Monday, 1 June 2009

New Era College row: The betrayal of DJZ, Pt 2

New Era College row: The betrayal of DJZ, Pt 2
Kua Kia Soong | Jun 1, 09 12:36pm
Quek Suan Hiang, the Dong Zong chairperson from 1993-2005, can be credited for his role in raising funds for the two new buildings of the New Era College (NEC) and for leading the way to China and Taiwan in 1997 to seek partnership of their top universities.

He was very appreciative of the leadership of Bock Tai Hee as CEO of the Dong Zong secretariat throughout much of his term - after Bock retired in 1999, Quek have him a five-year contract in 2001.

dr yap sin tianIn contrast, the next chairperson Yap Sin Tia (left) gave me a contract from 2005-2008.

But Quek’s first major failure in his leadership of the Chinese education movement was his capitulation to Umno Youth during the Suqiu affair in 2000.

Although the Chinese Associations’ Suqiu Working Committee meeting had decided not to give in to the threats, Quek went against the decision by acceding to Umno Youth leader Hishammuddin Hussein’s demand that several of the demands be retracted. No Chinese educationist leader from the time of Lim Lian Geok had ever shown such weakness.

Quek’s second failure of leadership of the Chinese education movement was seen during the 2004 general election when he expressed the position that we were “neutral” in the elections. For the first time in Malaysia’s post- Independence history, the Chinese education movement did not present any demands to the ruling coalition.

From then on, Quek’s relationship with Bock deteriorated. He no longer confided in Bock as he became closer to the MCA. He would go with the Jiao Zong chairperson Wang Zhaoqun whenever he wanted to discuss educational or political issues with the MCA leaders. The Jiao Zong chairperson’s close relations with the MCA leaders are well known!

During the earlier part of his term, Quek had always been appreciative of the fact that whatever praise he received did not accrue from personal achievements, but his position as Dong Zong chairperson. However, toward the end, he developed delusions of grandeur especially being awarded honourary doctorates and professorships by Chinese universities.

Quek’s attitude to Bock changed critically. This was when Quek attempted to push through a research project with Xiamen University - this did not succeed because the college academic committee had considered it too expensive and there was no real advantage for the college.

The college would have had to share the cost of RM300,000 for the first stage of the project alone and the college would merely have the role of collecting material for the Xiamen University researchers.

quek sin hiangAt the decisive meeting, Quek (right) expressed his dissatisfaction with us because he had unilaterally agreed to this joint research project when he had attended the Xiamen meeting in his capacity as a director of that university. It was a question of losing face more than anything else. We had no option because we put the college interests and capacity first. At the time, the college budget was still in question and there was no indication of where this research allocation would come from.

Bock was mainly going by our democratic decision which had been reached after much discussion. But I remember Quek’s angry remark at the end of the meeting: “…And I never thought that even you, Bock, would oppose this project!”

After that, Quek’s relationship with Bock went downhill. At his farewell speech on 2006, he specifically called on the new directors of Dong Zong to reconsider the role of the CEO in the Dong Zong secretariat: “The CEO has too much power!” he insisted.

After his retirement, Quek played mentor to Yap, who took over. Yap’s subsequent actions to override Bock can be traced to Quek’s farewell speech in 2006. Quek’s loud silence throughout the NEC controversy of 2008 should be seen in the light of what I have revealed above.

A hidden agenda

How did the Chinese education movement with its history of illustrious leaders produce a leader like Yap? This is a question our children will ask and which the movement will have to answer.

Some have put it down to his inferiority complex, hence the need to acquire so many dubious PhD titles and the obsession to get rid of Bock and myself, who he claimed “look down on him”. My wife Anne puts it down to the possibility that he lacked maternal love!

Whatever the reason, Yap’s unsuitability for the post of Dong Zong head can be seen from his actions. His integrity and academic capability are in doubt from his acquisition of dubious PhDs.
In education, there are no shortcuts to success and recognition.

Amassing questionable PhDs only lead to cynicism and invites derision. Someone who has so little regard for academic honesty can hardly lay claim to be the chairperson of the Board of Governors of such an institution as NEC which aspires to be a ‘world-class tertiary institution’.

