An open letter


An Open Letter to Professor Junedah Sanusi, Principal of 6th Residential College, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur

Prof June:

It is with a heavy heart that I write this open letter to you. I have exhausted all other means of communication with you, from face-to-face conversation, to letters to the media and hence have resorted to writing this open letter. Having completed my studies here in UM, I have nothing to gain by sticking my nose into these issues. This is written for the sake of the students, the name of the college and the maruah of the university.

The past

In the month of July 2007, I stepped into 6th Residential College with a heart filled with excitement and awe as I began life as a medical student. I was inspired by the orientation facilitators and seniors in college and soon made the college my second home. Our batch (MBBS 2007/2012) were keen in helping and organizing college events. During my second year, Satpal and Simon (both my coursemates) organized Expo Ibnu Sina and the Creative Arts Week, probably two of the biggest events the college has in the last five years. I vividly remember staying up till 5am on one of the mornings in preparation for the expo.

We were enthusiastic and excited about student activities simply because it was fun to do so. It was through the organization of these activities that we learnt leadership and management skills. Conflicts and disagreements taught us the importance of teamwork and accountability.

After moving to Klang hostel for a year, we came back to 6th college for our final two years of study. I was elected as student committee member (JTK – Jawatankuasa Tindakan Kolej) of the faculty together with a few other coursemates. Being the keen students that we were, we wanted our year’s committee to be different. We wanted the JTK to be seen as a group of students that the residents could respect and look up to, to be role models for them.

My first contact with you left me with the impression that you were very open to students’ suggestions and ideas. You were very encouraging with informal events in the college or any other ideas that the JTK brought up.

Rules

However this was short lived as you started implementing new rules without the knowledge of the JTK. The shorts ruling, for instance was put into place without any discussion with us. Shorts or skirts were required to cover the entire knee cap and exposing half a knee cap was also considered an offence. On one recent occasion, you spotted a girl wearing shorts and called her “naked”.

Students leaving the college in above-knee shorts were told to wrap their legs with “kain” and remove the “kain” after leaving the compound of the college. What kind of mindset are we creating by enforcing such rules? The annual dinner of the college was around the corner when students were been told to adhere to the dress code of “no cleavage, no back, no shoulders and no knees visible”. Failure to do so would result in “action being taken” and expulsion if deemed necessary. Does that mean that sleeveless dresses are inappropriate at a hotel dinner?

The dress code issue was obviously not a problem for the Muslim students (although they do not necessarily agree with it). However it has been a cause of disharmony and racial tension as the non-Muslim residents subconsciously feel that the administration is favouring the Muslim students in this area, although the reason given is “for formality and to be proper”. In the words of a senior UM administration official, “We are now creating future citizens that are more concerned about form over substance”.

Besides that, spot checks were done before proper guidelines were set up. The administration confiscated items that were not on the prohibited items list in the rulebook and meted out fines as they wished. One particular room was said to have been “messy” and the owner fined RM50. This is absurd and I believe that residents have the responsibility to leave the room clean and tidy after checking out of college, and that they should not be punished for how they arrange their belongings in the room during their stay there.

There was an incident where a student accidentally dropped a piece of paper containing his name and telephone number. You called him up and reprimanded him, summoning him to your office. He was found to be guilty of littering and fined RM50 and only reduced to RM20 after pleading with you. To punish someone for one piece of paper with the person’s name is really ridiculous.

Some residents were alleged to have been smoking in the rooms and were caught. Without a first warning, you expelled them from the college, although the rule book at that time only indicated a monetary fine. I am not condoning smoking, but rational use of authority and power.

A female resident was moving belongings into her room and solicited the help of a male friend. She too was caught and expelled from the college without a warning. Her parents drove down from another state but you refused to meet them, saying that the case had already been settled.

Besides the rules, the admin-resident communication fell apart. Residents became wary of anyone of the administration. Speculations of misuse of college funds were rife among the students. One student lost about RM4000 worth of belongings from her room but did not bother to report to the office. Her words were, “Prof June wouldn’t care”.

