Oh, Harvard boys are now sexy?
Posted by Oscar the Grouch on November 17, 2008
I feel quite un-sexy these days. It’s hard not to be, not when you look like a nerdy-blob, complete with thick-rim, high-dense glasses; conventionally attired in loose-fitting Lim Kit Siang inspired white short-sleeve shirt and dark baggy slacks; pouring deep into volumes of unfathomable research articles, with nothing in mind except trying to decipher what inner-thoughts the academic author is trying to convey through his uninspired writing. Yes, it’s quite hard to feel ruggedly attractive, ala Daniel Craig, within the confines of a dull library, surrounded by equally dreary and uninteresting characters, male or female.
Perhaps that is why the Star’s article, “Obama’s legacy at Harvard” (Sunday Star, 16 November 2008) has managed to cheer me up a tad bit. The editorial declared: – “Obama’s win has made having “brains” sexy again.” Fittingly, Barack Obama’s win has added excitement to the Harvard Law School; Obama being a law-student there from 1988 to 1991, and creating history by being the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
It was also reported that the Harvard law professor, whilst giving an introductory lecture to the students of the incoming Master of Laws (LL.M) Class of 2008, proudly declared that the next President of the United States is going to come from that very classroom; given that President-elect Barack Obama had sat in those very seats of the esteemed class.
It is every law student’s dream to graduate from Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge. But I never had that chance. Instead, I am a postgraduate of local varsities, two of them in all. And unlike the LL.M class of Harvard Law School, I’m much afraid I cannot find myself swollen with pride of my alma mater.
The university which I am in now (out of etiquette and good decorum, I shall make no mention of the university, except that it is a leading local varsity: – not that there are that many in Malaysia, so perhaps one can make an effortless guess), reminds me sometimes of a kampong: -during the late evenings, young lads in kapchais zoom past from one end of the faculty to the other without proper helmets.
I also remember, about 2 years back, I had to attend a class on Law Research Methodology: – a course to ready us freshmen on proper research techniques prior to embarking on a thesis proper. The compulsory class is shared, due to its common subject topic, jointly by both LL.M and PhD scholars. What appalled me was that postgraduate students casually strolled into class, fashionably late, one after another; some clad only in slippers, almost as if they are on a weekend stroll visiting the neighbourhood sundry shop.
But what horrified me more, was that some of the Masters student cannot string a proper sentence of English. Mind you, this was an international university, where English is the compulsory medium. I remember of one who struggled to answer a question in smattering of English, pausing many a times before alternating to bits of Malay here and there.
But then, not having a good grasp of the English Language is the least of our problems at local varsities. I believe our undergrads and postgraduates suffer from all sorts of ailments, courtesy of racial quota and non-meritocracy. Undeserving students who are just not up to par are being ceremoniously huddled into popular, but difficult, courses without due justification or merit. Yes, our local universities are no Harvard. And to think that one of my fellow class attendees may be the next Prime Minister is quite frightful.
In Harvard, it was reported; students are allowed to join political support groups. There are groups formed to lend their support and encouragement to Obama, McCain, Hillary, Democrats, Republican, Edwards and what-have-you-not. The students are freely allowed to participate in independent, but liberated, group discussions and debate sessions. In essence, they are treated and taught to be adults: – they are allowed to have their say; to contemplate; to reason; to think and to decide.
But of course, in Malaysia, local students are stifled by the harsh provisions of the Universities and the University Colleges Act 1971, which prohibits students’ participation or association of any political party, trade union, organization, body or group. There is definitely no DAP or Pakatan fan club. Not even if one is willing to be expelled, for it actually amounts to a criminal offence, liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months (but then of course, there appears to be informal relaxation of the rules if one helps campaign for the Barisan Nasional during election campaigns, by way of We Love Umno student groups and by participating in menial tasks such as setting up tables and chairs and waving flags).
After 50 years of independence, our local universities struggle to find its footing in the international arena. Singapore, Thailand and other Asian countries have all overtaken us in stride. We have no achievement to show. A search on the internet on the University of London, where I obtained my degree as an undergraduate, reveals the following famous individuals in their alumni: – Scientist: Edward Jenner, Alexander Flemming, Joseph Lister; Politicians: Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, John Kennedy; Writers: HG Wells, Thomas Hardy, Arthur C Clarke, John Keats.
On the other hand, a Wikipedia search on the alumni of University of Malaya, laughably lists down in its list of notables, Aznil Hj Nawawi: – award-winning TV host and actor. In Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s alumni, Wikipedia notably mentions Sheikh Muzaphar Shukor in its list of prominent, pompously described as the first astronaut of Malaysia. Well, at least in the International Islamic University of Malaysia, its’ Kulliyah of Laws boasts Fong Po Kuan: – MP for Batu Gajah and member of DAP, having received her law degree in 1997.
But to be fair, there are distinguished individuals who have passed through the local gates. But it seems a number of them now serve allegiance to other countries. Justice Chan Sek Keong, for example, graduated from the law faculty of University of Malaya, but currently serves as the Chief Justice of Singapore; Shirley Geok-lin Lim, graduated with a degree in English from UM, is a writer and award-winning poet, as well as an English Professor at the University of California; Professor Ho Peng Yoke, graduated with a 1st class degree in physics, is the Director Emeritus of Needham Research Institute, Cambridge; and Professor Wang Gungwu, the former Professor of History in University of Malaya, is now the Director of East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.
I think therein lies our problem. As long as racial quota and non-meritocracy remains, not only in choosing our students, but also in the appointment of vice-chancellors and professors, the Harvard-status will forever remain elusive.
Yes, you’re sexy if you graduated from Harvard Law School. You’re NOT sexy if you’re from UKM Law Faculty, Bangi.