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Satya Wacana University: an expensive lesson

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Budi Kurniawan

The problems at Satya Wacana Christian University (UKSW) emerged again recently after several judicial rulings that the university's decision to expel Dr Arief Budiman was invalid. First the industrial arbitration commission P4P, which must approve retrenchments, refused to approve Arief's expulsion and required the university board to pay part of his back salary for six months. A few days later an appeals court in Surabaya confirmed an earlier decision by the State Administrative Court that the expulsion was illegal. Arief says he is prepared to teach at UKSW again. But the board's legal advisors have said the board does not feel compelled to abide by the court's decision.


The crisis at UKSW was triggered when the university board dismissed Arief Budiman dishonourably in late 1994. But the root of the problem goes back to the campus-wide elections for the university's fourth rector in 1993. After the elections a group arose questioning their validity. Naming itself the Group of Ten, it claimed to represent ten academic departments at the university. The group included prominent names such as Dr Arief Budiman, Dr Ariel Heryanto, Dr Ferryanto and Dr Nico L Kana, and it drew considerable sympathy from other staff and students.

However, that was not enough to change the situation. Indeed the campus community was divided on the question. Dr George Aditjondro did not support the Group of Ten and wanted to know what the difference was between the Group and Arief Budiman, thus suggesting it did not represent the majority. Most students actually cared little at that time. Arief continued to write articles about what he said was the undemocratic nature of the rectorial election. The university board thought Arief was the soul of the Group and felt that by expelling him resistance would cease.


It turned out they were wrong. When Arief Budiman's dismissal was announced on 24 October 1994 the whole campus community drew together in protest. Staff and students held demonstrations and strikes on a big scale. UKSW was paralysed. Those who had long opposed the new rector and the board joined those who had remained impartial and formed the Pro-Democracy Group (KPD). No less than 109 of the approximately 300 academic staff went on strike. Much sympathy for Arief flowed in from elsewhere in Indonesia and also from overseas. Yet the chairman of the university board, Prof Haryono Semangun, remained defiant. Arief's dismissal would not be reviewed, he told newspapers.

As the demonstrations and strikes would not subside, former Finance Minister Radius Prawiro became involved as negotiator. He is an honorary member of the university board. Over two days in November 1994 the two sides to the conflict came together at a mountain resort in Kaliurang. There, thanks to Radius Prawiro, the Kaliurang Agreement was hammered out. KPD accepted the agreement because it provided for the formation of a presidium that would gradually take over from the rector and hold fresh elections. The situation on the campus returned to normal. The demonstrations ceased and lectures recommenced.


However, the Haryono Semangun side felt the agreement disadvantaged them too much. The following week they rejected it, even though this meant publicly embarrassing Radius Prawiro as its moderator. They said the idea of a presidium did not occur in the university's constitution.

As a result, the crisis that had begun to recede flared up once more. KPD staff and students again went on strike. Eleven of the 21 academic departments issued a motion of no confidence in the university leadership. The board retaliated by stopping the salaries of staff within KPD.

There were a number of other peacemaking efforts. But the board never seriously attempted to implement the agreement that had been reached. It refused to pay the salaries even of KPD staff who said they would teach again. The board executive demanded an apology from those who had been opposed to it. When finally the KPD resistance collapsed in exhaustion, many staff resigned - 52 of them, including 15 with precious PhD's. A number of lecturers not able to find a better position were forced to apologise in order to retain their job.


There are two opinions about possible government involvement in the expulsion of Arief Budiman. Some accuse the government of being behind it. Others think the board acted without government backing. The first group feel the board was emboldened to reject the Kaliurang Agreement - and to slap former cabinet minister Radius Prawiro in the face - by a 'strong man' within the government.

They find further proof in the nonchalance with which the board's legal advisors say they do not intend to abide by decisions of the court and the P4P. Government officials dislike being the object of Arief's criticism, they feel. Expelling him leaves him without a safe umbrella and will make him too busy making a living to write about human rights.

Those who do not believe in such a plot feel the government would not be so foolish as to risk its image overseas. Arief is hardly dangerous because he has no mass support. By leaving him at Satya Wacana the government can say: 'Who says Indonesia is undemocratic? Look at the freedom Arief Budiman has to speak his mind'. And Arief won his case at the court and at P4P, even if elsewhere the government often interferes in the judicial system.

Indeed, the State Administrative Court took an unusual course even accepting Arief's case for consideration, since the court is there to deal with problems between the bureaucracy and society. It thus took the private university UKSW to be a state administrative institution. Unfortunately, this particular court has no power to force compliance. Many government officials neglect its decisions, just as the board executive and the rector have done in Arief's case. As a result, the UKSW problem remains unsolved and the victims are the students whose lectures are interrupted.


UKSW is a Protestant Christian university. The position of the churches who 'own' the university by their membership of the board has become all too clear through this conflict. They are powerless to act. It is now known that the university constitution has been changed in such a way as to make the church representatives impotent.

The university is still not running well. Public esteem for this once prestigious institution has plummeted. Only 500 people had applied for admission at the end of the second intake this year. In former times there would have been thousands. For that reason the university has opened a third intake in an attempt to attract more applicants, especially those rejected by other universities.

Before this crisis, UKSW had two intakes, or sometimes only one. The Electrical Engineering Faculty used to be a top-ranking unit on the national level, but this year it had only about 60 applicants after the second intake. Of that number, 50 were admitted while seven were placed in reserve. So only 3 applicants were rejected. In previous years the ratio of applicants to those admitted in engineering was between 3:1 and 6:1. In mid-1994 the number admitted to the faculty was about 150.

The academic threshold for admission has been reduced. In the past those who did not score at least 70% in the engineering entrance exam in English were assigned to remedial classes. This year the highest English score was only 79%. At the Science and Mathematics Faculty some applicants who got only 10% in the entrance exam in Maths were still admitted.

In electrical engineering so many lecturers have left that classes are taught by new graduates or even by senior students on contract. If once UKSW students came from all over Indonesia, including from Jakarta, now they come mostly from the town of Salatiga and its local environs. Not only potential students have a reduced regard for the university. Several prominent speakers have refused to come and address seminars at UKSW in protest at the curtailment of academic freedom there.

It looks as if the end of this crisis has been too expensive for UKSW.

Budi Kurniawan recently graduated in electrical engineering from UKSW. He is now an editor at Gramedia book publishers in Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 48: Oct-Dec 1996

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