Newly appointed Universiti Malaya (UM) director Danesh Raj Nagarajan has hit back at criticism surrounding his appointment to the board of directors.
The 26-year-old, who was appointed on Oct 4, cited his strong participation in the UM student body during his time studying there as one of the reasons he felt he was chosen.
“The Higher Education Minister (Noraini Ahmad) wanted someone young to be on the board.
“They needed someone to bridge the gap between the alumni and the students, to understand what is going on in the campus,” Danesh told Malaysiakini.
When he was a student at the university, Danesh was involved in a number of student societies.
He claimed that one of his biggest achievements was organising the country’s first university-based food pantry called Food Pantry Sekretariat Presiden Kolej Universiti Malaya (Send Free Food to Poor Students on Campus).
UM has a board of directors comprising 11 members including former Securities Commission chairperson Zarinah Anwar and deputy director-general of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) Johan Mahmood Merican, who was previously TalentCorp chief executive officer.
The board of directors help with the administration of the country's oldest university.
Not linked to politics
According to Danesh, his appointment has nothing to do with his boss, Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said. He works as a media officer at her office.
The former Perdana Fellow said Azalina was equally surprised by his appointment to their alma mater’s board of directors.
Yesterday, Azalina’s office also issued a statement denying that the Pengerang MP had pulled strings for Danesh.
Her office said Azalina didn’t know about the appointment until it happened.
“This office wishes to inform that not only Azalina was not involved, the appointment was not even in her knowledge at all. She only learned about it on Oct 5 when UM's congratulations poster was shared and gone viral via Whatsapp,” it said.
Danesh has also been accused of being a MIC Youth member but he clarified that he only engaged with Putera MIC because of his student activism work while studying at UM.
He said that he did not have any positions in MIC but did some paid work for the party.
Noraini defended his appointment to the board in a parliamentary reply on Oct 5, saying it was based on Danesh's involvement in the university's alumni.
“This is the best time for us to give opportunities to the youth and their roles in public higher institutions of learning,” she told the Dewan Rakyat.
However, critics such as the Malaysia Academic Movement (Gerak) said this seems to be another political appointee after Umno’s Rosnah Abd Rashid Shirlin, who was deputy works minister, was appointed to the UM board in May 2020.
Noraini was reappointed to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaacob’s cabinet with the same higher education portfolio after she resigned from Muhyiddin Yassin’s government.
Danesh said that he is not discouraged by the criticism as it was all based on “face value” assumptions on factors such as his age and his performing arts background.
He said as a board director, he will look into measures to boost the employability of UM graduates and play a check-and-balance role within the university’s management.