Saturday, 3 January 2009

Are you a professor, yet?

Well, first of all, Happy New Year. The global outlook seems gloomy. One Feng Shui master says things will look better in the second half of the year. Another disagrees. The economist and financial gurus are not going to be of much help either. I remember reading in a Singapore Daily (on the way to Ahmedabad) that the Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) was telling the Americans to spend less, save more and invest more on infrastructure. To his fellow countrymen (and women), he advised them to "spend more". Money makes the world go round. Consumerism and consumption drives our society (economy). But it is also the root of unsustainability. The Americans (i.e. USA folks) have the biggest ecological footprint, consuming 5 times the Earth's bio-capacity. The richer you are, the more you spend, the more you consume ... and invariable the more you waste.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation I had with a lecturer (in one of our beach retreats) about career promotions. She does a lot of community-based programmes and the community is also her source of intellectual and academic development. But such community-oriented work does not quite "qualify" as academic work (in the eyes of academic purists). So, naturally, promotion eludes her. I asked why she does bring this to the attention of the "higher" authorities in the university (I thought her work was great). What she said surprised me. It was also refreshing. She said "what for? I have enough money. If I get promoted I will just have more money to spend. What is more important is that I enjoy my work". I was stunned.

Which brings me to Ghandhi. Just finished reading his Autobiography, written in 1920s. I think that if we want sustainable development, we should all read Ghandhi's writings. His philosophy and experiments to simplify his lifestyle convinces me that if we could even just go one-quarter way to meet his aspirations, there would so much less consumption and waste. He was also a master agitator, prepared to go to jail for the good of the less fortunate. Public service seemed to "obsess" him as well as so many of his conspirators. The rich was prepared to contribute generously - money and time. Some individuals earn just enough to sustain life and devote the rest of their time helping the poor and the oppressed. Ghandhi himself allocated 75% of his earnings (when he was practicing lawyer) to help the community. Integrity, honesty, trustworthy ... ah, values which we all need.

So, "are you are professor yet?". I get asked that question a lot. Friends ask when I go back for school reunion in Muar. Family, relatives, colleagues from other universities (local and abroad) and of course some of my own colleagues, including professors, at USM. Sometimes it is embarrassing. At times a little irritating. After awhile you get used to it and learn to joke about "not getting it, yet".

Getting promoted seems to preoccupy most academics (not all, of course). Opportunities for promotions in local universities are much better now. In fact, if you have a PhD, have done some research and "published" a paper or two, you automatically get "promoted" to Senior Lecturer. New lecturers with these minimum qualifications go straight into the senior lecturer scheme. So, "senior" really doesn't imply seniority. And the pay is really not bad - very good actually. All in, a senior lecturer easily takes home about RM4,000 - RM5,000. Associate Professors of course gets more, up to almost RM10,000 - that's per month. Professors? Something like RM12,000 - RM15,000, per month (much more for senior professors). About 40% of the professor's salary is in the form of allowances. You won't believe it, they get a maid allowance as well as a yearly allowance for house maintenance. And all the allowances are tax-free. So being an academic is not bad at all, financially speaking. BTW, you can get all this information from the JPA website so don't worry I am not breaching any ethics or official secrets here.

So, is it any wonder almost everyone lecturer is so damn focussed on getting promoted? Money, more money, that is, is the primary motivation. Of course, being accorded the title of Associate Professor and eventually "Professor", that's the ultimate accolade and recognition of your standing amongst your peers. You have to excel in your area of expertise to be give that title. Naturally the success rate is low, something like 1 in 5 - out of one hundred who apply, maybe less than 20 will be successful. USM of course is famous (perhaps notorious) for being the most difficult when comes to promotions. And everytime when the results are about to come out, there is a lot of anxiety amongst the aspirants. SMS will fly around. Emails too. You can sense the tension and the stress. Those who are successful are jubilant. For those unsuccessful, the big question is always "WHY?". This is a malady which afflicts not only USM but universities all over the world. There is this incessant drive for the universities to be the top 10 or the top 200 rank. Publish or die. Research grants. ISI. Impact factor. Post graduate supervision. International standing and networking. Keynote address. Editorial Board member.

If you think USM is tough, wait till you hear how much more difficult to even get a promotion to senior lecturer in countries like Australia. Have you got what it takes?

So, finally, to answer the original question. The answer is YES. But also NO.


Anonymous said...

Very well said Professior.

I felt the same way when I read Gandhi's biography.

I think we should all live our short lives frugally,sustainably and meaningfully. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Its PJ btw. happy new year uncle lik meng!

Anonymous said...

have u got your profesorship yet????he he he...

::::All!n:::: said...

nice blogs...