Going to an alumni reunion is always a cherished experience.
It fits well with the Malay proverb — tempat jatuh lagi dikenang, ini pula tempat bermain — which gives a thousand interpretations to what a university is all about.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) was a place where learning was fun, exploratory and challenging.
All the more so because of its location in Penang, which is known for activism on social justice, the environment and health, to name a few, especially in the early 1970s before the Universities and University Colleges Act (better known as AUKU) took full grip.
Even at the time, lecture halls were intellectually sterile with overemphasis on getting good grades rather than becoming good citizens and well-balanced human beings.
However, things worsened when AUKU was enforced in campuses.
Although attempts are made to remove it, this will be a long time coming.
The reunion is a time to relive the “cheer” of yesteryear. It is also a time to strengthen rapport, and build trust and affinity with the alma mater.
It is a time to renew acquaintances with more than 170,000 former students and make new friends while catching up on the latest developments with the top management.
Unfortunately, the university was poorly represented. Except for two members of the board of governance (BoG) and the registrar, there was no one else from the university.
One of the BoG members hurriedly left the event after it barely even started. The BoG chair and vice-chancellor were visibly absent. The BoG did not even clarify, let alone apologise, for this.
In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of USM, the presence of the BoG would have been meaningful.
The reunion was planned for more than two years and endorsed by the management. Expectations were high for a well-organised do, held at a very respectable hotel in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur.
The presence of the pro-chancellor, however, saved the day.
Appropriately so because he was the longest serving member of the BoG and decades ago was the adviser to the alumni association called AUSM (awesome).
Needless to say, he is an alumnus — a tokoh alumni at that — firmly entrenched in the DNA of the alma mater.
However, amid the celebrations, many were concerned about some internal developments. Three issues cropped up.
FIRST, why was the incumbent vice-chancellor’s contract not renewed?
As it stands, she is USM’s shortest serving vice-chancellor despite her academic credentials and administrative capability.
Something is amiss and it should be made known in the spirit of transparency and accountability.
SECOND, the non-renewal seems not only odd but also unjust.
This is against the government’s call that 30 per cent of top managers at institutions must be female. And for vice-chancellors in public universities, the number should be at least six.
A quick survey shows there is a shortage of female vice-chancellors even though there is an abundance of qualified female candidates.
So what is the rationale behind this?
THIRD, it was related to USM’s massive slide from top position at the time she assumed the post.
By all counts, this was not an easy task, for teamwork is needed to swing USM around.
In this regard, she did well, and was chatty compared with the other BoG members combined.
Just from the three issues alone, it was apparent that her contract was the subject of the day.
It raised many assumptions including a possible abberation in the university’s age-old DNA that defines its raison d'être.
The former students can help to quickly put things right.
Some may question what can the alumni do. In fact, the alumni’s capacity to contribute impactfully was dismissed.
Let us remember that USM catapulted to apex status 10 years ago.
For the APEX period of five years, USM was allocated RM800 million. Not many know that the alumni devoted time and effort without fanfare. Even a 1.0 percent of the time and effort translate into RM8 million in savings to USM.
USM must hit the ground running and other efforts must be seen to be taken to ensure the current alumni are happy.
The writer was the USM alumni president from 2015-2019