WHAT'S happening at the Universiti Putra Malaysia? I read media reports of the UPM authorities confiscating the laptop of a student said to contain pornographic materials and using it to print some unwanted items. This led to an open confrontation between a group of students and the University authorities.
The scenes of the confrontation was videoed and shown on a news portal. For many reasons, I found the scenes disturbing and potentially dangerous. Any open confrontation between students and university authorities can erupt into a major conflict and can easily undermine the credibility of the institutions whose basic premise is to produce students with academic excellence, guide them to some level of maturity, nurture a sense of purpose in life and encourage them to think and contribute to nation building in the long run.
This confrontation cannot be covered up. It will invite media attention. And this may not just be local media boys and girls. A battle to claim who is more right or more wrong will ensue. The party who is able to articulate their case better will win the day and look more credible.
But this is not about an intellectual battle. Not about a debate. It's about managing situations and making sure that problems are addressed according to set procedures so that a more accountable system is put in place, one that encourages a more a healthy environment for excellence.
I'm sure many people are waiting for full the disclosure of what really transpired at the campus. Varsity students involved in national political issues is not a new phenomenom. University authorities having have to grapple with so-called difficult students too is also not new. Political parties woing student leaders and students to their side have been happening in campuses for a long time.
Against a background of rumours and one-sided explanation, the situation can be explosive if not addressed quickly and effectively. By now, word of mouth would have spread; and various versions of the "truth" have been told.
As usual, questions abound. What is the standard operating procedure in handling grievances of this nature? How effective is the channel of communication between students and the university authorities? Was the confrontation a manifestation that a bigger problem exists within the campus?
Will we really know what really happen in the campus? And for that matter, in all campuses?
I'm sure those who witnessed the open confrontation first hand or via the video recording would have formed certain opinions, and their views may be coloured by their own historical perception. There will also be people who are convinced that the whole episode is racial, given the high social, political and cultural polarisation that exists in most campuses!
Confiscating a student's laptop will not guarantee obedience (if that is what the UPM authorities wanted to do); confronting the UPM bosses by obstructing their vehicle will also not yield anything good; and the relevant authorities not taking immediate action to settle the dispute will only be guilty of encouraging the situation to escalate and this will have far-reaching impact and consequences.