These last few weeks have been a very bad time for my alma mater - the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Besides having a brother muslim deported to the US under dubious circumstances, IIUM's pride and glory, the English Debating Association has taken a beating in the last two national competitions. There are two possibilities for this unfortunately state of affairs: IIUM debating is on a steep decline, or the other Malaysian universities have suddenly improved. No doubt the latter is true, but a large contributing factor lies in the former.
What can be done to arrest this slide?
The National Varsities Debate (NVD), an RM18,000 competition, concluded last week. UiTM (MARA Tech. University) won this competition. Of the four teams in the Grand Finals, IIUM was not present - something that has never happened in the 4 previous years the competition has been held.
The Royal Malaysian Intervarsity Debating Championship, the most prestigious national competition which is regularly attended by members of the royalty, will conclude in the next two days. IIUM has won each of the 5 previous times this competition has been held. Prior to this year's competition, IIUM has only lost two debates (out of more than 40) in this competition. This year, as IIUM got knocked out in the preliminary rounds, it lost 3 times.
This is not to say that IIUM has a divine right to do well in either competition; UiTM did very well to win the NVD, and whoever wins the Royals will have also done equally well. But the fact that we were not even competitive is terribly worrying.
The declining performance of IIUM debating is not a new problem. For the last 2 years, it has steadily lost its once-famed competitive edge. I remember the days when a local team matched against IIUM often resigned themselves to defeat. But not anymore. And its been that way for quite some time now.
Now is really not the time to point fingers at who is to blame, although it is a normal human reaction to do so; i admit i've succumbed to the urge to look for fault in the current batch of seniors. What IIUM requires is a united front from all its members, both past and present. That will probably be the only way it'll be able to pull itself out of the current nose dive.
But, having said that, the realities of life make it impossible for some to contribute as much as others. Some of IIUM's greatest debaters are no longer able to provide their guidance: Taufik is in Australia, Burhan is in the US, Ganesh, Uzma and Sarah are too far away to help. Of those who are left, Robert, Fahda, Andrew and myself, we've moved into stages of our careers that its unfair to expect us to commit as much of our resources and energy as we once could. That leaves Latif, the grandfather of IIUM debating, but the only reason why he still does it is because its his job: he works for the university.
So, indeed as Azahan asked, upon whose shoulders does the burden of responsibility lie? Who should take the reins and pull IIUM together?
It has to be those who are still in the system, because that's all that's left, and that's always been how its done. The question is why has the system begun to fail?