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.


May 5, 2008

Defending Rafiah Salim, UM Vice Chancellor

Education Malaysia has a blog post calling for Rafiah Salim to be removed as the Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya. Normally, I always agree with Tony and Kian Ming’s writings. However, this time I think they are being a tad unfair.

Here’s why I think it’s a bad idea to remove Rafiah Salim. First, Rafiah Salim is trying to make positive changes to the University. See the story below. She is proposing that certain promotions at the University of Malaya should be assessed with input from foreign academics. This is certainly a welcome development as it is in line with the practices of other leading universities. She did not say what kinds of promotions will be subject to such consultations nor did she say how many academics will be consulted. It is also important to consult academics at good universities. Hopefully, there will come a time when all promotions (tenure and full professors) will be assessed with input from foreign dons. I have previously written on this topic here.

Second, Rafiah Salim has also set a very sensible and do-able goal of making two publications a year as the Key Performance Indicator for all teaching staff. Hopefully, this move will engender a research culture in University of Malaya where academics know that they will be promoted on the strength of their research rather than politicking and sucking up to the right people. In time, Rafiah Salim should also encourage her staff to publish in internationally refereed journals as this will help improve the reputation of the university.

Finally, I believe that we should give Rafiah Salim a chance to prove herself. It is very demoralizing for an institution to remove their leader who has held on to the job for less than 2 years. Really, what can one do in 2 years? The rot has set in a long time ago and it would take some time to fix it. Universities are not like corporations where you can come in and fire half your staff.

Overall, I think Rafiah Salim is on the right track and doing a credible job. She seems to be making all the right moves. Reform of the promotion system and the inculcation of research culture is ‘unsexy’ and not headline grabbing stuff. But these moves are what will eventually improve the university. We should give her a chance.

Now what is really killing the university is the quota system in terms of student admissions and faculty hiring. But is this really within Rafiah Salim’s purview? Perhaps, that is the real issue that Tony Pua and his DAP colleagues should address rather than taking the easy way out of calling for Rafiah Salim to be removed as Vice Chancellor.
Foreign dons to assess UM
By : Regina Leer

Datuk Rafiah Salim says Universiti Malaya is keen to increase its standing internationally

KUALA LUMPUR: Universiti Malaya is turning to overseas peers to ensure it is recognised as a research university to be reckoned with.
All UM examinations will be scrutinised by officials from foreign universities, who will also evaluate UM’s teaching methods, syllabus and facilities.

Said vice-chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim: “This is part of our strategy to benchmark ourselves as a research university. We don’t think too much about competing with local peers, but of standing out internationally.”

The UM Strategic Plan, implemented last year, introduced several measures:

– Promotions for certain levels of teaching staff after being assessed by assessors from foreign universities;
The number of research grants boosted and faculty and students encouraged to pursue grants from overseas; and,

– Making being published in journals at least twice a year a Key Performance Indicator for all teaching staff .

Rafiah was speaking after pro-chancellor Raja Dr Nazrin Shah presented the Chancellor Award for Excellence to UM staff in recognition of their work. This was the first time the award was given out.

The five recipients each received RM30,000. They were Professor Dr Mohd Ali Hashim (leadership), Professor Dr Looi Lai Meng (research), Professor Dr Mohamed Kheireddine Aroua and Dr Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman (invention) and Dr Aishah Abu Bakar (teaching).

“With these steps, we are focusing on international recognition. Hopefully, this will have an effect on UM’s global ranking,” Rafiah said.

May 4, 2008

University of Malaya Appoints 78 Year Old Surgeon as Visiting Professor

Filed under: education, malaysia, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — toru @ 1:55 pm

It’s nice to see that the VC of University of Malaya, Rafiah Salim, trying to get things done. But I am not sure of the wisdom of appointing a 78 year old surgeon as a visiting professor. Sure, he seems like a superstar. But he may be way past his prime. Contrast this with NUS’ recent appointment of Harvard’s Daniel Tenen. It is better to appoint someone below 70 instead of a superstar who is past his prime.

UM Appoints Sir Roy Calne As Visiting Professor
KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 (Bernama) — Universiti Malaya Sunday announced the appointment of Prof Emeritus Sir Roy Calne of Cambridge University as Visiting Professor of University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) to strengthen the centre’s transplant team.

UM Vice-Chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim said Roy, a pioneer in solid organ transplant, has been instrumental in consolidating the rapid expansion of transplant services at the UMCC since late 1990s.

“Roy had added further dimension to our transplant programme by including us in international clinical trials on the use of new immunosuppressive agents to reduce the risk of rejection of transplant organs,” she told a public forum on Donors and Organ Transplant in Malaysia.


Create a free website or blog at