Thursday, 27 January 2011

If you are not with me, you are not against me

Read the title again. Did you get it?

I'm trying to strategise. I'm thinking out loud. What do I want to do under Kampus Sejahtera for the next two years. (Yah, I guess I will just do it and stop whining about not wanting to be reappointed.)

One thing is clear. Whatever I do or instigate others to do, must (not should, must) contribute to USM's APEX University agenda. Nothing else matters.

Now, don't get the wrong ideas. I can't take on everything. I will be focussed. I will pick my "fight". Anything which does not fit into that focus, I will say NO. For instance, I want to see results from now on. I want to see impact from actions. Kampus Sejahtera is about action. Not research. Data gathering and analysis is essential but only if it assists in taking the right actions.

So, if you come to me and propose an awareness campaign, even if it is health related, I will not say no.I will not say yes either. I will tell you I want to see it lead to some results. Awareness does not automaticaly lead to transformation. In fact, it seldom does. Who does not know cigarettes gives you cancer (ok, increases your chances of getting lung cancer)? Everybody knows. Yet, they smoke.

Next, I want to see long term plans. We start a lot of things. They get a lot of buzz. And then we lose interest. On the casualty list are immensely successful efforts like The White Coffin. Who's baby is it now? I work a lot with student groups. The problem is their life-cycle is very short. Those in command (office bearers) stick around for one year and then a new batch wants to do new things. There's little continuity. They have to focus. What should each group or society be known for? Identify it and stick with it. Make it work. Make long-term commitments. That's going to be tough. We won't get the same level of energy each year. So, what are the priority areas? Pick a few. Work on it. Stop generating new projects every year. Wait a few years. Let the priority projects take root.

So, what's the priority areas? It should be decided by consensus. We should throw them on a table, discuss, take it apart, and select. It should be doable. But it should be high impact. It must lead to change. If there is no transformation, it does not contribute to the APEX U agenda.

Kampus Sejahtera is a USM brand. As conceptualised more than 10 years ago by the current Vice-Chancellor, it's about insourcing. Essentially, urging the campus community to offer their expertise to make the university a better place for all. Yes, the term volunteerism is key (in the sense that you don't expect the university to pay you extra honorarium). A central idea is that actions are based on sufficient understanding of the issues or problem through data analysis and documentation.

I have suggested that the sustainability agenda under the APEX programme be branded under Kampus Sejahtera. In fact this was what I suggested in 2007. But I'm not the sustainability officer, so don't expect me to do that job. I will promote the idea of sustainability, yes. I will pick projects which will help achieve sustainability, of course. But we don't want to be myopic and not see anything else. I don't have a final answer yet and this will probably always be work in progress. Certainly I'm not working to present a Report which says that we have achieved sustainability. That would be the job of future generations, perhaps 20 or 50 years from now.

But in the meantime, if you want to do it your own way, that's fine with me too. That does not mean I won't bug you about coming on board. Are you with me? Or against me? (smile, it's a joke)

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What's L.O.V.E. gotta do with it?

Recall this, "Calling all Volunteers" February 2010 which was followed by this "Student-Community Convention 2010" in April. The intention was to bring various student groups involved in community work to come together, to share, to spur the effort. The attendance was poor, about 20 students attended the one day event. It was organised by 4 student groups at my instigation. My analysis was that there was no ownership by any particular group. Of course, number is not the only yardstick to measure success. Many groups are tight knead small groups but effective. One conclusion we could make was students are no interested in volunteering or community service. Students just want to be left alone to study.

But less than one year later, the landscape seems to have changed. I believe it was brilliant packaging, excellent organisational skills, a sense of OWNERSHIP, and savvy marketing which carried the day. It was reported that 500 people signed up to volunteer during the one day L.O.V.E. Festival yesterday. See them on Facebook and on the web. I am sure that it was a team effort but it also needs exemplary or extraordinary leadership to carry through any project or event. Essentially, you need the right people for the right job.

So, Well Done to the AIESEC team under Wilson Beh (I hope I didn't screw this up and get protest emails).Of course we should recognise that the Right Livelihood College in USM played a pivotal role too. RLC had earlier proposed something called USMCares as a programme to train volunteers but as usual, where's the money?

So, what's love gotta do with volunteering? Everything, no matter which angle or perspective you wish to scrutinise it.

