I believe that Tony and Kian Ming are completely wrong when they argue for the removal of Rafiah Salim as the Vice Chancellor. This is a move which is populist and ultimately misconceived. I expect our politicians like Tony to be bigger than this. I do not see a better person in the horizon. The only argument that remains for the removal of Rafiah Salim is that she ‘censured’ Azmi Sharom for something he wrote. Now I have the greatest respect for Azmi Sharom’s writings, but there is always two sides to a story. What exactly was said to Azmi? Even if Malaysiakini’s version is to be believed, I do not think this is such a major transgression that merits as a ground of removal. The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that Rafiah Salim is doing a good job. And that is why she should stay for at least 3 more years.


Lame Ducks: the Scourge of Academic Administration

Milton Greenberg

Several weeks ago I was asked to consider serving as an interim president at a college in the Midwest, an offer I declined. Not long after, I learned about the Registry for College and University Presidents, which specializes in “renting”
My reaction to both? “Are you telling me that not a single person on that campus is capable of doing the job, and you want a total stranger to run your shop?”

In almost any other enterprise, the departure of a leader is accompanied by the announcement of the successor. Indeed, people are groomed and sometimes named long in advance as heirs apparent. These organizations value continuity and the maintenance of authority and accountability.

In the academic world, however, the “Lame Duck Syndrome” has become institutionalized. Colleges and universities accept as normal the periodic absence of authoritative leadership at various levels of the institution. We practice what no course in leadership would teach and what nature abhors: power vacuums.

Academic institutions are concerned with process rather than organizational health, resulting, with rare exception, in the phenomenon of the lame duck — a person scheduled to leave a position but with considerable time to serve or a person holding an “acting” or “interim” position until the “real” leader is found. When the position is filled, the lame-duck syndrome shifts to the institution that the new appointee left. It is endemic, systemic, and endless.

Look about your campus. Has any high-ranking administrator announced, long in advance, a forthcoming resignation? That announcement creates a lame duck. How many administrators are holding “acting” or “interim” positions? Each is a lame duck. Just this week, announced that he will resign from the Stanford University presidency in August, 2000 — thereby becoming a lame duck for a full academic year.

Early in my academic career, after telling my superior of my intention to accept a new post, he brilliantly suggested, “Ideally you should leave tomorrow because your mind is already there.” But the system dictated that I remain another three months as a lame duck before replacing the lame duck at another institution.

I was a lame duck five times. Three resulted from job changes, leaving me with several months to serve before leaving each campus. In another instance I served as an interim president for over a year including several months while the new president was lame ducking at his institution. My fifth and final experience was a year-in-advance announcement of retirement.

One need not be a cultural anthropologist to notice the changes in relationships and the impact upon the institution.

When the presidency is at stake, the lame-duck syndrome leaves the entire organization headless and essentially on hold. But the same holds true for lame ducks at any level. They are not expected to exercise power or make significant changes. In fact, a lame duck who is leaving the organization is put into isolation and often treated as an ingrate. Important fiscal, programmatic, and personnel decisions await the arrival of new, and supposedly permanent, wisdom.

Routinely, it takes months to establish a politically correct search committee, to deliberate over the qualifications of ideal candidates, to place precise ads in The Chronicle, and to begin collecting and sorting applications. Then come the phone interviews, reference gathering, the campus-wide interviews, and endless consultations. The ritual is exhausting and often results in a failed search, followed by the naming of another lame duck.

The last thing on anybody’s mind is simply to name an insider no matter how logical the choice. First, it is presumed that “out there” is someone superior to anyone “in here.” Second, search firms need to earn their high fees by demonstrating that their Rolodex can produce that superior person.

And third, as the presidential-search scholars Judith Block McLaughlin and David Riesman found in their 1990 study, Choosing a College President, the campus model of searches, as contrasted with inside-promotion practices in the corporate sector, results in an undervaluing of people we know and disparagement of their slightest faults.

Most in higher education believe that the search process promotes consensus, prevents discrimination and results in the best selection. Those presumptions are not only unproven but highly dubious, if judged by results. Furthermore, the increasingly common practice of using consultants along with search committees indicates mistrust of the campus process. Neither the search committee nor the search consultants are held responsible for the results, if, indeed, anyone can remember who they were.

I have three suggestions that could end the extensive reliance upon immobilized lame ducks in higher education.

  • Abandon the academic-calendar timetable for filling administrative positions. Whenever a vacancy occurs, fill it. My years as an academic administrator reveal no reason why a president, provost, vice-president, or dean cannot arrive or leave (or die) at any time. Certainly the teaching and research functions of the faculty would remain oblivious to the change.
  • Give priority to internal candidates by identifying and training potential leaders, as any responsible organization should do. Promotion from within encourages loyalty and stability. If someone is ready and available (and probably attractive to search committees elsewhere) name that person. What does it say of us (and our earlier search processes) when we say, “There is no one on this campus who can serve in important positions, unless they are willing to compete against all comers or choose to seek upward mobility elsewhere”?
  • Adopt a format used for most important campus functions (such as tenure, planning, and curriculum) and establish a campus-wide committee on administrative appointments. The function of this committee is to give “advice and consent” to certain major administrative appointments. Responsibility for the search and nomination of new administrators falls to the appointing officer — dean, provost, vice-president or in the case of a president, the board of trustees.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is based on the appointment process for major governmental posts — nomination by the executive and confirmation by elected representatives. Nothing here forecloses the extensive consultation that characterizes important decisions in academic, governmental, and corporate forums.

