Universities And Universalities - Some Healthy Challenges

Keynote Address by Dato' (Dr.) Anwar Fazal at the Opening Ceremony of the International Conference on Healthy Universities, at University Sains Malaysia Penang, Malaysia on 21st November 2005.

"The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because it is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." John W. Gardner, "Quality in Higher Education" in Current Issues in Higher Education, 1958.

Let me begin with a story.

Ten years ago my daughter went to a well known University situated around what is the showcase political and economic valley of Malaysia where "super duper" projects are transforming the landscape. The room she was allocated was a filthy mess untouched because of the holidays and the surrounding grounds were even filthier and breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria. The students were as part of their orientation made to clean up the grounds. My daughter got sick and developed high fever and visited the clinic. The waiting room for students was pathetic - old wooden benches and chairs while for the staff there was a VIP lounge with fancy decorated furniture! We quickly took my daughter to a clinic in Kuala Lumpur that night as her condition worsened. The clinic did a blood test and the doctor confirmed she had the dreaded "dengue" - She spent 10 days in hospital recovering!

The next year because of the deplorable crowded accommodation we got her a terrace house in a small township next to the campus. The drains of the place had been clogged and had not been cleaned for months. I decided I didn't want dengue again so I personally cleaned the some 100 metres of one of the filthiest drains I have seen. As I was opposite one of the other homes, I was scolded by the occupant for not cleaning the drain more often - he thought I was the Municipal drain sweeper!

Such has been the state of health matters in many places.

Since it was World Toilet Day on November 19, just look at our toilets and get a rapid appraisal of our health context. I normally use a quick 2 point rapid appraisal system for institutions - The "2 L" system - I check their Libraries and Loos and I can assess "both ends" of the institution quickly and fairly accurately. If they cannot manage these two, their learning nor their lifecycle will be high on the Mediocrity Index, however hard they may try to gloss it over with fancy words, ceremonies and facelifts!

A sad state of affairs is the reality of many of our institutions locally and globally.

The Reality

Today's reality is also a very cruel world.

We have a global politics that's dominated by hypocrisy and double standards.

We have a global environment that is dominated by the evil forces of destruction and it is in critical state.

We have a global economy that is dominated by greed and speculation and has been described as a "global casino".

And this century saw 200 million deaths just from wars between nations - one person dies every 40 seconds from suicide; every 60 seconds someone is murdered and every 100 seconds one person dies in war, the victims mostly civilians!

There is a worldwide struggle by good people to strengthen civil society to fight against the kind of violence, manipulation and waste that dominates the global system.
The good people seek a world that promotes balance and harmony and fosters the idea of trusteeship of our planet. They seek accountability - politically through good governance, legally through just laws and practices, and spiritually through our beliefs.

The cycle of making a difference in any community endeavour involves five things:

  • Feelings - they come from concern, anger and hope
  • Words - the articulation of those feelings in words and systems that can be communicated
  • Action - words must be translated into activities and measures - the talk must be walked and indicators developed
  • Change - the mission is realized
  • Vigilance - achievement can be lost if there is no constant attention to ensuring that changes continue to be in place and are renewed and strengthened

Nowhere is this "virtuous cycle" more significant than when it relates to heath issues. The wealth of nations is ultimately about the health of nations. The wealth of people is ultimately measured by the health or people. And health must be defied in all its dimensions - physical, mental and social, and where people's Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is balanced with Emotional Quotient (EQ) and also Spiritual Quotient (SQ). You can also check the Governance Quotient (GQ), Business Quotient (BQ), Cultural Quotient (CQ) and Health both (personal and environment) Quotient (HQ).

If an inter- planetary commission visited the planet earth to review what we have achieved in health, they would be greatly disappointed. Over two decades have passed when the world issued the Alma Alta Declaration with the goal Health for All by the year 2000. The world had miserably failed to turn this vision into a reality. Instead, the world continues to be wrecked by violence, manipulation and waste while globalization, liberalization and privatization (the "GLP" virus) are spread by powerful global organizations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Bank.

The global "Health Divide" is shocking, even criminal. Disease and ill health abound while access remains abysmally poor. The power of those hungry for profits seem to grow. Whether it is access to medicines for AIDS or continued systematic subversion of breastfeeding, it must be countered even more forcefully, intelligently and comprehensively by civil society and by our Universities.

What can Universities do?

The Challenge

The Universities should be at the vanguard of this transformation struggle and there is no word, no base no central starting point more critical than health - health defined in the full and holistic sense - physical, mental, social, cultural and even political.

