Keratan Akhbar


Gutzy Asia
Esteemed political scientist Professor Emeritus Dato’ K.J.Ratnam passes away
By Yee Loon | 12 March 2024

Malaysia’s academic community mourns the loss of Professor Emeritus Dato’ K.J. Ratnam, Foundation Dean at USM’s School of Comparative Social Sciences and ex-Dean at the University of Singapore’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

 KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s academic community is mourning the demise of Professor Emeritus Dato’ K.J. Ratnam, who passed away on Sunday (10 March).

Prof Ratnam, a distinguished political scientist and analyst specializing in Malaysian politics and ethnic relations, leaves behind a legacy of numerous publications encompassing topics such as race relations, social science development, political sociology, education, R&D planning, and science and technology policy.

According to a poignant email shared within civil society circles, Prof Ratnam’s son, Kayan Ratnam, revealed that his father passed away on the night of 10 March in Kuala Lumpur.

“His pulse had been quite weak for the last few days,” Mr Kayan shared, “We had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for Monday but it wasn’t to be. ”

He recounted that his father was seated at the dining table, engrossed in reading on his computer when he suddenly slumped over.

“Our nurse found him like that and was unable to revive him, I arrived soon after with the ambulance but nothing could be done.”

Mr Kayan mentioned that his father passed away “doing something that gave him joy throughout life.”

Reportedly, Prof Ratnam had explicitly requested no religious rites and preferred a swift cremation.

Gutzy Asia had written to Prof Ratnam’s son to seek further details about the passing of his father.

Colleagues in Malaysia’s academic community lauded Prof Ratnam as a great and highly principled scholar.

Mohamad Abdullah, Deputy Registrar at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), shared the news on Facebook with a heavy heart, stating that the university “has lost another prominent figure, a great and respected thinker in political science, who made significant contributions to the intellectual world.”

Prof Ratnam’s prolific research across varied disciplines

Professor Emeritus Dato’ K.J. Ratnam is a political scientist who received his higher education at the University of Malaya (B.A. 1956), the University of British Columbia (M.A. 1958) and the London School of Economics (Ph.D. 1960).

Before his tenure as the Foundation Dean of the School of Comparative Social Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia (formerly the University of Penang) in 1970, he served as a Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Singapore (NUS).

Throughout his academic career, Prof. Ratnam held various significant roles, including Director of the Centre for Policy Research, Dean of Graduate Studies, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Development.

In recognition of his contributions, he was honoured with the title of Professor Emeritus in 1993.

An active researcher, Professor Emeritus Dato’ K.J. Ratnam extensively published works covering diverse subjects such as Malaysian politics, race relations, social science development, political sociology, education, R&D planning, and science and technology policy.

In January 2003, he assumed the prestigious Tuanku Chancellor Chair of Science and Technology Policy and Development at the University.

The Centre for Policy Research of USM expressed their condolences on Monday, sharing a message on its official Facebook page.

Departure from NUS

In a 1971 New York Times article, it was reported that Prof. K. J. Ratnam relinquished his departmental chairmanship and accepted a position in Penang.

“Before his departure, he is said to have told friends that he was unhappy with what he considered to be unwarranted Government interference in university affairs,” the report wrote.

During that period, the report highlighted criticisms from various government leaders, including then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who expressed concerns about “birds of passage.” These individuals were accused of imparting disruptive values to Singapore’s university students.

In a private conversation with faculty members, the late Lee Kuan Yew reportedly exempted the American professor of philosophy from his criticism of foreign staff members, emphasizing that he would not tolerate criticism of his government’s policies from teachers he considered “birds of passage.”

At the time, a spokesperson from the National University of Singapore (NUS) denied any significant exodus of foreign professors.

The spokesperson pointed out that despite nine faculty resignations in 1970, the university had hired 24 new foreign teachers. Additionally, the university’s faculty had increased from 280 members in 1968 to 316 in 1971.

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