I was asked how I see "volunteerism" at the Lollipop talk show about 2 weeks ago. I said firstly, "you must want to do it". Secondly, "you must do it for the good of others". You must not be compelled or coerced in anyway. And whatever you do must benefit some one else who needs it. It's not about what you will get out of it personally, or as an institution.

If I could expand it a little, it is not charity. Giving money or donations does not make you a volunteer. You gotta to put in the time and energy.

And usually, this is where the obstacles are. Finding the time, on a consistent and continuous basis is essential. This is where it then translate into a true spirit of volunteerism. You do it not because you hope to get an award for best project. You do it not because of a certificate or merit points for hostel eligibility. You do because you know it is the right thing to do to help someone(s) less fortunate than you.

So, ultimately, and I have said several times before openly and at meetings, the measure of our (the university's) success in community service and volunteering must be measured by the positive effect or impact that we have made on the target community. How many poor people have we help to get out of poverty through education or self-help? How many deaths have we prevented with the new drugs we invented? What percent of our staff are from unprivileged backgrounds or with disabilities?

We should be selective. We need to be selective. Where could we make the most impact?

OK, I hear you. Surely, there must be some benefit to the student or staff who is volunteering? Should we not also measure that? A valid point. We should "measure" how we have created the spirit of volunteerism amongst students and staff. It's actually already there among the staff and students. They are already doing it. We just have not recognised them - we have not acknowledged them. We should seek out groups and individuals in the campus who have persistently and quietly worked for the benefit of others and garner their spirit.

Certainly, I do know there are many models or conceptualisation of volunteerism. The PeaceCorp is a world famous volunteer group where U.S. citizens work overseas for long periods of 2 years or so. I remember one Peace Corp volunteer from my school days, a Mr Martin who taught us maths. Obviously you can't expect them not to get any allowance - how would they live? Same goes to organisations like Doctors Without Borders - volunteers get airfare, accommodation and allowance (which is "small"). Then there is the Tzu Chi group where their volunteers pay for their own airfare when they go for disaster relief work.

I believe L.O.V.E. has the potential to be immensely successful. But I still cannot see where it wants to be. Getting lots of people to sign up as volunteers is only a small step. Will they be happy with this measurement?

This tireless couple are truly and without question the embodiment of the spirit of volunteerism. They persist against all obstacles. Every single cent they collect from their recycling programmes goes to selected charities on rotation. They give talks for free (hey, they are retirees without income so do cover their cost of travel). And they don't take no for an answer ... when it comes to pushing the environmental message. 
Long live, Don and Mylene.

(p.s. as a historical note : I received an email requesting a link on the healthy campus website for L.O.V.E. Also got a phone call, presumably from one of the students in the team, asking whether I would be part of the effort. I was little stunned. I said "I'm still evaluating" - see above. But get this. Kampus Sejahtera is a concept. An idea. Everyone is USM should use. Everyone can use it. And the healthy campus website isn't the best place to publicise your event - as proven above)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Lollipop GLee - students just wanna have fun

First he said they wanted to put me in an Oprah show. Then it was David Letterman. There was also mention of the LikMeng Morning Show.

Essentially, they wanted to put me on the spot for 60 minutes in front of a lecture hall full of students and dig out juicy secrets.

Why? Well, they just wanted to have fun. To do something different. And it would be a saturday morning. Usually, I say no to invitations for weekend activities with student groups. Especially if it's for some opening or closing ceremony.

He promised me FUN. So, why not?

15 Jan 2011 Saturday, DK Y, at the Pharmacy School, USM. In the centre is Rhuyann, former President of Green Lung and on the right is ahhhh  (?sorry, not good with names), the so-called hosts. Photo stolen from Saphira Queen's fb.

Always good to get the crowd on your side first! About 80 of them, mostly pharmacy students, all members of Green Lung.

Yes, they asked some intrusive questions : did you ever had head lice? I also gave some life lessons on romance and love too - nothing X-rated.

As usual, Malaysian audience are very shy but two questions from the floor jolted me a little.

It started innocently.

host : how long have you been teaching in USM?
me : about 20 over years. I started in June 1985.
host : oh, we weren't born yet. (there were a lot of smiles in the audience ... and I momentarily felt old)

Then from the audience, "based on your more than 20 years of teaching experience, what changes do you see in the students?". I was a little stumped. Didn't expect the question. Yes, I didn't ask for the questions before hand. It was totally impromptu.

