Students of the university had been holding the lantern
festival for the past decade without any problem.
Then, suddenly, someone misguided by narrow ethnic views decided to stop it on
the flimsiest grounds.
The reason given was that the university did not want the activity to
overshadow its anniversary celebrations.
The reason is strange as the celebrations were held last year.
The university also objected to the theme Malaysiana which, it claimed, was a
concept used by the DAP.
The DAP slogan is a Malaysian Malaysia.
The term Malaysiana means the geographical and cultural aspects of Malaysia as
a whole, reflecting the country's rich diversity.
Credit must be given to UM Vice-Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Annuar Mohd Zain who
put things right by saying that such festive gatherings should be encouraged to
promote social integration.
His statement is most reassuring as it will put to rest any suspicion that the
UM leadership is bigoted and racist.
The issue is more than just about a lantern festival.
A university is supposed to be an institution of higher learning where
intellectuals are nurtured in an open, liberal and tolerant atmosphere.
As the oldest and premier university, UM has to take the lead to demonstrate
that it embraces multi-culturalism and act as a showcase of the country's
unique plural society.
Malaysia is special because the various ethnic groups believe in the politics
of accommodation and moderation.
In celebrating its 50 years, the university has more reasons to make the
lantern festival a part of its celebrations instead of sidelining it.
Dr Annuar's statement is significant because the decision of the student
affairs department is not reflective of government policy.
The Education Ministry has circulated a letter to all universities directing
them to allow the use of university facilities for cultural activities.
Even Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, set up to promote Bahasa Malaysia as a
medium of instruction, has supported the annual lantern festival and Indian
ponggol (harvest festival).
As a student involved in organising such functions in UKM in the past, I
remember the encouragement and support given by then Vice-Chancellor (Student
Affairs) Datuk Dr Yusuf Nor for such activities.
He was open-minded enough to approve the application to set up a Chinese
canteen selling halal food following a memorandum from the Chinese
My contemporaries – including Loh Seng Kok, who is now MCA Youth vice-chairman
and political secretary to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik, and
MP for Bentong Liow Tiong Lai – have never forgotten that gesture.
We were also able to secure the support of the predominantly-Malay student body
in holding such functions, particularly the Students Representative Council,
making sure student leaders were invited as guests-of-honour and patrons.
The present student leaders could take a leaf from our experiences to work with
all groups to ensure the success of their functions.
There will be officials who do not properly understand government
Worse still, there may be those who refuse to carry out government policies in
the wake of current political sentiments.
These few racist officials should not be allowed to hold to ransom the rest of
What is important is that while universities have some autonomy in
administrative decisions, there must be some guidelines on sensitive matters
relating to race and religion.
Officials, for example, should not sit on applications from students to hold
Some students have complained that insensitive lecturers insist on holding
examinations immediately after an ethnic festival, thus spoiling the festive
Universities have the right to stop communal-based societies but that does not
mean stopping cultural gatherings. They are two different things.
For example, in February, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia banned its students
from holding a cultural exhibition to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Our university administrators must get their priorities right.
Their commitment is toward academic excellence, particularly in research and
producing the best brains.
Academicians must also remind themselves they are not politicians, even if some
have political ambitions.
Malaysians are sick and tired of lecturers who turn their classes into
political forums, assuming that only their political alignment is right.
Instead, they should be seriously promoting racial integration in our