By Musfirah Hasan
Despite being his student I was nervous when I set my foot into the office of this very distinguished academician for an interview session with him. Prof. Datuk Sri Dr. Syed Arabi Idid greeted me warmly as he led me to the guest area of his office.
I shot my first question enquiring why he is so passionate about research. The answer was unexpected. “I keep doing research because I have nothing to do,” he quipped.
While everyone else indulges in horse-riding or painting the former IIUM Rector is doing research after research. According to him, every research is challenging as you are taking a subject in a new direction. Currently the professor is working on a research about the deception and performance of media.
“Those years when I was conducting research were very interesting. I look forward to a few more years before I really retire,” and that demonstrates the 71-year-old professor’s passion for his ‘hobby.’
Prof. Syed Arabi started his research when he first became a lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), a research-oriented university. Prior to embarking on an academic life, Syed Arabi was a reporter for the national news agency (BERNAMA) from 1968 until 1971.
At UKM he was appointed Communication Department head and later the Deputy Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty. In 1999, Syed Arabi joined IIUM as a professor at the Communication Department before becoming the Dean of the Research Management Centre in 2001 and finally the fourth Rector of IIUM for five years from 2006.
With such a resume one can easily get struck by awe listening to him especially when he displayed such an easy-going personality. But such a mannerism also put one at ease. One of my lecturers once said if students are close with the professor they can borrow his books because he has tonnes of books and research materials in his collection.
The large book rack in the room is testimony to this and they were filled with numerous books especially on public relations. The professor revealed that the book rack in his house is even bigger! One can just imagine the number of books he owns and it certainly reflects the man’s vast knowledge.
“Reading books and journals really occupies a lot of my time. But when flying, I would read English novels,” he said in response to my question about the books he prefers. Prof. Syed Arabi also likes to travel with his students. The latest was a field trip to conduct a research at the Perupok Village in Bachok, Kelantan.
It is understandable that the professor has had a large number of students, most of whom have become very successful in their undertakings. Some of the students even became his colleagues later on when they joined the academia, including IIUM Communication Department lecturer Mazni Buyong.
Prof. Syed Arabi revealed that he still keeps in touch with his former students and sometimes they meet up for dinner. He is also close with some of his former schoolmates back in his hometown in Sungai Petani, Kedah. In fact, they would be meeting soon to celebrate an anniversary.
My wondering eyes noticed something interesting. In line with the sofa I was sitting on was a small table displaying lots of antique spectacles of various designs. Apparently the professor changes his spectacles every two years! When asked if he is a collector, he laughed and said that he keeps them because he does not know where to throw them.
Concluding the interview the professor has this to say: “The good thing about research is that it will keep stimulating our thinking process. Most people in the academia undertake research, including teachers. That’s why I always take my students to many places to conduct research as part of learning experiences.” ***