A FMT editorial
When an Australian university awarded the self-styled “first lady” an honorary doctorate, nobody celebrated. The country did not erupt in joy or feel proud that the wife of the most powerful man in the land received a scroll in recognition of her work in early-childhood education. There is no reason for anyone to congratulate the recipient. Why? Simply because her work in the field of education is questionable. The report card on these centres providing free early-childhood education is full of red marks. It is not something that a parent would want to be associated with. There are no concrete results to show that the lady’s “baby” has made remarkable progress or that “tens of thousands of children” have benefited. More likely, the failed venture has stunted the “child’s” growth.
A doctorate is not cheap. You have to slog for it. You have to earn it. It is an intellectual journey that taxes the mind to the maximum. At the end of it, there is deep and long-lasting satisfaction. An honorary doctorate is conferred on a person who has done something outstanding. He or she may not have an excellent academic background but by virtue of his or her distinguished work in any field of endeavour, the intellectual world has come to acknowledge his or her sterling contribution. So a degree is conferred, which does the person proud. Honorary or not, a doctorate is the ultimate prize in a person’s educational arsenal. It is hallowed property. It is precious.
But when a recipient of an honorary doctorate did little or nothing or simply rides on somebody else’s coat-tails, it does not make good sense to reward him or her. To do so would only cheapen the scroll. When the sanctity of the scroll is soiled, public confidence and respect will diminish. A university must preserve its dignity at all times and that means it must keep its distance from all manners of debasement. Most importantly, it must remain true to itself – that of being a centre of learning. It must only reward those who have gone through the intellectual mill and acquired a storehouse of knowledge. An honorary degree must be reserved only for a person of exceptional intellectual quality or who had contributed to the tangible betterment of the country.
It is not too far-fetched to say that the “first lady” was conferred the honorary degree not by dint of her rigorous mental training but by her association with the man holding the highest office in the country. The university probably thought it could gain an added advantage by giving the wife of the most influential politician a “free” doctorate. It probably thought that the move would win a standing ovation from the large Malaysian students on the campus. Unfortunately, the “play” went horribly wrong. In no time the university was deluged with nasty comments from the fuming public. Why? Simply because there was no justification for offering the award on a platter. The wrath had all to do with the character of the lady herself.
The university probably did not do its homework thoroughly when it made the awful decision to honour the lady. For a long time the lady has been at the centre of many storms and each controversy did not do the country any good. Being a public figure, her every move became an object of public amusement or derision. Her conduct was widely reported in the online media but did the university care to read about it? Was the university reading only glowing reports of her in the mainstream media? Evidently, the vice-chancellor did not feel the pulse of the nation. If she had, she would not have courted trouble. If she had, the university would have been spared the outpouring of disgust and condemnation on its Facebook “wall”.
The political scene in Malaysia is not one to be admired. All is not well with the state of the union. Foreign diplomats stationed here would surely have their ears to the ground and would know the deep rumbling of discontent spreading across the land. The reports about the “doctor” do not make good reading for adults and children either. Every time she hits the headline, it is invariably tied to a controversy. A controversial figure can evoke public esteem for fighting for moral causes or invite public condemnation for behaviour umbecoming. People can readily identify with good acts but are swiftly provoked to anger when a public figure brings shame to the country. The torrent of vitriolic comments poured on the “first lady” when she received her “doctorate” speak volumes about her. The people were not being petty or crass. They were not envious of her “achievement”. It is embarrassing to be jealous. They were simply enraged – and justifiably so.