The Private and Public Dimension of our Dismissal

Dr. Azly Rahman
Dr. Mutiara Mohamad

Since we highlighted our plight to the media we have stated that we were dismissed by Universiti Utara Malaysia on two counts; being denied a non-paid leave upon the completion of our studies and refusing to sign the Surat Akujanji. The application for a non-paid leave is a “private” matter explained clearly to the university and the Surat Akujanji issue is a “public” matter of interest. Let us make the two clearer so that the issue of “being ungrateful and not wanting to serve the country” will not arise.

We believe that the public is not interested in reading the following legitimate and personal reasons behind our requests for extensions for our study and then for a non-paid leave till September 2006 upon the completion of our studies. In no particular order of importance, among the reasons are:

– having to endure extreme financial, and economic hardship as a direct aftermath of the Asian Financial crisis of 1997 that happened at the beginning of our studies, in which we were suddenly living below the American poverty line with the loss of 75% of our finances and had to take up minimum-wage jobs while attending graduate school and supporting our family,

– having a loved one with a terminal illness that consequently resulted in death,

– Dr. Mutiara Mohamad experiencing years of debilitating medical condition in which it has recently culminated in a major surgery,

– undergoing numerous hospital and specialist’s visits when one of our children underwent the diagnosis of the causes of his unilateral loss of hearing,

– undergoing the long process of rigorous requirement of Columbia University doctoral candidacy (90 graduate credits and two comprehensive exams plus a dissertation),

– having to go through the long and arduous process of preparing a Columbia University dissertation report,

– needing several changes of dissertation advisors, and having to coordinate for the availability of the full dissertation committee for the final defense,

– experiencing the emotional trauma from the September 11, 2001 attacks on The Twin Towers which happened literally in our backyard,

– enduring the discontinuation of scholarship and all forms of financial aid from UUM towards the end of our studies, and a host of other hardships we finally overcame and persevered even when all means of economic resources have dried out.

In the course of pursuing studies such as a doctoral degree, one had to sometimes battle circumstances beyond one’s control. We are sure UUM have had the experience of dealing with its faculty members caught in similar circumstances. Only perseverance and strength of will will decide if one triumphs against all odds. We were dismissed for not reporting home when we needed extra time to resolve the economic repercussions due to some of the above issues.

Having reluctantly revealed the “private” reasons, we believe the public is more interested in understanding why we were dismissed for refusing to sign the Surat Akujanji and for asking the university what the last two clauses mean. We failed to get satisfactory answers on how our rights will still be protected by agreeing to sign the letter. We had refused to sign the pledge after being repeatedly asked to do so.

The public is interested in knowing that one can actually be dismissed and lose everything by taking a stand against the letter of the Oath of Loyalty, although one is already confirmed in the job and although the Surat Akujanji was a later addition to existing rules/circular already in place.

The media has picked up the latter as it is a more important issue to the academic community, the students, and the civil servants. It reflects how repressive the oath can be and shows the consequence of not abiding to the pledge.

Despite being terminated, in the Summer (August) of 2006, through the help of the Office of The Ministry of Higher Education, we suggested to UUM how we can resolve this issue by serving the university in a non-traditional way ( e.g. by doing collaborative projects with the institutions we are affiliated with in the United States with UUM, dissertation advisement, lectures, etc.) but our proposal was rejected with no explanation given. This decision is not in-line with our government’s “Brain Gain” policy.

Had we been given the much-needed non-paid leave, we would by now have already gone back to serve the university. Had we been given the explanation and guarantees that the Surat Akujanji will not criminalize and victimize us as academics with a voice and a stand to make, we would have signed it. Better still, had the letter not existed, the universities will not be seeing a petition sent to the Prime Minister and currently circulated to major Malaysian public universities to have it removed.

We must differentiate between the private and the public dimension of the issue. However, our plight is no longer a private matter because there is a public (universal) dimension to it. We have lost our jobs in Malaysia as a consequence of among others, our refusal to sign the pledge. The amount the university is claiming from us will take us perhaps five lifetimes to settle. We shall leave the complexity of the issue to our lawyers. It is a personal matter the public is perhaps not interested in reading about.

Nevertheless, we hope the public will appreciate our explanation of the private and public dimensions of the issue. Let us now work on removing the repressive oath of loyalty, so that no academician will be fired for refusing to sign it nor any student will be suspended for asking questions in a public forum and so forth.

It is hypocritical that had we signed the Surat Akujanji, we would not even be allowed to seek and engage outside help (legal or otherwise) for any grievances we have, yet the university has all the rights to do so. Again, we reiterate, although already confirmed in our jobs we were still dismissed for refusing to sign a document that was forced onto us in the middle of our career.