This three-part plan is a common-sense process that joins authority with responsibility, assures that appropriate constituencies are consulted, minimizes costly lame-duckism and, most important, stresses the preparation and continuity of leadership. If no suitable appointment emerges out of this, then call in the headhunters.

Why do we hear so much about the lack of illustrious leaders in higher education? Does the fault, dear colleagues, lie not in our stars, but in ourselves?
Milton Greenberg is professor emeritus of government at American University in Washington, D.C., where he served as provost and interim president.Dons rally against John Hood

Dons rally against John Hood
Samira Shackle

University Vice-Chancellor Hood has faced criticism from academics who are dissatisfied with his managerial style and proposed changes to university governance structure.
Oxford dons are considering holding a vote of no-confidence in the Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood, in opposition to his style of management and proposed governance changes. Just 18 months after his appointment, senior academics are said to be contemplating a debate in Congregation over his leadership. A vote of no-confidence can be triggered by just 20 people. A spokesperson for the university confirmed yesterday that dons had been discussing the possibility of a vote of no-confidence.

”Academics have spoken to the media about it,” she said, “but people have also said they’re sceptical about it happening.” Hood’s proposal to change senior administrative posts has been criticised, including plans to involve outsiders in the running of the university. He has been accused of an overly business-like approach which does not account for the complexities of Oxford’s collegiate system. The appointment of Julie Maxton, an academic from Dr. Hood’s former university in New Zealand, Auckland University, has also angered opposition.

Some academics have allegedly called for an independent enquiry into her appointment. The university spokesperson said, “we are not aware of any official calls for an enquiry. I don’t know what people would be suggesting by such a request, but her appointment went through the usual channels.” Opinion among Oxford’s senior academics seems divided.

Peter Oppenheimer, president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, said that a vote of no-confidence was conceivable. “He is a very disagreeable man. It is more than just a particular issue, it is the style of governance and behaving like a chief executive rather than the head of a very conscientious university.

David Palfreyman, bursar of New College, told The Oxford Student that, “The assertions in the national press that an official vote of no-confidence is nigh are probably premature at this stage. However, what they did pick up on was a general feeling; there are grumbles and issues, which should be addressed by council.

This is despite the fact that he was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “The unease is across all subjects and age groups, within colleges and departments – Oxford is close to being united on something.” A senior academic who wished to remain anonymous supported Palfreyman’s claims: “The newspaper stories have come as a great surprise to us; a vote of no-confidence is not something that any of the people I have spoken to are contemplating.

“It would not be good for the university to lose its Vice-Chancellor right now. We are all trying very hard to keep what we think about certain personalities or relationships separate from concerns about what is best for the university,” he said. “There have been ‘grumbles’ for a long time, since the amateurish and appallingly written green papers by the senior management team, but I don’t know of anyone calling for a vote of no-confidence.

“In fact, since none of us have any idea who the ‘source’ quoted in The Times was, I wonder if the entire story has not been planted by Wellington Square in order to create a furore to discredit the people producing academic structures.” But the university spokesperson said, “We certainly don’t plant stories. We’re here to explain things, we’re not here to invent them.

The level of support for Dr Hood was indicated last week by a letter written in response to a Times article on the vote, signed by the heads of nine colleges, including Lord Butler, Master of Univ and Lady English, Principal of St. Hilda’s. The letter stated, ‘There may be some people in Oxford who would like to stimulate a vote of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor but it is difficult to see any rational grounds for such a motion. ‘Those of us who have seen Dr.

Hood at close range have been impressed by his grip of the challenges facing the university and his determination to face up to them in Oxford’s interests.’ None of the signatories of the letter wanted to comment further this week. No official motion calling for no-confidence in the Vice-Chancellor has yet been passed.


Earley Come Early go

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is losing one of its star professors.

It has confirmed the departure of the dean of its business school, Prof Christopher Earley, less than two years into his three-year term.

He is not taking up his third-year option and is leaving to assume the position of dean at the University of Connecticuts Business School in January next year.

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  1. […] search committee. I have consistently maintained that in order for there to be some continuity, Rafiah Salim should be extended for at least one more term.    See the story below where the Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University has been appointed for […]

    Pingback by Melbourne University reappoints Glyn Davis as VC « The Tempinis diaries — July 15, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  2. Gauth Jasmon has proven that Rafiah Salim had wrongly promoted all the female lecturers that she liked (she called them “daughter” and they called her “aunty” or something like that, geli!) to become full professors whose citation are below 50. On the other hand, some men with citation more than 50 even 190 were not professors yet and recently promoted by Gauth Jasmon. He has also pushed up UM ranking to top 200 by citation approach. Rafiah Salim should be shacked long long time ago. She should feel regretted of the damages she has done to UM.

    Comment by Danny — December 27, 2009 @ 8:50 am

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