In light of the targeted attacks on the VC of UiTM recently, it just got me thinking about this whole issue with VCs. The attacks mainly focused on the VCs lack of academic qualifications and his personal political affiliations. While I can understand the political justification of such an attack, I cannot condone it as it is an undignified attack.
I should try to justify why I think that the attack was uncalled for. A VC is regarded as the Chief Executive of the university. Therefore, the VC is only responsible towards the staff and students of the university as well as the governing body of the university. This can be likened to a CEO being responsible towards his staff, customers and shareholders. Unlike a politician or public official, a VC does not serve the general public. So, for all intents and purposes, the VC is not a public office. If we condone public attacks on any VC, then we should declare open season on the CEOs of all companies, and anyone else in a position of leadership in any organisation, particularly those that are not answerable to us. Personally, I think that this is a crazy notion.
But the above article did get me thinking a bit about the position of a VC. So, I asked myself a simple question: What qualities should a VC have?
- Management Skills
As a CEO of a university, a VC’s job is that of strategic leadership and management. Therefore, a VC should be someone with strong management capabilities rather than academic ones. In fact, the current VC of the University of Oxford is an industrialist, with many years of experience as a director on many prominent New Zealand companies, before becoming the VC of the University of Auckland, then Oxford.
While it is highly preferable for a VC to be an academic, it is evident that it is not necessary. Saying that a VC must be an academic, is like saying that the CEO of a technology company has to be a chartered engineer. This is an entirely fairy tale notion. It is preferable and would definitely be very nice, but it is most certainly unnecessary. If it was necessary, we would not have any iPods to buy, nor would we have Wall-E to love.
- People Skills
A VC needs to get things done in a university through other people. This is where academic credentials may come in handy, to curry respect from fellow academics. But unless the VC is a Nobel prize winner, his/her academic credentials are unlikely to better that of the staff. And we all know that there aren’t enough Nobel prize winners to go around, even at Cambridge. So, a VC has to be able to command respect in other ways. One way to do that is through internal relationships with the other staff. If everyone knows you well and knows that you can do the job, you will command authority.
But the bigger job of the VC is to bring in the big money to the university, just like it is the job of a CEO to search for funds for a company. In this particular case, academic credentials are not going to help much, but people credentials will play a bigger role. Building and exploiting external relationships and networks are vitally important in this respect. So, being well connected is a potential plus for a VC as long as he/she can exploit that connection.
So, looking at things this way, is the UiTM VC a suitable candidate for the job? From what little public information is available, he has got all of the qualities nailed down, at least on paper.
- He is trained in administration. He graduated with a Diploma in Public Administration from ITM, worked as an Executive Officer in the Malaysian Treasury, obtained his BA in Economics and MA in Sociology from Ohio University, and obtained his PhD from the University of Maryland in Government and Politics.
- He has little academic credentials. His publications include “Gaya Hidup Remaja Masa Kini. (1997) Shah Alam: Biroteks, Institut Teknologi MARA” and “Pendidikan Bermutu Masyarakat Sejahtera. (1990) Kuching: Education Department, Sarawak”.
- He is a UiTM lifer. Besides a short stint in the Treasury, he has spend the rest of his career in ITM and UiTM. Therefore, he knows everyone and everyone knows him.
- He has political connections. He founded an UMNO club in the US and was a former President of that club, served as a UMNO youth leader and committee memer of UMNO Youth.
But I do agree that the manner of his appointment can be improved. I personally can’t tell if he is the right person or not, without interviewing him. So, calling for a selection committee is a good idea. The VC can be internally promoted or externally searched. The job of the committee will be to vet the candidates. Just like the hiring of a CEO requires board approval, the VC can be hired if he/she is approved by the governing body of the university (i.e the Senate).
PS: I wrote this entry at 5am. It is a brain fart. Don’t ask my why. E&OE as usual. Now, I can go back to sleep.