In this letter we have decided to explain the “private” reasons for our request for a non-paid leave so that we may clarify any misconceptions surrounding our dismissal. However, let us now focus on how we should resolve the public issue.

Letter to UUM Vice-chancellor, August 2006:

‘Dear Yg. Bhg. Dato’ Dr. Nordin Kardi,

Assalamualaikum wbr.

May this email find you, your family, and your organisation in peace and in the best of health.

My name is Azly Abdul-Rahman, a former faculty member of Universiti Utara Malaysia, Sintok dismissed during the tenure of its previous vice chancellor Allahyarham Dato’ Kol. Professor Dr. Ahmad Fawzi Hj. Basri. My wife Dr. Mutiara Mohamad (both graduates of Columbia University, New York) was also dismissed at the same time. I believe you and the UUM teaching community are well aware of the issue surrounding our dismissal; an issue well-documented in alternative news portals and blogs as well as one being brought up in the Malaysian Parliament during the tenure of Dato’ Shafie Saleh, the previous Minister of Higher Education.

I am currently in Malaysia among others, to resolve the issue with Universiti Utara Malaysia.

Yesterday, accompanied by Tan Sri Haji Ani Arope, Chairperson of Universiti Sains Malaysia, I was granted an audience with Dato’ Professor Dr. Hasan Said, Director-General of Malaysian Higher Education. The meeting was arranged by Tan Sri Hj. Ani, (a man I will dearly remember as one who unselfishly helps others to seek justice). I presented my case surrounding the dismissal, especially our disagreement with the last two clauses which were not clearly explained to us. Just by asking for an explanation to these clauses, we were dismissed, punished, and stripped off of our life-long earned retirement benefits.

Dato’ Professor Dr Hasan Said helped resolved the issue in the most amicable manner and offered suggestions that will possibly end this foreseeable long dispute. I read this as a progressive move by the Ministry, under the promising leadership of Dato’ Mustapha Mohamad.

Dato’ Professor Hasan suggested the following:

1. That I meet with you to resolve the issue and to begin discussing avenues for cooperation in the capacity as a Visiting Professor only if Universiti Utara agrees to ‘reinstate us in that capacity’ or,

2. That I contribute in the capacity of Visiting Professor on a ‘rotational basis’ at Malaysian universities that would have programmess/centers/institutes relevant to the area of expertise I can offer.

Dr Mutiara can offer her services in the area of institutional collaboration and student and faculty exchange programmes between UUM and universities in the United States. She is currently the Director of The Programme in Language Culture, and Professional Advancement at one of New Jersey’s foremost private university. I have been involved in the New Jersey public education and have been an adjunct professor in five different departments in various universities in New York and New Jersey.

I was also, during my two-week stay here in Malaysia, been made aware that you are an educational leader who is open enough to work out peaceful solutions to the issue; unlike your predecessor Dato’ Professor Kol. Dr. Ahmad Fawzi (May Allah Bless his Soul).

Dr. Mutiara and I wish to contribute to Universiti Utara Malaysia in the capacity of Visiting Professors to advice students in the doctoral program and to share the valuable experience we have acquired during our stay here in the United Sates; experience as students as well as faculty members of American universities.

Universiti Utara Malaysia remained in our heart as a place to contribute even though Fate has decreed that the previous vice chancellor (may Allah Bless his Soul) would have a difficult time dealing with the differences he has, especially, with me. I believe the thought of signing the Surat Akujanji especially under him was unimaginable; for fear that we will continue to be victimised when we come home to serve in an educational institution that ought to promote freedom of thought and social justice. I now wish to reconstruct the negative perception I have been holding.

In addition, the proposition voiced by Dato’ Professor Hasan Said during the meeting will eliminate the need for Dr. Mutiara and I to go through the legal and political processes which we foresee will be tedious, complex, complicating, and morally and publicly damaging even to UUM as well as to our Ministry of Higher Education.

I believe we will, by Allah’s Grace and by our own design, be able to avoid such a treacherous route and focus our time and energy in educating the bright young minds in our public universities, consistent with the true meaning of education as a ‘gentle profession that develops the human mind and draws out the best in each and every human being’.

But let potentially destructive things pass and progressive ideas come our way under your wisdom and your leadership.

I hope to hear from you concerning a possible meeting time, at the earliest date possible. I will be leaving for the United States on August 19 (two weeks from today) and would like to resolve this matter before that date.’


  1. #1 by izrafeil on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 4:01 pm

    It does not matter whether your are non-bumi or non-malays, the treatment you get from the powers that be will be meted out the same.

