An Irony at the State University
The Semarang State University punished a student who reported the rector to the Corruption Eradication Commission. A muzzling of criticism.
AT the Semarang State University, an educational irony is in plain sight. A campus that should be providing maximum possible freedom of the expression, including the right to criticize, has muzzled it. The victim of this irony is not only Frans Josua Napitu, a 2016 student from the Law Faculty, but also the future of academic freedom.
Frans has frequently expressed criticism over issues involving students and human rights. He stridently opposed to racism towards Papuans. He also took part in demonstrations demanding that the campus return half of students’ course fees because during the coronavirus pandemic they have had to study from home. On November 13, he reported Fathur Rokhman, the rector of the university, to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for alleged irregularities in the management of campus finances.
Instead of responding to the accusation from the student in a transparent way, the university leadership punished Frans. He was banned from studies for six months. He was also accused of involvement with the Free Papua Movement that “threatens the integrity of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.”
This stigmatic accusation is contrived. It is fair to suspect that the campus used it simply to stifle criticism from Frans. His report to the anti-corruption commission should enjoy legal protection because article 41 of the Corruption Eradication Law states that the public can play a role and assist in the endeavor to prevent and eradicate corruption.
The ministry of education and culture must not close its eyes to the actions of Fathur Rokhman. This is not the first time he has used a political approach to muzzle opposition. In February, he suspended Sucipto Hadi Purnomo, a lecturer in the Javanese Culture and Language Education Study Program in the Faculty of Language and Art for allegedly inciting hatred and insulting President Joko Widodo on his Facebook account. In a posting uploaded on June 10, 2019, Sucipto wrote “The income of my children has fallen drastically this lebaran (holiday). Is this the effect of Jokowi being too busy with (his grandson) Jan Ethes?”
The irony at the Semarang State University is only one of many signs of the decline in the quality of education when it comes to preserving academic freedom. A number of other state universities have stopped student activities seen as critical towards the government. Last May, Gadjah Mada University cancelled an academic discussion on the theory of overthrowing the president.
Leaders of higher education should not see people who are critical, either students or lecturers, as enemies. Campuses should be places for the growth of thought, including the freedom to question things accepted as commonly held truths.
Rectors are not political tools of the government. They must not use their positions in a personal capacity to put pressure on those in campus with differing opinions. Without freedom of thought and expression, campuses will simply become places where students obtain degree certificates. Critical students such as Frans Josua Napitu will be sidelined and their future could be under threat.
The leadership of the Semarang State University should immediately revoke the punishment imposed on Frans. The ministry of education and culture needs to intervene to ensure that students’ rights are not arbitrarily stripped away.