Dear lecturers, and senate members,
I am very much astounded after reading President’s speech that was recently uploaded in the intranet few days ago with regard to UTP. For those who are not aware, the President mooted the possibility of changing the name of UTP from Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS to Universiti Teknologi Petroleum.
With all due respect, judging from the two mere paragraphs that touched upon UTP in the President’s speech, I found this idea very awkward and anti-thesis to raison d'être of UTP itself.
What is in the name that we need to be so astounded and alarmed?
Names are reflection of realities. They have their own essential qualities that embody the true nature of things hence the importance to preserve and protect the right terms that reflect the true spirit of a thing.
As I argued many times over, a university is not mere building that consist of physical structure that houses the mortals in pursuit of knowledge. A university, as reflected in its origin, is in fact, a sacred place in its own right. A university should reflect the true character of knowledge which is enlightening.
The idea to change the name from PETRONAS to Petroleum has serious repercussion upon the very soul of the university. Of course I am pretty sure there must be some acute reasons for President to announce this either due to ideal or pragmatic concern but as far as I can judge from the speech, it is likely due to pragmatic concern rather than ideal, as he mentioned in the speech “to serve as the leading university to serve petroleum industry in the region.”
It is a spot-on view from the “business” perspective but not rightly so from “academic” perspective.
I have to be very blunt because I still remember 4 years ago when I had a chat with Dr. Ibrahim Kamaruddin, when he was formerly the Director of Undergraduate Studies, he told me that UTP was created not out of the thin air but was conceptualized and modeled against the best universities and institutes in the world.
If that is so, then I would like to propose for the senate members to really dig deeper in understanding why and how others that have cemented their stature as utmost academic institutions be it in engineering, applied sciences or liberal arts, had crafted their humble beginning that lead to their current state of dominance in international academia.
Let us pick the closest we could set as benchmark in terms of the spirit (idealism) and form (pragmatism): Colorado School of Mines.
Like all great universities in the world, Colorado School of Mines was founded by Christian ministry, in Colorado’s case it was by Episcopal Church. And like all great universities in the world, there has never been a stark antagonism between the Liberal Arts and Applied Science that pretty much characterized the two important pillars in modern day universities in the West . Episcopal Church is another strand of Protestantism and being originated from Protestant founders, their spirit is very much in tune with what great German sociologist, Max Weber called “Protestant ethic” – an intrinsic force that created Western model of capitalism that paved way for Industrial revolution that we continue to inherit today.
Colorado School of Mines from the early days of its establishment has been very much dynamic in threading the path of academia. The Protestant spirit of the university is self-evident in its motto of “Nil Sine Numine" Latin words meaning "Nothing without providence" or "nothing without the Deity”. Despite its humble name that depicted the heyday of mining in Colorado, the university has not surrendered its very existence to be determined solely by the market and industry demand in churning out mere able-workforce for the mining industries. The mission of the university as stated in its website:
Colorado School of Mines’ role and mission has remained constant and is written in the Colorado statute as:
The Colorado School of Mines shall be a specialized baccalaureate and graduate research institution with high admission standards. The Colorado School of Mines shall have a unique mission in energy, mineral, and materials science and engineering and associated engineering and science fields. The school shall be the primary institution of higher education offering energy, mineral and materials science and mineral engineering degrees at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. (Colorado Revised Statutes, Section 23-41-105). Mines’ well-defined and focused mission is achieved by the creation, integration and exchange of knowledge in engineering, the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, business, and their union, to create processes and products to enhance the quality of life of the world’s inhabitants. Mines is consequently committed to serving the people of Colorado, the nation, and the global community by promoting stewardship of the Earth, advancements in energy and sustaining the environment.
Is it not a brilliant piece of Mission Statement for a mere “school of mines” in Colorado? Why and how do they able to come up with this kind of holistic and such a depth in viewing their role in the “ stewardship of the earth and its resources”?
Of course I don’t have any concrete empirical proofs to explain this BUT I firmly belief it is not by mere coincident or slogan, but very much a conscious formulation of their own raison d'être as an institution of higher education that specialized (does not mean abandoning and rejecting other knowledge disciplines as testified by the existence of Liberal Arts Faculty) in “broad expertise of mineral engineering”.
Its Protestant ethic spirit, despite America is becoming more secular each day, is still alive and embedded and has become the “DNA” of the institution. So the humble name of “school of mines” will definitely not tarnish the stature and the spirit of the university as they have liven up their raison d'être since day ONE.
Now let us go back to the issue of changing the name of current name of UTP to Universiti Teknologi Petroleum.