The dialogue

A dialogue was held in October 2011, attended by yourself, Prof Rohana (Deputy Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Alumni) and Prof Hamimah (Undergraduate Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine). About 400 students turned up, a significant number for our college. We were thrilled to finally get a chance to air our views. Many issues were brought up and I personally presented an online survey regarding student welfare, college administration and so on, which had responses from nearly 400 residents. From the time of the dialogue till the dissolution of the JTK, there was no effort taken to meet with the JTK regarding the issues or the result of the survey. I have attached the survey to this letter.

Banner

A few weeks ago, a banner was found to be hanging in the dining hall with the words “Time to go, Prof June” written on it. A JTK member currently staying in college snapped a picture and posted it on facebook. After some investigations, his room and some others were ransacked without reason. No justification was given to them and their belongings were turned upside down. Another JTK member also had his phone taken from him to look through the contents of his phone, which is a direct invasion of someone’s privacy. The explanation given to him was that living in college means that you don’t have much privacy. Does that mean that the administration can, at any time, look through personal belongings of students without prior justification?

Wardens

Over the span of the last two years, a total of ten wardens have left and have been replaced by new ones. That is an extremely high turnover rate. I am not at liberty to quote names, but many of them have left because of differences with you and the inability to work together. On more than one occasion, wardens were terminated and asked to leave without being given a grace period. One of them even had no choice but to sleep in the department for two weeks while arranging accommodation elsewhere. This is highly inappropriate and unprofessional.

Those that are currently in place are all new and inexperienced in the affairs and the running of a residential college. This lack of experienced wardens has also contributed to the current state of affairs in the college.

Klang hostel accommodation

The hostel in Klang was built for the MBBS phase IIIa students. However, you have recently implemented a new ruling that selects the students based on their participation in college activities. Those that do not obtain a place are then required to appeal and attend an interview to give reasons as to why they deserve a place. This is very unsafe for students that end up staying outside the hospital grounds. There is no reason why students need to appeal for a place in a hostel that was built specifically for them.

One of your reasons for the appeals was to “train residents to write convincing appeal letters”. This is a ludicrous reason and does not justify such measures.

Accommodation for clinical year students

Recently, about 40 final year medical students were denied a place in the college. The sign outside the college proudly reads “clinical students hostel”. Clinical students ever since the 1970s (maybe earlier) have been living there. It is imperative that all clinical year students be placed in 6th college, without the need for appeals, interviews and unnecessary paperwork.

JTK

During my term as a JTK member, distrust was bred between the JTK and the students as the JTK were powerless to do anything, despite being the students’ voice. We, the JTK became mere messengers and lost our function as the voice of the students. We became a barrier to the field of questions directed at you.

There was no proper handover from the previous to the current JTK. The lack of transition is extremely unhealthy for any organization, whether corporate or student. The current JTK have been handpicked by you without prior discussions with the previous JTK. We were final year students, and would have been able to give valuable input into the selection of the new JTK, ensuring that mature and capable students were elected. But you chose not to take our views into consideration.

Empowerment and ethos

University rankings are important and to a certain extent, reflect the quality of the institution. However, a holistic tertiary education is so much more than just research papers, peer reviews and figures on a graph. Students have come to the university not only to graduate with a degree, but also to gain the leadership and interpersonal skills necessary for the working world, to be encouraged and empowered, not be put down, disenfranchised and ordered around.

There is a great urgency and need to reinstate the students, to actively involve us in the running of the university, and instill a true sense of ownership of the academic institution that we are in. The Student Empowerment and Research Unit (SERU) was established for that very purpose.

Your style of leadership over 6th residential college has done the complete opposite. Over the last two years, you used the UM statute saying that the principal has the authority to implement any ruling, whether verbal or written, at any time. You used expulsion as a threat towards any resident that dared to break the rule. During JTK meetings, you made it clear that you had the last say in all matters and that discussion was futile. Multiple emails were written to you personally over many issues but were met by silence.

The ethos of the college has been turned into a place where students are governed by rules and fines. As the principal, you are meant to be someone who is respected and looked up to, but have become someone that people shy away from.

