Silencing Students Voice

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaNo matter how impolite it is, criticism of the government from students must not be muzzled. Allowing rectors to hold a position in state-owned companies weakens the independence of campuses.

    When it comes to muzzling student criticism, the governments of Suharto and Joko Widodo seem just the same. The difference is in the method. During th Suharto era, repression was done by the implementation of the Normalization of Campus Life and the Student Coordination Board (NKK/BKK). Nowadays a different method is used: university rectors are controlled by giving them lucrative positions as commissioners of state-owned companies.

    These rectors then become like bulls led by the nose: following the government's wishes. This makes universities easy to control. At the very least, rectors are reluctant to allow their students to criticize the government. This type of submission eventually gives rise to brownnosers.

    When the University of Indonesia (UI) Student Executive Body (BEM) dubbed President Joko Widodo "the King of Lip Service" - because many of his statements were seen as differing from reality - rectorate was quick summon the students. The same repression was used last year when the UI BEM held a discussion titled #PapuanlivesMatter: Judicial Racism in Papua. The rector immediately claimed that this discussion was inappropriate and in breach of university regulations.

    In response, students have to point out that campuses should always provide a space for academic freedom. University have a moral responsibility to criticize mistakes in governmnt policies. Campuses should not be bowing down to the authorities.

    The phenomenon of rectors becoming governmnt hirelings has also occurred in other campuses. When students in large numbers opposd the revision to the Corruption Eradication Commission Law in 2019, for example, at least five rectors threatened their students with suspension if they joins the demmonstration. The rectors issued these reprimands after an appeal from the minister of research, technology, and higher education.

    No less concerning is the fact that this subservience towards the authorities has now permeated adacemics' way of thinking. Some lecturers have, for example, stated that the responsibility of a campus is not to criticize the government, but to provide 'contructing inputs'.

    Unfortunately, a growing number of lecturers adopt this wrong way of thinking. Their idea of a proper protest is in line with Jokowi's opinion about criticism. The president said that criticism must be conveyed in an orderly and polite way.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine