Professor John Lent was appointed as the Coordinator of USM's fledgling programme in 1972 and dived into frantic months of developing and teaching the courses as student numbers increased, making communication one of the most popular courses in the School of Humanities.
He recalled those busy and exciting early days of the programme: "It was not unusual to spend 16 hours in the classroom weekly .... Every day’s work began early and ended late and we were on campus at least half day on Saturdays. But, despite this workload, the whole experience was exciting and productive, and without a doubt, those 19 or 20 months were among the most pleasurable of my 51-year teaching career."
John Lent's efforts, combined with the hard work of a handful of his colleagues from those early days, quickly built an impressive programme and developed an illustrious class of pioneering Malaysian communicators. He recalled:
"The new curriculum was one to be proud of, even surpassing many longer-established undergraduate programs in the United States in its scope, rigor, and depth. The courses were oriented toward both research/theory and practice and were interdisciplinary in nature. They revolved around communication skills, humanistic approaches to communication, and development and international communication. The latter were especially appropriate at the time with Asian governments’ and NGOs’ emphasis on using communication for national development purposes. Development communication was the buzzword of the day."
"Students were expected to do actual reporting and writing in simulated assignments on campus and real-world situations during their internships. We even had press cards printed for them. Third-year students were required to carry out original research, using primary resources and techniques such as historical method, content analysis, interviews, or audience and other surveys. The papers they wrote for my courses dealt with a variety of topics, and I think it necessary to mention representative ones here for there is no doubt, these were the pioneering studies of Malaysia’s mass communication. Examples were: Shirley Tan Lee Nah’s history of Penang journalism, 1911—1945; Primalani Muthucumaru’s Straits Echo history; Cheah Kim Lean and Rodziah Ahmad Tajuddin’s treatment of Malaya’s underground press, 1942—1960; Molly Mathews’ history of Malaysian broadcasting; Mohd. Naim Ismail’s work on Suara Malaysia; Parameswari’s analysis of government press releases used by five Malaysian dailies; Ismail bin Mamat’s content analysis of Straits Times and Utusan Melayu and Tuan Kamaruzaman’s similar study of Utusan Malaysia and Straits Echo; Lee Wai Keong and Venugopal’s “Research Projects on Women’s Magazines”; Lee Kim Har’s history of Kwong Wah Yit Poh, 1910—1945; Ng Seng Kang’s work on Chinese culture, language, and press; Cheok Chye Sin’s content analysis of two Chinese newspapers; Rajan Moses and C. Mathew George’s comparison of The Star and Sing Pin Jit Poh; Othman bin Haji A. Rashid’s study of Malaysian mass media during the Japanese occupation; Ainon Haji Kuntom’s history of Malay newspapers; Abdullah bin Mahmood’s content analysis of Utusan Malaysia and Utusan Melayu; Aziz Muhammed and Zainie Rahmat’s study of the Ministry of Information’s use of folk media to disseminate government policies; Bachan Kuar Gill’s survey of the Punjabi press in Malaysia; G. Parimala Devi and N. Nirmala Devi’s project on the availability, penetration, and utilization of media in a Tamil community, and Penelope Tan’s work on Malaysian films and the censor. I think a few were published and I used, with proper acknowledgement, some of the students’ findings in a series of articles and a monograph I wrote on Malaysian mass communication. I had that much confidence in the way the research was conducted."
To read John Lent's recollection of his two years in Penang devoted to developing Malaysia's first communication programme, click here.