UTM’s ‘Pan-religious’ Cancellation of Art and Dance Talk— Prohibition of Cultural Interactions Compromises Academic Freedom

Statement Released by Dong Zong

June 14, 2021

UTM’s ‘Pan-religious’ Cancellation of Art and Dance Talk—

Prohibition of Cultural Interactions Compromises Academic Freedom


Dong Zong strongly opposes Universiti Teknologi Malaysia for categorising an online art talk to be delivered by Sutra Dancer Datuk Ramli Ibrahim as ‘pan-religious’. As the incident uncovered, UTM provisionally cancelled the said online talk at the behest of the Islamic Centre. Dong Zong believes, this move not only compromises academic freedom as it forbids cross cultural interaction, but is also unhelpful to the mutual communication and understanding of a pluralistic society.

We know that Datuk Ramli Ibrahim is a world-renowned Sutra dancer. All these years, he has been proactively promoting Sutra dance and intercultural interaction. Unfortunately, taking the content of the talk as sensitive thus may generate tension as an excuse, UTM intentionally smeared the talk as pan-religious to forbid intercultural interaction. We are convinced, if the university continues to practice arrogance of power and suppress art and culture activities consistently, cases alike will continue. This over-reacting response on politics, religion and race if left unchecked will lead the society to a blind alley of ideological rhetoric and undermine the advancement of national higher education.

Statistics show, Malaysian universities are ranked unfavourably and their adherence to academic freedom is at a critical state. Academic ills beset and are getting worse each day as reported on news and similar prohibition cases were heard sporadically; in fact, the general public has arrived at a worrying conclusion for the quality of academic freedom and education in local universities. We reckon, the progress of a university relies on the breakaway from bureaucratic shackles and should not be dominated by aggressive administration. The school authority of UTM needs to uphold academic freedom, be compassionate towards otherness and should not willfully embrace religious ideology at the expense of campus autonomy and freedom of teaching.

The cornerstone for higher education is academic freedom. Without the capacity of academic freedom is like the inability to express one’s view to the fullest within the ivory tower. The learning right of students and the advancement of society will be compromised thus sacrificing the garner of human knowledge and civilisation. We strongly believe, tertiary education stands on the subjectivity of education and hope that all walks of life and organisations at large should not remain silent on this matter; rather, they need to stand out and oppose pan-religious rhetoric while echoing academic freedom. We believe, a university short of independent thinking and academic freedom cannot produce the best minds and certainly cannot accord with first-ranked universities across the globe.