I think President has reasoned clearly in his speech with regards to why UTP need to change its name. On one level, at surface, it is due to the pressing need of churning out automaton, self-starter engineers for the industry as can be deciphered from his speech here:
“We are confident UTP will create a pool of proficient petro-technical graduates to support our recruitment needs. However, we should not forget to take these opportunities ourselves to retool and build our technical capabilities to ensure that our skills and knowledge are abreast with the latest market developments.”
The pattern and style of reasoning is pretty much clear that UTP need to focus to market and industrial demand rather than clinging on the current spirit, although not perfect but very much “at home” with the traditional ways of operating an institution called university.
I would not want to argue the philosophical dimension with regard to the precision of attaching to UTP the word “Petroleum” as it is pretty much secondary to the real reason for the spirit of transformation that underlies the need to change the UTP name by attaching the word “Petroleum” to it. Although I have no qualm if the President and Senate Members could offer another alternative such as “Tronoh School of Mines” if the intention is to emulate and benchmark against some of the best engineering school in the world the likes of Colorado School of Mines.
Between “Petroleum” and “PETRONAS”, I firmly believe that the latter that has the utmost power and influence to create the right academic and scholarship ambience in charting the course of a “technical university” (a misnomer by the way as no university in the world relies solely upon Applied Sciences in defining its existence) rather than the former that conjures an image and symbolism of “old, black, dirty, climate change complicit”.
After all this year’s theme is proclaimed with such a depth as “Reimagining Energy” – Dare to be Different.
When the university directly or indirectly associated with PETRONAS be as its paymaster or even as little as the name (as perceived by pragmatist), the “aura” that the name can conjure despite its inter-relatedness with “Oil & Gas” is far better than what the the word “petroleum” can conjure in the mind of Man. Just mention the word PETRONAS, it has far more benign and astute image and symbolism that characterize brilliance, magnanimous in the world of commerce and nation building.
Hence, this bring me to the second layer of the problem, which is the pragmatic concern.
I can speculate that and very much aware it is not easy and cheap venture to run a university. The stake is very high not just spiritually, intellectually but also financially risky. There is no such thing as free lunch when every single thing can and will be scrutinized by public at large and UTP being one of PETRONAS educational and strategic outfit either in terms of corporate social responsibility or long term business strategy, is not being spared either.
When UTP literally embodied the name “PETRONAS” in itself, the public will always perceive that the sole proprietor is PETRONAS. Since the common logic of laymen viewing PETRONAS as a “Gigantic Cash Cow”, it defies many things about the inter-responsibility that need to be harness by all stakeholders at large in supporting UTP to be the main driver in providing utmost solutions to the Energy Industry and the wellbeing of the nation (save the environment from Climate Change, develop Future Leaders, Captain of Industries that uphold the social and religious milieu of this nation etc.). For me, the creation of Yayasan UTP is one of the brilliant steps to harness the awareness and responsibility from the public and other stakeholders be it from the Business and Government to contribute to the development of UTP.
If there is an issue about “funding” that leads to the mooting of ideas to change UTP name to Universiti Teknologi Petroleum as mentioned by the President, I think it warrants further creative responsess from all of us UTPians.
Again I would like to point out to the “Ivies” in the States.
John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, John Harvard, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ezra Cornell, Leland Stanford and many other oil barons and industrial magnates, all of them had amassed a great deal of fortune and return them back to the society via endowment by setting up higher education institutions that bear their name till this day (except for Rockefeller that endowed his fortune by setting up University of Chicago).
Same goes to all great Islamic universities in the medieval age that were endowed through awqaf (sing: waqf) NOT solely by the Caliphate/Government.
Hence, in history till today, many great universities are very much “embedded” within the domain of society at large. They are not simply being spoon-fed by governments what more corporations in toto. Their main source of funding is mainly in the form of endowment which shows something about the spirit of the society that has always been supporting these institutions.
Well, sadly though, it does not happen in Malaysian universities what more to UTP. We are pretty much a “Subsidized Society”.
So, if this is really one of the main problems that leads to the reasoning that the President has come about, as I said earlier, we need to help and advice him creatively in this matter.
Changing name would not solve the problem furthermore it might aggravated the problem as the sense of detachment of the stakeholders at large will be humongous if UTP were to be skewed in its name, form and spirit in the domain of “petroleum”.
How could the public or private sectors of various kind want to contribute or relate themselves to the livelihood of UTP if the image and symbolism has been limited to mere “petroleum” and “Industrial need”? It would be partially good if the name really attracts the industry players to chip in their fortune for the development of UTP, BUT we are risking the losses of tradition that pretty much being embodied in the name of “PETRONAS” that as I have said earlier, does not simply conjure an entity that is limited upon the world of commerce or a company that has always graced the Fortune 500, as PETRONAS is more than just a company, it is itself an institution.