My immediate reaction was that I didn't think students have changed much in the last 20 or 30 years. We are still doing the same things to the students. I get the same "type" of students every year. We are training them in pretty much the same way in the primary and secondary schools. So, when they come into the university, they have the same qualities in terms of study habits and learning styles. I even mentioned the dirty word : "spoon feeding". Certainly they are "afraid" to challenge the lecturers.

I could sense the students were a little "unsettled". I sensed that they expected something positive or uplifting. A compliment perhaps. I said, "give half a minute" to think. I raked my brain. What has changed? What has changed? I certainty couldn't talk about all the other things I wrote in my other blog (Don't blame the old man; Is the doctor giving you the right medicine; or the more light-hearted "Just One more day").

And then I had an aha moment. I said "students have become more brilliant". My children are more brilliant then me - "so, it's not genetic". "You are all more brilliant then students of the past". I watched the body language. There was some shifting in their seats. I saw some little shy smiles.

I asked them what they are good at. Which part of the brain they have been trained to use? They know. The left brain. Logical thinking. Reasoning. Analytical ability. Memorisation. So, I broached the subject of multiple intelligences. So, yes, we, as an education community, have become excellent in developing the left-brain. We have trained our children to get better results in exams. What we need is to develop the whole brain, I said. (good recovery, don't your think?)

Coincidentally, they invited a masters student in pure mathematics who is like No. 6 in the World as a master of memorisation. He taught them a method to remember a long list of items. After the training, three students demonstrated they ability to remember in sequence 20 items suggested by the audience. They only had about 5 minutes to memorise the list and all three did it perfectly (and got a Tupperware tumbler courtesy of yours truly). I wonder if it is really the method or they are already experts in memory work from more than 13 years in the schools. Perhaps both. But I also pointed out that an even more important message from the previous speaker was to learn how to think differently (another day perhaps).

The other question which impressed me was what I thought of destiny. This followed my telling them how I ended up in academia. I was "destined" to go into the private sector and earn big bucks but a phone call from the then Dean of HBP changed my life. This gave me the opportunity to talk about scenario planning. Well, yes I believe there is a destiny. But you can change your destiny. Kinda of an oxymoron, isn't it?

I enjoyed myself. I think activities like these are valuable lessons outside the classroom. I am sure there are many such activities. I hope to bump into them more often in the future. I also see that are students who are beyond brilliant - thinking up programmes to provide fellow students with somethings the traditional classrooms cannot or refuse to provide. Taking charge of their lives, there is hope yet for the future generations.

A day long programme. It started with about 80 students. From facebook photos, it seems by VVIP, there was less than half. Abit too taxing?

It was totally my fault. I used to tell people not to give me any souvenirs. I don't need an extra mug. I can't eat the lollipop. And I certainly can do without the plastic flowers. But thanks anyway, Khang Siean, current president of Green Lung.

Well done!

The View from the Top

Tuesday 18 January 2011, morning, on top of the World.

It was a directive. Kampus Sejahtera to come under CGSS, the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies.  RCE Penang also to come under CGSS. The Corporate and Sustainable Development Division will no longer have anything to do with sustainability. Corporate will now focus on  monitoring and making sure the whole university is on track to achieve the APEX U agenda.

Caught "everybody" by surprise. Certainly, the management of CGSS was surprised. So, no surprise that they don't have an office for Kampus Sejahtera head (me lah!). Oh, yes, there is an empty office without any window to the outside world. I won't be caught dead (literally) in that office. It's inhuman to put anyone in such an office. Ah, but yes, there's an empty office but its labelled "Visiting Professor". The management wants to explore keeping the office at the old clinic (where the internal audit office is) and put me there, together with a bunch of other people as it expands. Wild horses can't drag me there.

So, I said, "I'm going to sit at my current office at Korporat. Until they decide to chase me out". In which case I will just float. Who really needs an office?

Anyway, the view from the top isn't that great. And the view from the office windows are horrifying. You see a high wall which goes up to your chest and huge air condensers. And big pipes.

This is the office on top of the world. It's quite confusing. You see a door on the left but the entrance is really along the corridor on the right. You see a huge expanse of concrete roof with poor quality construction full of cracks. Expect lots of heat. There's talk about making a roof garden but it will be costly. The curved roof was supposedly for solar panels but the promised funding evaporated in the heat.

We have a strange arrangement. Zakri on the right is the Director but his national duties as science advisor and also chair of the professors council means he's in KL most of the time. So, an acting director, Norizan (left), runs the show.

I have avoided having anything to do with CGSS all this while. But I guess "there must be some reason why they want to put Kampus Sejahtera under CGSS" (that's what I said during the meeting). I actually asked the big boss "why" in BCN. His response was "to work with the students". What about HEP? hhmm ...

 Looking at Desa Gemilang (picture above and below). We are still very green from the top.
 These are remnants from the British Military barrack. The Social Science enclave. It's a pity they replaced the tiles with metal roofing. Doesn't look so nice, does it?
That's Pusat Sejahtera (the Wellness Centre) a.k.a. the clinic. As the name implies, it's all about being healthy, not about curing illness, when its often too late.

The new PUMA. I learned the term yesterday from Mike. That's the student centre or Pusat Mahasiswa. I remember attending one meeting at the Development Office when the architect presented his drawings. From this vantage point, my view is that building is ugly. And most uninspired and uninspiring.

 That's the famous USM Library in the foreground. Now called the Hamzah Sendut Library in honour of  USM's first VC. CGSS is on the rooftop of the extension to the library. Notice the numerous highrise sprouting all over?

In the foreground is the physics school. Hilton is dead centre behind the physics building. For the uninitiated, Hilton is the hostel block where I spent my first year eons ago. On the right behind physics is the "international hostel" (for international students lah). The other highrise buildings in the background are condos outside of USM.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Plastics are forever

I agree with statement that the public should not blindly follow the state government's call to cut down on the usage of plastic bags (see theStar online). Who in his right mind would disagree with such an advice? The question for you is, do you agree with his argument? Put it another way, is HIS eyes open?

The basic premise of the politician (an engineer to boot) who made that call to open our eyes is that : (a) plastic lasts forever; (b) we need to reclaim land so that we can build houses for the people; and (c) there's no better way than to use our thrash for reclamation. Put the three together and the logic is that we should use and throw away more plastic bags so that we can create more land to build more houses for the people.

The first premise is true, to a large extent. Nobody knows how long plastic will last. Perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Nobody knows. Certainly WE will never know, because none of us will live that long.

But it is also a false premise because even though the plastics will not biodegrade (perhaps in a thousand years, some microorganism will evolve to eat plastic polymers), it will breakdown into microscopic particles which the human eye cannot see (see the irony?). And researchers have found that these microscopic plastic particles have ended up in the blood stream of marine animals (see Alan Weisman, "The World Without Us"). The question in the context of land reclamation is of course, if the plastic bags and other plastic containers break down, how will it affect the stability of the the land? Yes, I know about the 100 year old newspaper dug up from a landfill in the UK often cited as evidence that stuff don't degrade in landfills because there is no air and no light. And of course, you can argue that the apartments or houses built on the reclaimed land probably won't last that long anyway. So, no problem you say, even if the plastic bags breakdown. Ah, and don't forget, you don't construct buildings without a solid foundation of piles. Yah, OK, stability is not a major issue here.

Now, the second premise that we need more land, and the land should come from reclamation is much harder to comprehend. Particularly in Penang. Do we not have enough houses yet?  Just look around. Seems to me we should examine the housing stock first before we jump to that conclusion. Yes, I agree, we are building too many super-condos priced at a million or more that the ordinary folks cannot afford. But why do we need to build affordable housing on reclaimed land? Because it is cheaper?

Don't forget that landfills are also hazardous because of the gases, especially methane, generated from decomposition of organic matter. It's dangerous (could explode) and a health hazard.

Now imagine this. Imagine Kuala Lumpur, in the middle of nowhere. Alright, far away from the sea then. See the logic of that argument starting to fall apart. "Hey, people in KL. Use more plastic bags so that we can reclaim land off the coast of Port Klang or Port Dickson to build house for the people of KL." Try that on Ipoh. Or some other inland area.

A more fundamental question is, if plastic bags can be recycled, why throw them into a landfill?

