Based on the true story of the oldest and most prestigious university of the country, celebrated thinker and author Ahmed Sofa penned an outstanding satirical novel Gabhi Bittanto which shows that how a reputed and much-loved institution turns into a hub of opportunists and spineless persons due to the inefficiency and absurd attitude of its vice-chancellor Miyan Muhammad Abu Junaid. This renowned political allegory also unveils the ugly part of the complex public university teachers’ politics of our country. Sofa started writing this exceptional novel in December 1994 and finished it in February 1995. Since then 24 years have gone, but the situation of our public university hasn’t improved at all rather things have deteriorated. The number of public universities has increased to a great extent and with that the ill practice of nasty teachers’ politics and culture of abuse of power and corruption by the VCs have also spread and infected new institutions. Still the public universities of Bangladesh are full of vice-chancellors like Miyan Muhammad Abu Junaid. Thus the national dailies, online news portals and news channels often get flooded by the reports of unbelievable stories of favouritism, irregularities, graft and jobbery by them. Their greedy approach and flattering mindset have wiped out the respect that the mass people once used to feel from their hearts regarding the higher educational institutions of our country.
There are 46 public universities in Bangladesh. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has formed separate probe committee to conduct inquiries against at least 14 vice-chancellors of these universities on the basis of specific accusations. University of Dhaka’s vice-chancellor Dr. Md. Akhtaruzzaman recommended illegally for enrolling 34 Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) leaders to the Banking and Insurance Department ahead of the DUCSU election so that they could take part in the poll. Vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University Farzana Islam has allegedly handed Tk 2 crore to JU Chhatra League as the first installment to make the process smooth for the mega development project of Tk 1445 crore. According to media reports, her husband and son are involved with one of the construction companies that bagged the contract.Apart from them, separate investigations are going on against National University VC Dr. Harun-or-Rashid, Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University VC Dr. Md. Alauddin, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology VC Dr. Farid Uddin Ahmed, Pabna University of Science and Technology VC Dr. M Rostom Ali, Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University VC Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed, Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University VC Dr. M Abul Kashem, Sylhet Agricultural University VC Dr. Md. Matiar Rahman Howlader and Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University VC Dr. AHM Mustafizur Rahman as they are accused of irregularities and nepotism in recruitment and promotion of teachers and employees, corruption in implementing development projects, flouting university rules and establishing autocratic system in taking decisions and other professional misconducts. Allegations submitted against Begum Rokeya University VC Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Kalim Ullah are different. He is holding 12 different administrative posts including the post of treasurer. His irregularities, abuse of power and frequent absence from the office have broken the chain of command in the university.
Along with all other accusations allegations of sexual harassment was brought against Islamic Arabic University VC Dr. Muhammad Ahsan Ullah and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib University of Science and Technology VC Dr. Khondoker Md Nasiruddin. However, following an inquiry conducted by a five-member UGC probe committee Khondoker Md Nasiruddin resigned on September 30. Besides, the apex body of all public, private and international universities is also investigating the accusations against immediate past VC of Noakhali Science and Technology University Dr. M Wahiduzzaman, immediate past VC of Chittagong University Dr. Iftekhar Uddin Chowdhury, immediate past VC of Barisal University Dr. SM Imamul Haque and immediate past VC of Jessore University of Science and Technology Dr. Md Abdus Sattar. Earlier, UGC never had to conduct investigation against so many public university vice-chancellors at a time.
This clearly indicates to the sorry state of tertiary education in Bangladesh. It also brings a few questions before all. What has happened to the public university vice- chancellors? Why are they getting involved in unethical activities? Does our country have adequate number of honest and efficient academicians to lead so many public universities? These questions must be addressed by the policymakers. Well, since achieving independence a total of 64 professors have performed as vice-chancellors in 4 autonomous public universities (University of Dhaka, University of Chittagong, University of Rajshahi and Jahangirnagar University) of the country. Unfortunately most of them were unelected. When the autonomous universities cannot choose their own vice-chancellors, then the government has no reason to be liberal while appointing vice-chancellors in other universities of the country. In the name of the chancellor they select their favourite professors for taking the responsibilities of vice-chancellors in all the public universities.
It is expected that the universities will select distinguished professors as their vice-chancellors who will lead them to play the role of lighthouse and guide the society into the right direction by practicing ethics, nurturing values and developing dignified individuals. But the governments find that the public universities are the places from where a movement can spark anytime and pose serious threat to the regime. Thus they always search for loyal professors who can serve their interests in the university campuses. And in the process they appoint vice-chancellors who have long history of supporting their political party without prioritising their leadership quality and academic credentials. As these vice-chancellors get appointment based on political considerations, they start thinking that they can do whatever they like and consequently operate all sorts of unethical activities abusing their power.
Albeit there are a very few exceptions, in most of the cases front-row teacher leaders of the top university are appointed as the vice-chancellors of the new universities outside Dhaka. They take it as the reward for their long service and loyalty. Immediately after joining the new workplace they look for the teacher leaders who will remain loyal to them. And of course, they develop a good relationship with the leaders of the student wing of ruling party. Making most of the influential quarters compromised they establish a reign of irregularities in the university campuses. Especially, vice-chancellors of the newly established universities need to recruit a lot of teachers and staffs to run their institutions smoothly. But in so many cases it is found that the VCs have involved themselves in corrupt activities while employing new teachers and staffs.
We have seen that a good number of vice-chancellors have embraced the legacy of corruption created by their predecessors. This has happened as despite their limitless corruption and irregularities, no public university VC has been made accountable and responsible for his/her deeds till date. And even when serious graft charges were filed against them with convincing evidence, vice-chancellors were only removed from their post but no legal action was taken against them. In 2016, a Transparency International, Bangladesh report talked about the involvement of vice-chancellors in unauthorised financial transactions in 8 public universities. The report also blamed VCs of 13 public universities for promoting political patronage, nepotism, regionalism and religious discrimination while recruiting teachers and staffs. In September of that year, the UGC launched an investigation against 6 vice-chancellors, but all their suggestions were ignored by the ministry of education. The Anti-Corruption Commission also decided to bring the widespread corruption by VCs in public universities under its scrutiny, but all their efforts are limited to talking about investigation as no update has been provided since then.Needless to say, nothing but the strong political connection of the corrupt VCs has saved them every time from punishment. And when the government has remained silent about corruption charges against one vice-chancellor, it has encouraged others to abuse their power and position. Another strange thing is that though the government has established UGC, it has kept it powerless. The apex body of higher education institutions can only do its inquiry and send recommendations to the ministry of education but can’t take any action against the perpetrators. UGC even has no way to monitor whether the recommendations sent by them to the ministry are implemented or not. The commission receives many complaints every day but they cannot conduct investigation in time due to lack of manpower and other technical problems. And this is where bureaucracy takes advantage of the situation and continues dominating the public universities.
There has been an uproar regarding the establishment of a higher education commission to monitor and guide the tertiary education sector of the country. But it is yet to be implemented. The policymakers related to the education sector should give it a second thought and develop a system involving the educationists to find out a way for appointing honest and efficient professors as the vice-chancellors in the public universities. They should not forget that if the brain doesn’t function properly, other organs of the body will surely fail as well.