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Asia-Pacific

Feb 17, 2012

Curtin Uni students revolt over Rosmah Mansor gong

Curtin University in PR hell after thousands of Malaysian students hammered Facebook to slam an honorary doctorate awarded to Rosmah Mansor, controversial wife of PM Najib Razak.

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Curtin University is in PR hell this morning after thousands of angry Malaysian students hammered the institution’s Facebook page to slam an honorary doctorate awarded to Rosmah Mansor, the controversial wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Last week Curtin vice-chancellor Jeanette Hacket presented the unpopular spouse with the gong, ostensibly for her commitment to early childhood education. But Mansor, likened to Imelda Marcos, is a hated figure among the 2500-strong Malaysian student body at its Sarawak campus that tips millions each year into Curtin’s Australian coffers.

Overnight, angry comments on Curtin’s Facebook wall were running at a rate of two a minute as dissenters spiralled into the thousands, highlighting her ostentatious displays of wealth and alleged involvement in a murder/sodomy scandal. In the most popular post, one student ripped up their Curtin Bachelor of Applied Science and posted the photo, attracting a massive 1400 “likes”.

Some Facebookers described the award as a ham-fisted attempt to curry official support and hoard Malaysian cash — but Curtin’s decision is likely to go down in the annals of public relations history as a revenue-draining balls-up of the highest order.

In its original, since altered media release announcing the award, Curtin added insult to injury by referring to Mansor as the Malaysian “First Lady”, a faux-pas that enraged monarchists who pointed out the title is reserved for the Queen.

In a note posted on Facebook to staunch the bleeding, Hacket accepted that “the decision to make this award has attracted criticism. We also accept that our use of the term ‘First Lady’ has offended some people, and apologise for this. We will no longer use that term, and have reissued our media statement with this change made.”

The reaction on the university’s official page swiftly turned nuclear: “It is quite amazing that Curtin U had chosen to ignore the sentiments of Malaysians who are very well aware of Rosmah’s notorious reputation. God, don’t the researchers at CU read?,” said Tony Yap. “Shame on you! You have no integrity. This woman is part of a government that is corrupt, racist, oppressive etc.,” noted Anthony Meow Meow. “Curtin, last choice of mine when I get to go to university.. what a judgement of error!,” Ming Xuan Choong said.

Derrick Lee highlighted Mansor’s chequered past: “I’m just glad that I’m not one of your graduates! Not even Michelle Obama has a PHd for contributing so much to the US and not to mention, she doesn’t use up a lot of taxpayers’ money and certainly doesn’t follow his husband on a shopping trip!”

Sudheesh Bhasi said the decision would reverberate around the region: “Shame on you Curtin. You have just lost a huge number of potential students from not only Malaysia but the whole of South East Asia, one of your big markets because everyone in this region would not be associated with someone as tainted as Rosmah.”

Some Facebook commenters also expressed anger over the Lynas rare earth refinery, spuriously linking its tentative government approval to the Curtin gong. Malaysia’s opposition has pledged to scrap the plant if it gains power at national elections expected in the first half of this year.

Curtin maintains the award was doled out to recognise Mansor’s humanitarian work in establishing 600 early childhood centres, even though she appears to have simply stamped her name on a pre-arranged allocation of taxpayer funds.

Last year, Mansor courted controversy after she claimed the Japanese tsunami was a “lesson” to the world as the stricken country was still searching for survivors four days after the disaster hit.

The university also has campuses in Sydney and Singapore in addition to its Sarawak and Bentley bases. Curtin is Australia’s second largest provider of international offshore education.

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12 comments

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12 thoughts on “Curtin Uni students revolt over Rosmah Mansor gong

  1. Gavin Mooney

    As a former member of the Curtin staff, I am appalled but sadly not surprised at this turn of events. This really is a shocker. For Curtin surely the only decent way out of this mess is for the VC to offer her resignation..

  2. Stephen

    We have an early leader, for the annual London School of Economics ‘Gaddafi’ Award in University Public Relations.

  3. Meski

    A question: Has anyone ever used an honorary doctorate for something productive, like finding a job, or is it just a recognised token in exchange for a donation?

  4. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    Meski: honorary degrees have been award for research outside of university. Both Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson got their letters that way, and deservingly so, in my opinion.

    But in general, honorary doctorates are useless indulgences that cheapen the academic brand. UQ should never have given Joh Bjelke-Petersen a doctorate of law, for instance.

  5. Meski

    UQ has a fine sense of irony.

    What did Curtin give the honorary doctorate in? Ethics? That would be delicious.

  6. Gavin Moodie

    I agree with Down and Out: the University of Queensland’s award of an honorary doctorate to Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a disgrace. There were demos, marches and other protests but I don’t recall the university’s student preferences falling.

  7. Gumnutz

    Lest we forget, ANU and Lee Kwan Yew, the honourary doctorate that ‘forgot’ due process.

  8. michael

    It’s time to stop awarding honorary degrees and doctorates except in the most exceptional circumstances. It a form of corruption that devalues the degrees earned by real hard work, study and achievement. Is there any celebrity, politician or ‘philanthropist’ who does not have an honorary degree? Dishonorable degree more like.

  9. blackdog

    If she and her “achievements” are the bar by which we can determine “humanitarian” awards, that’s a concern, and in which case I WANT ONE!!!! Actually, no I don’t, I’d prefer to work, learn and earn one that I can then apply in my community! Doesn’t say much of worth about research and decision making at this university??

  10. bluepoppy

    I agree with Michael’s point, it makes a mockery if these awards are dished out too willy nilly, often for diplomatic purposes rather than merit. While the recipient may have contributed to early learning, and that may not be in dispute, it is flawed if the process does not take a broader whole-of-person approach in considering values and behaviours.

    This move is reminiscent of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama two minutes into his presidency. I have seen a couple of doozies also in the Honours Awards for public service (it would be a shame if the receiving of these awards become hostage to the old boys or girls network).

    Actions as oultined in the article, diminish the integrity of the process and devalues the contributions of past recipients who have been more deserving.

  11. ScottMC

    Try to think of Australian history, and whether or not John Curtin would have approved that ridiculous grant…………

  12. Zarathrusta

    I was there at the “Night of Terror” as the Murdoch rag the Courier-Mail headlined it, when Joh was given his honorary doctorate. It was a discrace. Leading Queensland poet, Judith Wright, returned her own honorary Doctorate, in a personal protest. I seem to recall that when some people were away the Uni Senate pushed through the award. There were government appointments onto the Uni Senate. Months later the Courier-Mail announced on page 59 or so that contrary to its front page report an official enquiry had found that: noone spat on the Governor, noone tried to smash the glass wall of Mayne Hall, it broke due to a standing wave of vibration caused by tapping, and the protesters did not crush the Governor – the media throng did.

    You’d really think that after all that, Unis would be really, really careful about giving out honorary doctorates.

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