Talking about "Healthy Universities" is helped perhaps by describing what is a "sick" university. Let me provide you with several ideas.

  • A "sick" university is a sign of a sick civilization and vice versa.
  • A university is sick that is not socially just, ecologically sustainable, popular participatory and culturally vibrant i.e. it has the poor record on The "Panchasila" (Five Principles") Index of Good Governance.
  • A "Health Checklist" would include sickness statistics relating to both work and study, air, water and soil quality, garbage and sanitation, housing, access and mobility, stress and violence. A good index would be to build an indicator system similar to our personal health systems (we can even check up on "body burdens", even sperm counts); and also use the kind of indicators done by Healthy Cities and The Ecological Footprints Movement.

The Healthy Community Movement

We already have a global framework supported by the United Nations through the World Health Organisation (WHO) that demonstrates the kind of proactive, holistic and deep thinking that is necessary for having healthy students and staff, a healthy campus and healthy universities.

This is a movement that is rooted now in many parts of the world successfully. It is called the Healthy Cities Movement and operating in over a thousand cities all over the world.

It has its roots in 'The Ottawa Charter of Health'

The pre-requisites for health as laid out in the Ottawa Charter are:

  1. Peace
  2. Shelter
  3. Education
  4. Food
  5. Income
  6. Stable ecosystem
  7. Sustainable resources
  8. Social justice
  9. Equity

The Healthy Cities project views cities as complex organisms that are living, breathing, growing and constantly changing. A healthy city is one that improves its environment and expands it resources so that people can support each other in achieving their highest potential. So should it be with Universities

A Healthy City is described as one that strives to provide eleven things:

  1. A clean, safe physical environment of high quality (including housing quality);
  2. An ecosystem that is stable now and sustainable in the long term;
  3. A strong, mutually supportive and non-exploitive community;
  4. A high degree of participation and control by the public over the decision affecting their lives, health and well-being;
  5. The meeting of basic needs (for food, water, shelter, income, safety and work) for all the city's people;
  6. Access to a wide variety of experiences and resources, with the chance for a wide variety of contact, interactions and communication;
  7. A diverse, vital and innovative city economy;
  8. The encouragement of connectedness with the past, with the cultural an biological heritage of city dwellers and with other groups and individuals;
  9. A form that is compatible with and enhances the preceding characteristics;
  10. An optimum level of appropriate public health and sick care services accessible to all; and
  11. High health status (high levels of positive health and low levels of disease).

These principles can form the core of our work to promote healthy universities

An Action Agenda

I propose we build on the above and the creative work done by USM and that we launch at this meeting "The Asian Healthy Universities Initiative (TAHUI)" - a light, participatory action oriented framework for moving the Healthy Universities movement forward. I like to share with you what I consider could be the "working principles" of this initiative and I will happy to discuss any of the points more fully.

I would like also to share with you two publications - "Healthy Documents" the best resource on all the major health related documents, and "99 Ways to Make Peace" which could be a model for a "99 Ways for a Healthy Campus".


A healthy future is only going to ensured if we look at the roots of the culture of violence, manipulation that pervades our world today.

It can only be ensured if we take a proactive, holistic and deep approach to it, both locally and globally.

It can be only ensured if we build leadership locally and globally that cares and shares.

It can be built if we rebuild 'the community spirit'. Everywhere there is terrible destruction of community, of caring, of fellowship, of tolerance and respect!

We have to move from the 'axis' of evil, of violence, manipulation and waste to the 'Triangle of Hope' where we have as our vision:

  • balance and harmony;
  • stewardship and trusteeship; and
  • accountability now and to the future for many of us, the Almighty.

The future is in our universities. That is where both good and evil will accumulate and collide. If we don't get our universities right, we don't have a future based of human security and sustainable development.

I would like to share with you a quote about real and meaningful health from the late Robert Kennedy who was tragically killed while campaigning for the Presidency of the United States of America:

"Gross National Product means neither the health of our children, the quality of the education, nor of the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, not the strength of our marriages. It is the indifference to the decency of our factories ad safety of our streets alike. It measures neither wisdom, nor our learning, neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our compassion, nor our devotion to country, It measures in short, all except that which makes life worth living, and it can tell us everything about our country except those things that make us proud to be a part of it."

A Healthy University must not forget that!

I look forward to working with you in the journey to make The Asian Healthy Universities Initiative a reality, and in this spirit and passion, I declare this conference open.

Thank you

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