Should President choose rectors to curb radicalism?

The Jakarta Post, page 3

With state universities now becoming bastions of radical ideologies, Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo has proposed a highly controversial idea: giving the President a say in the selection of university rectors. Tjahjo, a senior member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), has said that such a policy was necessary as there are concerns that radical movements that are trying to replace Pancasila are thriving at universities.

However, the proposal has stirred controversy, with the Rectors Forum calling it a threat to academic freedom and independence.

Under the current system, the research and technology and higher education minister has a 35 percent bloc vote in rector elections, while the remaining 65 percent lies in the hands of university senate members.

Rector Forum chairman Suyatno said Tjaho needed to review his controversial proposal because requiring a presidential approval for a rector’s appointment would be seen as intervention in a campus’ independence.

Suyatno said the current system was bad enough. University senate members, he argued, must have full authority to elect a rector with the research and technology and higher education minister being involved only during the fit and proper test of candidates. So, it could be more effective and avoid politicization of the process.

He argued that Tjahjo’s proposal would not bring the expected outcome, saying that any interference by the government in the academic sphere could even inspire the birth of radicalism. He said campuses must maintain independence and have their own autonomy, including the freedom to elect their own rectors.

Education researcher who also works at the directorate of education in the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), Amich Alhumami, said such a proposal will weaken the independence of the higher education institutions. The institutions will no longer be ‘healthy’ and the management will be ruined. As a consequence, the quality of rectors will be questioned.

Contacted separately, presidential spokesman Johan Budi said that the proposal is still a plan by Pak Tjahjo and it has not yet been officially proposed to the President. As of today, he said, the President has yet to be briefed about it.

Tjahjo defended his proposal on Monday, saying that he was only seeking to find an answer to the growing challenges the country was facing, including radicalism, terrorism and drug abuse, as he feared that some campuses were becoming breeding grounds for social threats. He argued that the selection of university rectors “will principally remain the same,” with a block vote remaining in the hands of the research and technology and higher education minister. However, he added that the minister must consult with the President first before making any decisions regarding the appointment of a rector.

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