When parents enroll their children at school or university, they place a lot of faith and trust in the institution to take care of their children’s well-being and safety.
When S. Vinosiny, an accounting student at Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) in Sintok, Kedah, traveled back to her campus on May 14, little did her family realize that the drive would be the last time they would be together.
A week later, Vinosiny was dead.
The 20-year-old was suspected to have died from an electric shock in her room.
Could Vinosiny’s death have been prevented? Was the university negligent as has been alleged? Will a proper and transparent investigation into the circumstances leading to her death be shared publicly?
On the day she died, her devastated parents received a telephone call from the university management to inform them that Vinosiny had fallen and become unconscious.
First. Why did they tell her father V. Sivakumar that his daughter had fallen? If the news reports are to be believed, Vinosiny had been electrocuted. Being electrocuted and having sustained a fall are two different things!
Second. Why did the university management tell him that she was unconscious? They lied. Vinosiny had already died by then.
Third. The university management committed something unforgivable. They gave her father false hope that she would get better.
An unconscious person, depending on the severity of the state of unconsciousness, may come out of their coma, and with appropriate treatment be on the road to recovery.
Fourth. If the university management lacked details about Vinosiny’s death, then they should have acted more responsibly and attempted to find out how she had died first before informing her parents.
It is morally wrong to giver her parents the wrong information.
One can only imagine the shock experienced by Vinosiny’s father being told his daughter had died.
This begs the question why the university was reluctant to tell the truth in the first place. Are they hiding something? Are they fearful that the university had possibly contributed towards Vinosiny’s death?
We may not necessarily read a possible cover-up when the management was deliberately vague about how she died and had failed to tell Vinosiny’s parents about her being electrocuted.
However, our suspicions are further aroused when the university warned the students they were not allowed to discuss, speak publicly, organize or attend any event related to Vinosiny’s death.
Disciplinary action would be taken against any student who violated the ban.
These over-the-top reactions suggest that the university was in panic mode. Were they afraid that the truth would come out? All these lend suspicion to the fact that the university must be trying to hide something.
When UUM students were warned, the whole nation reacted with disgust at the university’s patronizing and uncaring attitude towards the students. The rakyat vented their anger on social media.
The next thing we knew was that the Vice chancellor (VC) and eight university management officers, including the principal of the students’ hostel, Inapsis Sime Darby, had traveled to Klang to meet Vinosiny’s parents. The meeting lasted around 40 minutes.
A delegation of this size to travel south and meet Vinosiny’s parents shows how serious the situation has developed.
The VC only has himself to blame. The university should not have been so cagey and overbearing towards her parents about the circumstances surrounding her death. This trip was an exercise in damage limitation control.
For many years, university students, not just in UUM, have expressed dissatisfaction with the lackadaisical attitude in responding to their requests to maintain the facilities on campus.
The previous major incident about the university’s poor maintenance culture was a fire that broke out in a Universiti Malaya residential college on May 15.
The students allege that the university had failed to respond to repeated requests to repair a faulty fan. Their failure to act promptly caused a fire in the fan.
The university was lucky that no deaths had occurred.
It is not just universities which are negligent. Throughout Malaysia, we have a poor maintenance culture and we simply replace damaged items without bothering to find out why the items have become faulty.
Our authorities lack the curiosity to learn from mistakes that have been made, so much so that when things go wrong, fires break out, as in Universiti Malaya’s case.
So, could Vinosiny’s death have been prevented? If we dig deeper, will we find serious flaws in the management and maintenance of university buildings?
Is it a lack of skilled and qualified maintenance staff? Is it poor and shoddy goods being provided for students’ use? Is it a lack of funds? What is the budget allocation for maintenance of the facilities and equipment on campus?
Has corruption siphoned money into the black hole of Malaysia instead of the funds being spent on providing safe and functioning facilities?
If only the university had been forthcoming about Vinosiny’s death.
Now, the management faces a lawsuit for their arrogance, negligence and lack of compassion.
Lessons learned from Vinosiny’s death can be used to improve the safety of other students.
- Malaysiakini: UUM student dies in hostel, father demands answers
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)