  2. #2 by izrafeil on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 4:01 pm

    i mean even if your are a Malay

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 4:25 pm

    The issue is more than just the right or wrong of the Universiti Utara Malaysia to impose the “Surat Akujanji” as a term of service on its staff as other of our public universities to make sure that staff do not act or influence university students against the ruling establishment or the order of things imposed by it. (Nobody would defend a policy the necessary result of which is to manacle intellectual flowering and dissent from the academia).

    Dr Azly Abdul-Rahman reiterated that although he and his wife were “already confirmed in our jobs, we were still dismissed for refusing to sign a document that was forced onto us in the middle of our career” – the crucial part being “to sign a document that was forced onto us in the middle of our career…”

    Nobody should be forced to sign something in the middle of a career that in the beginning he never reasonably expected and being told what he was up against.

    What does ‘career’ means, when does it begin?

    It should be counted as beginning in this case at the time when he first applied for government funding/scholarship (of an amount which was quite considerable judging from the university’s claim that would take ‘perhaps five lifetimes’ to repay), whether he then knew or ought reasonably to know:-

    1. that after completion of his higher education he knew would be required to serve Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) as a bond for the amount the government had spent on his studies;

    2. that, as a matter of policy and practice, whether at that time, the “Surat Akujanji” (apart from the separate issue of its merits and demerits as applied to universities’ staff) was already required of all university academic staff under employ of our public universities of which there was no reasonable cause to expect UUM to be different from other public institutions of higher learning or to provide Dr Azly Abdul-Rahman and his wife any special exemption that other academic staff were not so entitled.

    Dr Azly Abdul-Rahman can claim the high moral ground only if he could answer both 1. and 2. in the negative (ie “no”) – otherwise it will construed against him that he is using liberal public sentiments against “Surat Akujanji” as pretext to circumvent repaying his obligations (funded by tax payer monies) to serve society here…..

  4. #4 by Libra2 on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 4:57 pm

    Surat Janji was forced upon the civil service when Mahathir came under extreme threat when he dismissed Anwar. Malays fled from UMNO into Refomasi and PAS.
    To shackle the civil servants who were leaning towards the opposition Mahatir introduced this Surat Janji to request unquestioning loyalty to UMNO and its corrupted leaders – in short a blank cheque to rape and plunder the country.
    Dr Azly is man with a conscience, ethics and integrity. Such people find it difficult to survive in this country.

  5. #5 by shortie kiasu on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 6:08 pm

    May be the last resort should be in the court of law to seek justice due.

  6. #6 by firehawk on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 9:16 pm

    which court? in Malaysia? are u kidding? even if they decide to have a ‘fair’ trial, it may take 20 years before the judge actual resides on the case.

  7. #7 by firehawk on Friday, 10 August 2007 - 9:18 pm

    There is obviously a serious problem in Malaysia. Without doubt many many people, even most, have lost confidence in the Pak Lah leadership include the Conference of Rulers.

    He has been given enough time. I am sure even in UMNO there are far better candidates for the job, even after considering every aspect there is to consider.

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 11 August 2007 - 8:03 am

    It is often said that one cannot have the cake and also eat it.

    One may have endured extreme financial, and economic hardship as a direct aftermath of the Asian Financial crisis of 1997 (though I would think the punters of the then KLSE would be the first to be hit) but when cannot reasonably expect the heavy financing by the state from tax coffers without expecting to repay the debt obligation of the “creditor” without adhering to its principal stipulation – to come back and ‘serve’ by not just imparting knowledge to the students but also in the manner that the patron requires without dissent and rebellion agauinst it. If one cannot stomach the conditions attached to the grant on grounds of conscience, then don’t accept the state grant that comes with conditions. We may all be poor but that won’t deter us from working part time and finding a means to finance our own education. Many of us have done that. You can’t readily accept the benefit from someone knowing it comes with conditions and later after reaping the benefit seek not to meet the conditions based on some high faluting moral ground of conscience that one knows the patron cannot accept, thereby leading to a situtation of avoidance of the debt/obligation.

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 11 August 2007 - 8:08 am

    Typo (correction in capitals) – “but when ONE cannot reasonably expect the heavy financing by the state from tax coffers without expecting to repay the debt obligation of the “creditor” without adhering to its principal stipulation – to come back and ’serve’ by not just imparting knowledge to the students but also in the manner that the patron requires without dissent and rebellion against it…..WHAT IS THE HONOURABLE COURSE?….

  10. #10 by eddie_jillette on Friday, 24 August 2007 - 2:29 am

    This guy Azly seems to have no integrity.

    See these links and judge for yourselves:

    More like a con artist.

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