I believe by attaching the word “petroleum”, it will do more injustice to the great entity called “university”.
A university is more than what we normally and currently understood, as explained by a great Muslim thinker, Tokoh Melayu Terbilang 2011, Prof. Syed Naquib Al-Attas, in the words of his rightmost disciple, Prof. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud in his The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas: An Exposition of the Original Concept of Islamization:
“Al-Attas’ arguments that the university should reflect man are not only based on the ontological arguments posited above, but also an linguistic analysis of the important terms used in historical universities. The very term university is derived from the Latin universitas which reflects the original Islamic kulliyah, for in Islam knowledge (al-‘ilm) and the spiritual organ of cognition (al-‘aql) are universals (kulliyat). Furthermore the usage of the human anatomical term faculty by the universities is a translation of the Arabic term quwwah which “refers to a power inherent in the body of an organ” and in which knowledge could inhere. This is more directly related to the fact that “the university must have been conveiced in emulation of the general structure, I form, function and prupose, of man.” The term quwwah in Arabic means strength (qudrah), power in the sense of possessing something (malakah).
Al-Attas asserts that the Arabic term sijil was used in Latin (sigillum) for the university seal and scroll.
Al-Attas recognized that the Islamic conception of universality in knowledge, conveyed by the term kulliyah, is not restricted to a particular place of learning. That is why Al-Attas points out that kulliyah reflects a system of order and discipline in the organization, and the inculcation and dissemination of knowledge whether at the mosque (jami’), “institutes” (maktab), “colleges” (madrasah), House of Wisdom (bayt al-hikmah), gatherings of scholars and students (majalis), House of Sciences (dar al-‘ulum), hospitals, observatories, or Sufi lodges (zawiyah). The mosque, and by extension all other places of learning in Islam, was regarded as a “site of universal knowledge”.
Also as explained by Historian of Medieval Education, George Makdisi in an article entitled On the Origin and Development of the College in Islam and the West:
“The Latin term universitas, from which the word university is derived and which means the whole of mankind, first appeared in a classical Latin text of Cicero (d. 43 B.C.). Thus it came to mean a number, a plurality, an aggregate or society (societas) or college (collegium) of persons. In the 12th Century, universitas was used among the legists to refer to a group of people having juridical existence.”
Also as explained by Frank P. Graves in his A History of Education During the Middle Ages and the Transition to Modern Times:
“The usage of the term universitas to refer to a guild or an association of students or teachers is already sufficient proof that it is not the mere physical congregation of people that has permanently made the term refer to the highest educational institution in modern society, but the intellectual-educational activity of the congregation. Our argument is self-evident because no other guild or association since the 14th century until this day carries the term university, except that of the highest learning institution where many kinds of knowledge are being systematically taught.”
Let me give another example from the discussion that I had with my buddies on the origin, evolution (more like a devolution) of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia logo and motto.
Below is the explanation given by Prof. al-Attas with regard to the symbols that was originally emblemed in the first logo of UKM as stated in Prof. Wan Mohd Nor's The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas: An Exposition of the Original Concept of Islamization, page 301-302:
"Explaining the meanings behind the symbols on the right side of the logo, he [Prof. al-Attas] writes:
“The dark green background symbolizes the religion of Islam, the official religion of the country and the basis of the university's philosophy. The tiger, which is internationally known as the animal of the Malay Archipelago, symbolizes a Malaysian society rooted in Malay culture. The tiger's pose is not that of looking back but of an attacking position. What are attacked are Ignorance, Evil and Falsehood which are the causes of human suffering and tragedy. The keris (Malay dagger) which symbolizes courage, drawn by its left paw, and the torch which symbolizes knowledge, held by its right are instruments to combat Ignorance, Evil and Falsehood. Courage and Knowledge are a perfect unity. Our character should neither be knowledgeable but cowardly nor brave yet ignorant. The philosophy of life reflected in these symbols is Islamic: we must be ready to counter if attacked, but not to attack without provocation. Nevertheless, Courage should be guided by Knowledge which should be placed at the highest level of ethics and morality...”
Concluding his explanation of the logo, he writes that all of the symbols in the shield are pointing upwards to the white banner on top of the shield which carries the Romanized version of the Prophet's prayer in the Qur'an (Ta Ha 20:114): zidni 'ilman, meaning "increase me in knowledge". He comments:
“This verse underlies the fact that only Allah is Most Glorious and the Absolute Owner of Truth. Truth reveals itself gradually to its seeker as the verses of the Holy Qur'an were revealed to the Holy Prophet... Therefore be patient! and do not be hasty (in the pursuit of knowledge). It is incumbent upon us, as it was upon the Holy Prophet himself, to obey His Command, to beseech Him to increase our knowledge because our grasp of knowledge is always never perfect. A University should not arrogate itself the claim to be a source of knowledge for only God Most High is the True Source of all Knowledge; since everything is present in Him; those who are striving to attain moral excellence should realize that they are ignorant and should therefore humble themselves."
