Monday, 1 June 2009

New Era College row: The betrayal of DJZ, Pt 1

http://www.malaysiakini.com/opinions/105438

New Era College row: The betrayal of DJZ, Pt 1
Kua Kia Soong | May 30, 09 11:14am
The New Era College controversy raged in the Malaysian Chinese press throughout the second half of 2008. There were occasional reports in the English-language press but it made headlines in all the Malaysian and Singapore media when the Chairman of the Board of the college was given a bloody nose by a graduate of the college during the graduation ceremony on 11 January 2009.yap sin tian new era college punched in the nose by student 130109 06


MCPX


This chronicle of the controversy counts as the memoirs of my last year of service at the Dong Jiao Zong-run New Era College. It will be of interest to those who are concerned with the affairs of the Malaysian Chinese community, in particular, the Chinese education movement. Among other things, this controversy revolved round the issue of the termination of my contract as principal of New Era College.

In the process, it split the Chinese education movement as well as the remnants of the former left movement in Malaysia. It even split families within this left movement. Dong Zong, the United School Committees Association of Malaysia had to call an unprecedented Emergency General Meeting over my contract, the first time in all its 54 years of existence.

I joined the movement in 1983 when I had just returned to Malaysia from my studies abroad. The visionary leader of the movement at the time, Lim Fong Seng invited me to serve in the organisation and it was my honour and pleasure to be in his team. Throughout the eighties and nineties, the Chinese education movement faced numerous obstacles put in its way by the ruling party, UMNO.

While every leader of the Malaysian Chinese education movement has stoically faced sabotage from this external force, from 2005 onward, the secretariat of Dong Zong began to face internal dissension when the new Chairman of Dong Zong, Yap Sin Tian took office. In 2006, he terminated the service of Bock Tai Hee, the CEO of the Dong Zong secretariat who had led the secretariat since the eighties. This led to the departure of nearly twenty committed and talented young activists from the movement. This new leader of the Chinese education movement appeared to have a new agenda of his own, quite different from his predecessors.

Once Yap had completed this operation in the Dong Zong secretariat, he turned his sights on New Era College, the other organisation run by Dong Jiao Zong (Jiao Zong is the United Chinese School Teachers Association of Malaysia) on the same campus in Kajang, south of Kuala Lumpur. (See Kua Kia Soong, "The Chinese Schools of Malaysia", 2008; "The Malaysian Civil Rights Movement", 2005)



I had been principal of the college since 2000 and as can be seen in Chapter One, our goal was to create a unique college that nurtured independent-minded, service-oriented students. Three of our graduates actually got elected as members of the federal and state parliaments under Opposition banners in the 8 March 2008 general elections. However, I had been a fairly well-known dissident ever since the eighties and in 1987, I was detained for 445 days without trial under the infamous Internal Security Act during Operation Lalang.

The "New Era College Controversy of 2008" will go down in history as the darkest hour of the Malaysian Chinese education movement. Our children will ask:

* How did we allow someone with three dubious PhDs become the Chairman of the Board of New Era College which has a vision of being a world-class tertiary-level institution?


* How did we allow someone who lacked leadership qualities, with his own hidden agenda, get rid of some of the most committed and competent activists in the movement?


* How did the Chinese community and mainstream Chinese-language press allow such a leader and his cohorts to execute dirty tricks comparable to the Watergate scandal and get away with it?


This chronicle of my last year at New Era College (NEC) is intended to serve as a wake-up call to the Chinese community, to alert them to the fact that "the barbarians are not at the gates", the barbarians are WITHIN our gates"! New Era College is being destroyed before your eyes - the ten years of constructing a vibrant sustainable campus culture based on campus autonomy, academic freedom and student self-governance have been methodically destroyed.



kua kia soong last day in nec 311208 jolokNow, those who think that I (left) had wanted to stay on as principal as long as possible should think again. Ever since my return to Malaysia in the early eighties, my actions have been decided by the collective decisions of my comrades and colleagues in the movement. Hence, there were at least three important reasons why I decided to stay on as principal of NEC:

* My management team in NEC and I had witnessed the destruction of the Dong Zong secretariat ever since Yap became the Dong Zong chairman in 2005 and we had decided to put our foot down and defend NEC. When the challenge came on 14 June 2008, we had even greater resolve to see through this battle. My total support for my heads of department the following day was the most natural thing to do.
* The management team of NEC had been concerned about the lack of initiative in planning for the college expansion which had reached a crisis in 2008. We had come up with a preferable "City Campus" plan.
* As the controversy unfolded, it was clear that the staff, students and parents all wanted me to stay on as the principal to complete the task at hand.