The fact is that you can only recycle plastic a certain number of times. After that it becomes costly and difficult. Everytime you recycle plastic, you actually have to add new plastic to the batch. So, it is not an endless loop. That means you do not maintain a steady level of use of resources. Put it another way, we have to continuously add new resources into the recycling process.

What does that tell us? Throwing plastic bags goes against the grain of sustainable development.

What we want is less thrash so that we reduce our consumption of Earth's precious resources. And with less thrash, we don't need to spend so much money on landfills and thrash collection, and residents won't find landfills in their backyard.

Our goal should be less thrash for a sustainable future.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Are U Well?

The Malays ask "apa khabar?" - literally, what's the news?
The Chinese ask "ciak pah bueh?" - literally, have you eaten?
The Kuai Lor (Mat Salleh; Caucasian) ask "how are you?"

It's courtesy. It's cultural. It shows concern. It's a way to say "hello".

It's often "automatic". Sometimes, the person asking isn't really interested in the response. Often, I think it is misplaced like when you are introduced to someone of the first time and he asks politely "how are you?".

I just looked at a monograph published by 2 USM medical doctors (Sharifah Meriam and Normala) in 2003 about the state of health amongst the campus community. Based on a sample of 280 USM staff, it was found that 62% don't do any form of exercise (not even brisk walking), about 41% claimed that they were stressed, 55% had cholesterol levels higher than normal, 17% were obese while 30% were overweight0. Between 12 and 17% had problems with blood pressure.

Among the first year students (3700 students for 2002/2003), about 31% had some form of illness or health problems including urinary and eye sight problems. Some 19% were initially thought to have blood pressure problems but further check up showed otherwise. As far as BMI was concerned, 5% of the students were too skinny while 3% were too fat.

That's more than 7 years ago. Last year, I assigned a staff to liase with the Wellness Centre (Pusat Sejahtera, out on campus clinic) to write a report on the state of health of USM. I am not interested in a sample survey. I wanted data to be extracted from the database maintained by PPKT (the IT Centre) to get a more complete and comprehensive view about what's plaguing USM staff.

Everyone that goes to the Clinic gets his/her blood pressure checked by the medical technicians (nurses) and these are recorded in the database. What does blood pressure tell us? Many things I'm sure. Your blood pressure shoots up when you are under stress, right? I'm no medical expert. I would have to depend on the medics for the interpretation. The point is, the data is there. What are we doing with it to help become more humanistic in managing the University. And there's also the drugs we prescribe. They tell us the prevalent illnesses. They could also tell us whether we are preventive in approach or focussed on curing patients after they are sick. Then there's the flu and coughs ... is there a season? Is there any connection between the illnesses and diet and work environments/

So even before the VC made his humaniversity speech on the 5th January 2011, I was trying to get a Report which tells us how we are doing in terms of wellness. As we drive our academics to publish and perish (yes, you read it right) with the KPI and high impact factor, what is the impact on the physical and mental health of our lecturers? Young moms are torn between career and nurture (of their babies). Post-graduate students too are being badgered with the need to go for high impact factor publication - but get turned down for fellowship. They see the financial support given to foreigners instead of locals. So they become disillusioned. The stress and the hurt and anguish must surely affect them emotionally and psychologically. Are the people in-charge even aware? Is it their responsibility to handle it?

VC made the point that (high) income is not the only measure, or should not be the only measure, of progress in a country. And he points to the Report on Human Development which emphasised that you can still have development even when the income is low. Conversely, in some high income nations, human development is very low.

So, the question is, what should we include in a human development report for USM. The "state of health", I am sure must be one (I refrain from using 'indicators' just yet). Surely we must be baby-friendly. And mommy and daddy-friendly too. Gender is another thing we should monitor. For some reason, we seem to have dragged our feet on the issue or policy on sexual harassment. The gap between the rich and poor in campus is huge. Professors earn upwards of RM14,000 a month (and this is not a secret; it's public knowledge). Why do we pursue an agenda to create a super-rich professor who can be paid as much as RM50,000 a month? Wouldn't that be contrary to this idea called sustainability?

 I agree that we need to think more about this. And if we really want to humanise the University, we need to address a whole range of issues. But one thing I am quite sure about : There's nothing specifically mentioned about this in the Sustainability Index created by CGSS. Am I correct?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

High Impact Factor but where's the impact?

Everything is being reduced to an index. Or a set of numbers. Counting beans, we call it.