Some of my UKM friends commented:
"Pertama mula tatkala membaca kupasan Prof. Wan mengenai logo asal UKM yang direka-cipta oleh Prof. al-Attas itu, dan gagasan serta makna yang dibawanya, hati merasakan suatu kerugian teramat sangat; mengapa hasilan reka-cipta yang sarat gagasan dan faham yang benar boleh diabai dan dipinggirkan begitu sahaja, alih-alih menjulang pula sebuah logo yang di dalamnya terkandung sebuah teori atom yang sudah tidak lagi menjadi yang dominan dalam fizik.
Barangkali daripada perubahan perlambangan tersebut dapat disimpulkan tiga perkara:
(a) penilaian yang dibuat terhadap ilmu pengetahuan sains dan teknologi itu sendiri tidak tepat dan mencerminkan kesilapan dalam memahami dengan jelas ruh atau semangat, prinsip dan isi kandungan ilmu sains moden itu sendiri,
(b) maksud dan sifat ilmu telah disempitkan untuk merujuk kepada ilmu pengetahuan sains dan teknologi semata-mata, sekaligus menisbahkan cabang ilmu pengetahuan yang lain (seperti sejarah, sastera, falsafah) kepada ilmu pengetahuan sains dan teknologi,
(c) erti dan matlamat pendidikan yang sewajarnya bertumpu kepada insan dan pemupukan nilai-nilai murni telah diubah kepada faham pendidikan yang disandarkan kepada kepentingan bersifat jangka pendek untuk menghasilkan tenaga kerja berkemahiran bagi memenuhi kehendak majikan dan industri semata-mata.
Kesimpulan itu ada benarnya. Lihatlah tafsiran kepada yang dibuat kepada tafsiran perlambangan atom itu: "Simbol atom dan teknologi melambangkan konsep pembangunan negara yang berlandaskan sains dan teknologi moden. UKM sebagai pusat ilmu bertanggungjawab mengeluarkan tenaga mahir dalam semua bidang untuk memenuhi keperluan pembangunan negara" (http://www.ukm.my/v3/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=92&Itemid=198&lang=bm)."
So from the arguments that I have put forth, indeed the questions that I have raised warrant a great deal of an intellectual attention from all senate members, lecturers, students and alumni of UTP. It just not suitable for the word "Petroleum" to be made so glaring as the frontal identity of UTP as a "university", unless as I suggested earlier we want to alter and totally change the name into other form or type of higher education institutions, for example if we still want to stick to President's suggestion we can aptly re-name UTP into:
1) Tronoh School of Mines & Petroleum
2) Petroleum Institute of Technology
3) Vocational School of Petroleum & Technology
4) Institute of Petroleum and Technological Studies
With regard to second issue of pragmatic concern about funding, there is much to be learned from the experience of other great old universities from East and West. One of those is Harvard. I attach here a brilliant article written by my philosophy of science teacher Dr. Adi Setia entitled Harvard University & some fiscal problems of privately endowed higher education in the USA. Senate members could learn a great deal of the mistakes and successes that Harvard managed to chart when it comes to finance its academic endeavor as being detailed out by Dr. Adi Setia.
There are many good books that describe (and give stark warnings) on the current trend of corporatizing university. Some of them are:
1) Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education by Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades– here is the succinct review from an article entitled The Grim Threat to British Universities also a gist of the book written by the authors themselves here.
Readings describes why he feels that universities are in ruins and what faculty might do about it. He traces the history of the university from Kant to the present time and argues that it has gone through three phases or forms: the University of Ideas (Kant), the University of Culture (Humboldt), and now the University of Excellence (based on measuring quality). His argument is that the U has now become a business, and "excellence" is now being defined in business, rather than in intellectual, terms. Perhaps the most important point that he makes in the book is that he feels excellence has no intellectual reference point.
3) The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities by Frank Donoghue – you can read the review here
4) Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University by Gaye Tuchman – you can read the reviews here, and here.
Or you can simply read again my piece on The University and the Captive Mind.
A university is not a factory that churn out human capital. It is a total misnomer and against the great tradition of higher education institutions. I hope from this lengthy arguments that I have shared, this issue will be cascaded to a higher level of authority in preserving the credibility of knowledge and wisdom that we want to impart to the students of UTP of the past, present and future.
God knows best.
Wan Ahmad Fayhsal
Alumni of Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS