KUALA LUMPUR: Universiti Malaya (UM) Law Society has called for calm and for all parties to respect racial equality and student autonomy.
This was after a petition was launched calling for UM to revoke the degree of civil engineering student Wong Yan Ke, for his one-man protest at the university’s 59th convocation ceremony on Monday.
“We extremely regret the circumstances that have plagued the national scene and we plead for all parties to take high regard of the spirit of racial equality and student autonomy,” the society said in a statement yesterday.
Wong, 23, courted anger when he held up a banner while receiving his scroll on stage, which had accused the university’s vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim Rashid of racism, and called for the latter’s resignation.
This then led to the barring of another graduate, Edan Kon Hua En, from participating in his convocation the next day, when auxiliary police found a folded placard in his possession.
Both Wong and Kon had alleged that there were racist elements in Rahim’s speech during the Malay Dignity Congress, which triggered their actions.
According to the Law Society, freedom of expression was guided on certain parameters and necessities with regards to public order, morality, defamation and incitement to any offence, but the matter was not clearly spelled out in any university statute or internal policies.
“We comprehend the concern of the university in regards to the view that a formal convocation ceremony may not be a suitable platform to have a legitimate protest.
“However, taking into consideration the surrounding circumstances in regards to the case, the protest had not disrupted the flow and procedure of the ceremony, had not prevented other students from obtaining their scroll, or the enjoyment of the convocation experience.”
It added the protest also did not incite any form of violence, hence supported Wong and Kon’s right to freedom of expression.
The Law Society also said the university’s rules and regulations would only allow a revocation on the basis of a failure to clear academic bills, or if a student had committed academic dishonesty.
“With that, we stand with Wong and Kon who exercised their right and were wrongfully reprimanded by the university authority.
“We hope the university administration does right by granting them their academic transcripts.”
It urged the government to critically review the University and University Colleges Act 1971 (AUKU), which spelled out students’ ability to participate in politics.
It added that it was time that laws promoted a holistic approach on higher education focusing on the rights of students and authorities of the board, senate, and the vice-chancellor to be properly laid out.
“This is to ensure a check and balance and to promote an environment for students to exercise their constitutional rights maturely.
“UM Law Society believes in the importance of freedom of expression as a fundamental liberty, that in this context, enables a student’s right to academic freedom.”