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?

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