Yap’s political agenda can be seen as early as the 1998 Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (SCAH) elections when he sided with the pro-BN Liu Panshi (who had organised a tea-ceremony for premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2001) and who tried in vain to form a breakaway ‘Kuala Lumpur Assembly Hall’. Many of the leaders in the SCAH have not forgotten how he sold them out.

In December 2004, MCA leaders had a closed-door dialogue with DJZ leaders. Among other things, MCA leaders complained about the “Opposition sympathies” of some of our lecturers, mentioning Pan Yongqiang in particular, who had written an article in the press criticising MCA’s ‘Lifelong Learning Campaign’.

Soon after, when Pan was selected to represent NEC at a conference in Guangzhou, he was supposed to go with Yap and the Jiao Zong chairperson Ong. The two were not happy with the choice of Pan and asked why he was representing NEC and were against him presenting any papers at the conference.

When Pan heard about this, he refused to go. This was another example of how the DJZ leaders had violated the NEC principle of academic freedom.

In another incident in August 2008, Yap telephoned the organiser of a conference on Malay-Chinese translation demanding to know why he had invited NEC’s head of research centre, Zheng Wenquan. Apparently, Zheng’s paper had been critical of some translations which happened to include Yap’s but the criticism had been totally academic in spirit.

Questionable stance

Yap’s position during the March 2008 general election was highly questionable. Unaware of the political tsunami that was coming, he announced that DJZ was taking a neutral stand.

As the leader of the Chinese education movement, he failed to put forward the demands of the community, like Quek in the 2004 election. Worst of all, he worked hand in glove with the MCA and Umno Selangor menteri besar by signing the MOU on the Sepang project, an attempt to give the Chinese community a signal that the BN was working for the good of Chinese education. Now, nearly a year later, the MOU promise that the Sepang contract would be signed within three months has still not been kept!

new era college yap sin tian beaten 110109Again, in the NEC controversy, we see that Yap’s lawyer in the defamation suit against Goh Kean Seng is MCA’s Chan Tse Yuen, while the apologist for his dubious PhDs is MCA academic Chua Yee Yan. Chan was again heading the panel of lawyers issuing threats to our head of drama and film department Sun Chunmei, warning her not to comment on the Yap’s ‘bloody nose’ incident.

As chairperson of Dong Zong, Yap has filled the Board of Directors and Governors with his cronies even if they know nothing about higher education. If one looks at the members of the Board of Directors of DJZHLC and the Board of Governors of NEC, we would be hard pushed to spot any academic among them.

Worst of all, Yap has displayed a lack of courage and accountability. This is uncharacteristic of a Chinese education leader. He failed to show up at any of the forums called by the members of the community, including the series of 18 public events in October 2008, all of which I attended.

He even failed to organise the open forums that he had promised the public when the controversy first started. Nor has he accepted my challenge to debate the controversy on radio or television.

Repeatedly, he avoided facing the people at important events where he, in his leadership role, was expected to attend viz the NEC annual general meeting on June 29; Khoo Siong Chi’s memorial on Dec 7; and Lim Lian Geok’s memorial on Dec 14, all held last year.

Unlike previous Dong Zong heads who ran their businesses from offices elsewhere, Yap did not have any business office. He began to play the role of ‘executive director’ by setting up office in the Dong Zong secretariat and by over-riding Bock by directly giving orders to heads of departments.

If he was a sincere and competent leader, he would have invited Bock to discuss how the latter could contribute to the movement after retirement. Instead, his sole objective seemed to be to make sure that Bock would no longer play a role in the Duzhong working committee.

Despite the efforts by veteran educationists such as Lee Ban Chen and Low Sik Thong to work out an amicable solution, Yap chose to mount a whisper campaign against Bock and to avoid discussing a post-retirement role for him. I leave the writing of this sordid affair to Bock.

Part 3 of the four-part series will appear tomorrow.

Read Part 1 here

KUA KIA SOONG was the principal of New Era College (2000-2008). He was 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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