The 6th college that I remember from my early years in UM is but a memory. The comments about 6th college on facebook are often laced with vulgarities and foul language. This is very saddening, for one who has fond memories of the college.

Transformation

The administration needs to undergo transformation. We need to bring transparency back into the administration of the college. Explain and clarify all important decisions made by the college to the residents.

The previous JTK should always be consulted in the selection of new JTK members. After all, we know our own peers way better than the administration do. The JTK should also be consulted in all important decision making processes, not told what to do after decisions have been made.

I believe that the leadership of the college needs to undergo a transformation too. With all due respect, I urge you to actively change your style of administration, or step down as principal of the college.

You may decline and choose to maintain status quo. But be mindful that this will only result in the propagation of negativity among students, further suppression of student empowerment and eventual decline of the maruah of the nation’s premier university.

Towards true student empowerment,

JTK 2011/2012
Ismail bin Saudi (former president)
Satpal Singh Charl (former vice president 1)
Natasha Mohd Noh (former vice president 2)

Committee members:
Archana Subramaniam
Benedict Francis
Muhammad Danial
Mohd Dzulhelmi
Farid Hakim Saibun
Cheng Wern Loong
Tobias Javan Yangus
Timothy Cheng


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Posts by Timothy Cheng

Timothy Cheng just completed medical school in the University of Malaya. A vocal activist and champion of student rights who believes in true empowerment of the youth of Malaysia, he finds it hard to shut up over issues that burden him.

Posted on 30 May 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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17 Responses to An open letter

  1. ex resident

    I am appalled to learn of the ridiculous management of 6th college. Her attitude is utterly unacceptable and i'm equally shocked that no action has been take thus far. She is a disgrace to the rest of us who are or ever were there! She is breeding ill will, racism and close mindedness. She has taken advantage of the students' vulnerability and instilled fear so much so nobody there can speak their minds. And varsities are where one supposed to nurture young minds. She definitely needs to step down ASAP! I understand that u have asked students to abide by the current rules for now. While this may help the student retain his/her place in college, it breeds hypocrisy and goes against one's principles. I'm do not mean to complain, u have indeed done a lot for the faculty and college, but just maybe there is another way? I'm afraid that by abiding by he oh-so ridiculous rules, she may just go on imposing more of this communism!! Last but definitely not least, thanks a million Tim for all u'r doing for your alma mater, ur courage and initiative is much appreciated!

  2. ernie

    what is the education minister doing about this? why the silence????

  3. 6th college resident

    Sorry, i could not let you know my identity, as almost everyone in college know if Prof.J find out who am i, i will be certainly kicked out of college with some reasons. I dont have solid evidence to support this statement, but like i said, almost believe this will happen if i do so.
    I just wanna add 1 thing, we did try to discuss some stuff with her, but eventually she will say if we dont satistified with the college, we can always choose not to stay inside the college.
    And can you imagine how are we gonna continue the disccusion after she said that?

    • Tak puas hati

      " if Prof.J find out who am i, i will be certainly kicked out of college with some reasons"
      The above statement is so true, it's not safe to comment on anything online anymore. She'll either have her own students that support her, or maybe students that are 'forced' to support her, keeping an eye on our activities online. Something like a spy. Any comments or posts deemed unfavourable by her, she'll take action using whatever reasons she can find.

  4. Aston Paiva

    Timothy,

    I applaud you for your courage, what more when expressed with so much sincerity.

    To me dress codes are repulsive. It is bad enough that they make you think alike, worse still if they make you look alike. And no, it doesn't matter whether it be a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Jew, nobody should be telling anyone what is modest, appropriate or proper.

    This "professor" June ought to resign. Everyone in UM is stupider because of her existence.