Last year, all the little napoleons (this should get me into trouble I hope) were asked to submit their KPIs. I declined. I cannot be measured. I don't want to be measured. More importantly, I don't know how I should be measured.

I didn't want to end up saying for instance "the number of students involved in voluntary activities with Kampus Sejahtera has increased by 100%"; or "we carried out a hundred activities related to sustainability"; or "we recycled a 100 tons of paper every month" but yet spend tons of money printing glossy reports.

I agree, we have to know where we are and where we are going. And to know where we are, we need some numbers. And to know where we ended up, we also need some numbers. The problem is, we always seem to be measuring the wrong things.

While the VC in his annual address, again, seemed to be telling the campus community, and the world, that those numbers that we currently use (collectively called the Key Performance Indicators or Index, KPI) don't really show impact, we have other high-ranking officers (such as the Deputy Vice-Chancellors) pushing the researchers to achieve high impact factors.

What's the difference between "impact" and "impact factor"? If I "read" the VC's speeches and writings correctly, what he alludes to is that our actions and products (research, teaching, etc) must bring benefit to the people at large. In particular, universities must be working to alleviate the sufferings of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged across the globe.

Impact factor is a creation of the geniuses in journal publication. Nobody reads journal publications. The people who actually read journal publications cannot be classified as "nobody". They are somebody who is doing research in that area. And how many is that? As many as 20. OK, I exaggerate. Some journals have very small reader-base because they are very specialised that's a fact.

How do you get high impact factors? Citation! When your article gets cited, you go "wohoo". Somebody is reading it and, perhaps, think it is important enough to mention in their article. All well and good. But there's a scam going on and this is backed up be research. Journal publishers select articles which have lots of citation from their own journals, which pushes up the impact factor. Authors make sure that they cite lots of other papers, especially from the journal they hope to publish in. And reviewers? You can guess how they vet papers too.

So, high impact factor means what again? Citation, citation, citation. Even if the article has not benefitted humanity one bit.

So what's going on? The head says let's go this way. But the neck down says that (other) way.

Well, I can rationalise that. USM is a research university. And the KPI (there you go again) says many things we have to achieve to stay an RU. And one of them is publication in high impact journals. It's either we achieve the required high impact in publication, or we lose the RU status.

We want to go the other way, but we have to change the rules. That's what we are trying to do with the APEX U programme.

But look, USM has withdrawn from the world university ranking - because we (who's "we", you asked?) disagree with how its done. USM has opted to join a bunch of universities working on an alternative way to measure universities - based on sustainable development and ESD. Didn't you hear that in the VC's speech?

So, yes, in the meantime, we are going to have to suffer the pressures of the KPI. Be angry if you have to. But let's think how we should and can do things differently. Do you go with the sure thing? i.e. work the KPI and get your promotion? Or think about your impact on the community?

Can we have the cake and eat it too? i.e. high impact plus high impact factor?

Monday, 10 January 2011

The whole-listic student

We don't want students to be bookworms. We want them to have soft-skills, to be able to have emotions, to be able to relate and interact with other people, to be able to communicate and express themselves.

We don't want students to merely study for exams. We want them to contribute to the community to uplift the lives of the poor and the unfortunate. We want them to have high moral values and ethics. We don't want them to be mere followers. We want them to lead and innovate and think of new ways and new ideas to improve the world we live in.

We want them to do so many things other than study in the classroom or their bedrooms.

That we know. Learning within and beyond the classroom. Learning not merely to be an expert in technical know-how or a storehouse of knowledge but learning to be wholesome people.

How many students believe in that? Probably just a few. Not many.

But the critical question is, how are we going about doing it?

We encourage them to do projects. Every course (OK, not every course, most) have projects. Every society must have at least 8 projects every year. The hostels have projects. Co-corriculum have projects. Sports have projects. There are thousands of projects every year. Yes, I'm sure they learn many things.

How do you get the numbers? i.e. how do you make, compel, cajole, pester, induce or more generally persuade students to take part? You give them what USM calls MyCSD points (other universities call them merit points). Get points, get to stay in the hostel. No point, get out, even if there are vacancies (I know this for a fact).

It's a disease. Participate or perish. What has it created? A monster. They do it not for the love of doing it. They want minimum output. 2 or 3 hours tops. Get the 2 or 3 points fast. Then go back to the books. Or games. Or facebook. I have encountered students who just want to collect certificates of participation. The first thing or second thing, they ask, "will you give me a certificate if I do this for you?".  Sure, why not.