But the biggest loss to the Chinese education movement is not the purging of Bock Tai Hee from the Dong Zong Secretariat nor the ousting of Kua Kia Soong from the NEC top line-up, but the departure of more than twenty of the most competent and committed young activists who have served the movement since the eighties and nineties. They have left in protest against the blatant destruction of the democratic traditions and working methods of the movement built up by the former Dong Zong Chairman Lim Fong Seng since the seventies.

The other serious consequence of Yap's operations against Bock and I is that the MCA, the component party of the ruling coalition has now got more than a foot in the movement. Yap has destroyed the independence of the movement by his collusion with the MCA, as we shall see below.

Leadership of the Chinese Education Movement

Lim Lian Geok, acknowledged as the soul of Malaysian Chinese education, had a well-known rallying cry to the community which was: "The best antidote to sabotage is to construct." Throughout the fifties and sixties, Malaysian Chinese education faced incessant sabotage from the ruling party, UMNO, and Lim Lian Geok paid the price of adhering to his principles by losing his teaching permit and even his citizenship.


Later, Lim Fong Seng, the father of the Unified Examination Certificate and the Independent Chinese Secondary Schools Movement, ignited the campaign to construct Merdeka University. In the eighties and nineties Lim was leader of the Malaysian Chinese Civil Rights movement and he too paid a high price for holding firmly to his principles, by losing business opportunities and suffering detention under Operation Lalang in 1987.

Sim Mow Yu, in the same steadfast manner did not flinch in his belief that Mandarin should be an official language of Malaysia. He too paid for his principles by being charged under the Sedition Act in the seventies and losing his freedom during Operation Lalang in 1987 together with Lim Fong Seng and the author.

Inspirational leaders such as Lim Lian Geok, Lim Fong Seng and Sim Mow Yu adhered strongly to their principles. And they stood out because they walked their talk! They had a vision of upholding and developing mother tongue education into a complete and excellent educational system in the country. Leaders such as Lim Fong Seng inspired confidence among all sections of the community. Above all, he welcomed intellectuals and professionals into the movement on an inclusive basis. Likewise, his vision for a Merdeka University and his defence of our civil rights through a two-front political system was unflinching.

Leaders like Lim Lian Geok, Lim Fong Seng and Sim Mow Yu had character and character includes honour, integrity and a deep respect for others. Such leaders stand out as having vision which allows them to transcend the "small mind" mentality. They were not men who hankered after titles or other superfluous status; they had a sense of serving their historic destiny. These leaders had an authentic presence and were able to connect with their team through dialogue. Such competent leaders command respect and history has accorded them due recognition.

Now the movement has, at its helm, a visionless leader with a questionable agenda that betrays the trust placed in him by the college stakeholders, thousands of parents and their children. There is no longer a positive and exciting environment that can attract young talented activists. The Malaysian Chinese education movement is today faced with a crisis that is unprecedented and that has been created by its own leaders!

To understand how this has come about, one has to go back at least to the nineties to see how the Chinese associations have been steadily infiltrated by members or supporters of the ruling coalition ever since Lim Fong Seng stepped down as the Dong Zong chairman in 1990. Things had begun to change during the term of Quek Suan Hiang, Yap's predecessor.

Part two of the four-part series will appear tomorrow.


Dr Kua Kia Soong was principal of New Era College (2000- 2008). He has also been opposition Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya (1990-95); political detainee under the ISA (1987-89) and academic adviser to Dong Jiao Zong (1983-85). He is the author of ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969' and ‘New Era College Controversy: The Betrayal of Dong Jiao Zong'.

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