  5. H2o

    Tim!!! This is awesome!!! I hope TNC will take action as soon as possible…

  6. anonymous

    hye tim,no need 2 puzzle much about me,i was sixers,expelled for some good reason. i was there,working with 3principles,from prof rohana punye zaman. she is awesome. i took part in one of d colge event and i was too tired to attend next day class(it was prof rohana class dude!). and u know what,she understand how hard i work for the colge,and she cal me next day to her ofice just to teach what i missed during d biochem class. thats what i call understanding. d next principle want me to fail in exam(which i managed to pass with or without her) and d last one prof J- i prefer to remain silent about her. 6th now is reversing Darwin's, and no more home sweet home for me. thats why i never apeal last time n prefer staying outside,but instead i still prtcipate in games-handball,hockey etc. dude,6th during prof rohana is totally a heaven! i really miss d moment. anyway,good effort to reset everthing to default, because that college is where most top specialist/consultants were grown up,thrust me,they really miss 6th clge.It has it own tradition,try to preserve it that way dude. oh,nice letter,i wonder how ur love letter would be:-)

  7. pangi anti perkasa

    "time to go prof june"
    epic banner is epic!

  8. Dora

    Dear Timothy,

    this is truly an audacity of hope.. i empathize you as some of the examples above does occur at other universities. but i disagree on the way she abuse her power and doth verdicts w/o proper discussion nor prior notice. i wish you all the best in solving this.

  9. Anonymous

    'train residents to write convincing appeal letters'
    LOL, she actually said that? This is like attacking someone and claim that actually wanna train the person's reflex towards dangerous situation?
    Anyway, UM admin should look into this issue, at least a meeting between the resident and them should be done without the presence of the pengetua.
    Since the university always want the ranking to get improved but the ways of managing a college got so much problems, you think is possible?

  10. Antares

    What do you call a female Little Napoleon?

    Little Soiled Nappie?

    Utterly shocking and reprehensible that so many bureaucrats in Malaysia have opted to be heavy-handed authoritarians.
    Is it their downbringing? Or just the tendency to overcompensate for deeply ingrained feelings of inadequacy?

  11. pepperlim

    Nice!

  12. Lynn

    Hi Timothy, thank you for this open letter. Without it, Malaysians would not know of such a ‘dictatorial’ college head. I am a non-Muslim and I am indeed furious that her dress code for students disallowed skirts and short pants above the knee. I remember my daughter pleading for me to lower the hem of her secondary school uniform years ago because her school’s uztazah said female students’ hemline must be below the knee. I told her to tell that uztazah to call me and repeat it in my face. I feel all rational and thinking Malaysians must rise and stand up to civil servants such as this ‘professor’ who think she is god sent to mistreat her adult students.

  13. Lynn

    Hi Timothy, thank you for this open letter. Without it, Malaysians would not know of such a ‘dictatorial’ college head. I am a non-Muslim and I am indeed furious that her dress code for students disallowed skirts and short pants above the knee. I remember my daughter pleading for me to lower the hem of her secondary school uniform years ago because her school’s uztazah said female students’ hemline must be below the knee. I told her to tell that uztazah to call me and repeat it in my face. I feel all rational and thinking Malaysians must rise and stand up to civil servants such as this ‘professor’ who think she is god sent to mistreat her adult students.

    • Dora

      Hye Lynn,

      i think the dress code is necessary but it is only deemed fit for Muslims.. Muslim women are actually compulsory to cover their outer garment. However, i do concur with you that the non-Muslims were force against their will to adhere to this ruling.. As i said; it supposed to be meant for Muslim women only…

      regarding the Ustazah that asked your daughter to lower her hemline, as a Muslim, i would like to apologize on behalf of the Ustazah…. Again; this sounds like another shallow mind in compromising with other race and religion.. Not all Ustazah would reckon that to non-muslims, unfortunately your daughter encountered a bad apple at that time..

      • Lynn Cheang

        Hi Dora, I understand and accept that Muslim women have a different dress code but it MUST NEVER be imposed on non-Muslims. You are very kind but there is no need for you to apologise for that Ustazah, otherwise you would have to be apologising for a lot of ustazahs …. as I understand that it is quite common for them to impose their Muslim dress code on non-Muslim female students in government schools. Maybe one of the reasons why almost 90% of nons attend vernacular schools these days.