This is not to say that there aren't any student or projects or society who are making the right moves. The point is that the overwhelming majority are just being mechanical (or robotic) about it - do it just to get the points. Or perhaps for an accolade some time in the future. It just does not produce the wholesome people we hope for.

Can we do things without getting merit or brownie points?

Kampus Sejahtera is not an office

Had an almost 2 hour chit chat with Norizan, the Acting Director of the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies (CGSS) this morning.

The decision was made at the top. I know of course some people want anything and everything to do with sustainability to be move out to CGSS ... as in move out of the Corporate and Sustainable Development Division. I personally have no problems moving to CGSS (actually, I wanted not to be reappointed to head Kampus Sejahtera). Nobody has ever bothered me when I was at Korporat. I did whatever I wanted. When I decided to drive sustainability issues on campus ... I just took it by the horns and did it. No one gave me a letter which said "here, do sustainability".

But I was also troubled because Kampus Sejahtera did not really have a mandate for sustainability. I pushed for the Sustainability Office. It was received with little warmth, mainly because they didn't want another bureaucracy. But then someone else (bigger) suggested something similar, and it got the go ahead.

Now, what should Kampus Sejahtera do then? For a fact, I said that I would not be pursuing sustainability on campus anymore. Not my job. Not my responsibility anymore. Someone else's got that job now.

So, beginning of last year (2010), I said I would try going back to one of the core values of Kampus Sejahtera. That's volunteerism. I will "speak" more about this another time. So I got some student volunteers and suggested we have a sort of convention to get students together. I think less than 20 showed up. So, that died, not still born but in infancy. Now AIESEC is starting a project to gather volunteers. Again I will talk about students and volunteerism another time.

Back to this morning. We had a good chat. I'm not very good with bosses. I hate being directed to do things. But I think Norizan and I understand each other better, maybe a little more.

I asked him how he saw CGSS. He outlined three major areas : Sustainability (through the SO); research; and teaching (learning).

I told him that working under Kampus Sejahtera, I am not interested in the research agenda. I see that I fit in probably more under SO. However, Kampus Sejahtera is probably wider in it's reach and context than the SO agenda. Perhaps not. Perhaps Kampus Sejahtera is the brandname for USM when it comes to sustainable campus ... this was where I started some years back when I tried to do an initial campus sustainability assessment (Kampus Sejahtera Kampus Lestari, 2007). So, are we going back full circle?

I also have a little interest in the learning agenda. Supposedly, by the next intake, every student will have to take a university-level course on sustainability. We talked about transformative learning and how most of the university-level courses like SHE (ethnic relations) and entrepreneurship have not been very successful (apparently some form of assessment has been made).

So that's sort of our initial agreement. But how do we place Kampus Sejahtera? Is it a unit within CGSS? I thought not. I said that I don't see Kampus Sejahtera as an "office". I see it as a concept or a philosophy (and I have said many times before). Yes, if you want to see someone about Kampus Sejahtera, you can go to CGSS but don't expect to see Kampus Sejahtera as unit in the organisation chart. Kampus Sejahtera should permeate the entire campus - in it's thinking, it how it operates.

Is the new CGSS office big enough for me? We have to see. I said that if there's no space in the new office, I can still sit at my "old" office at Korporat. Unless of course they want to reclaim the office space. In which case I will just float around. We should walk the talk right?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


That's the main theme of USM VC's annual address to the campus community this morning ... about one and half hours of it. The first hour was mainly a recap of what has happened the previous year.

The university is not a business. It is not a factory.

We need to return the university back to it's roots. To become once again a "community of scholars" with ultruistic ideals. Knowledge for the benefit of mankind ... for humanity.

The university has been hijacked by the corporate mindset. Where education is to get a good job, paying top dollar, so that all your materialistics needs and wants can be satisfied.

In the next few weeks and perhaps even months, I will reflect and engage in a dialogue, mostly with myself, but also with collaborators, on what Kampus Sejahtera should now mean.

I am supposed to work under the umbrella of the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies (CGSS). What would be my role?

This could take a while. I took more than half a year sitting and reading and pondering when I first started in this office. Time to think again.