Monday, 30 January, 2023

Straight Talk

Thank You Mister President

  • Abdul Mannan
  • 26th November, 2022 10:16:19 PM
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Thank You Mister President

Bangladesh’s outgoing President H E Mohammad Abdul Hamid is an extraordinary person who perhaps never fails to call a spade a spade. Since  his entry into politics he has never failed to win in any national election, participated in the Liberation War, was the Speaker of the National Parliament and was elected the President of the Republic after the premature death of Mr. Zillur Rahman. Currently the President is serving his second term and as per the constitutional mandate will be completing his second term next April and will go into retirement. As per the Constitution the President of the Republic is considered the First Citizen of the country, a symbolic title given to the Heads of States of most countries of the world.  As per the Constitution the President of the Republic is the titular Head of the Republic and many would like to think his constitutional powers are limited but the President has been granted certain powers by the Constitution which may not be exercised by any other person of the country.

According to the Acts of Universities, both in the public and private sectors, the President is the Chancellor of these universities and he or his appointed person is empowered by these Acts to appoint the Vice-chancellors, Pro-vice Chancellors and Treasures of these universities. Earlier the position of the Chancellor was divided between the President and the Prime Minister of the country. Only after Sheikh Hasina formed the government in 1996 she changed the tradition and the law to appoint the President as the Chancellor. She did this   in the middle of her tenure as the Prime Minister. Even in case a person has to be appointed the acting Vice-chancellor or Vice-chancellor in-charge it is the prerogative of the Chancellor to appoint persons to such positions though this position is often violated. The Acts also specifies that the Chancellor or his nominee reserves the right to preside over the Convocation of any university, either public or private. Besides the appointment in the aforesaid positions of the universities the Chancellor also appoints the Chairman of the Bangladesh University Grants Commission and its members. However all papers for such appointments are processed through the Education Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Few days back the premium university of the country, University of Dhaka held its 53rd Convocation where the President as expected presided over this important event as the Chancellor of the University. During his address to the invited guests, teachers and students, the Chancellor narrated few bitter truths prevailing in some universities which were long overdue. Amongst other things which he said in his address was  that these days the activities of few Vice-chancellors and teachers not only embarrass him as the Chancellor but also pain him and at times he feels ashamed to read or listen to  the activities of these persons in the  public media.

The Chancellor said in clear terms about the allegations against some Vice-chancellors, how they appoint their close incompetent relatives and persons of their choice not only in academic positions but also in other positions and from their activities it seems that their primary responsibility is not steering their universities to new heights of excellence but employing incompetent persons in their universities, often breaking the backbone of their institutions. He also reminded the university teachers that some university teachers do not take teaching as their main profession. Some of them spend more time in private universities instead of spending more time in their original place of employment. Such activities of Vice-chancellors and some teachers mar the honour and dignity of the university teachers, the Chancellor reiterated.

Needless to say the Chancellor spelt out these bitter truths from his frustration as the Chancellor. In the recent times there were number of incidents where Vice-chancellors of some public universities silently left the campus in the dark of the night which surely is not something to be proud of by a person who has held the important and prestigious position as that of a Vice-chancellor. It is not something of honour when a vice-chancellor is accused and found guilty of misuse of power and corruption. These days very frequently evidences are leaked where important persons, including Vice-chancellors are heard bargaining about the money to be paid for appointment to certain posts or positions. There are also accusations of violation of purchase and tender rules to favour certain individuals or groups. The big question is how did things reach this stage? A simple answer is appointment of incompetent and inexperienced persons to some of these important positions. A Vice-chancellor is not only the academic head of a university but also is the CEO of that institution.

Taking these issues into consideration, a Vice-chancellor - whether in public or private - needs to have some degree of academic excellence and administrative experience. Unfortunately, few of the new appointees to a great extent lack these qualifications. Some of the Vice-chancellors even never held a minor post like an assistant House Tutor or an Assistant Proctor. Their academic excellence is often under scrutiny and few of them regularly misuse the university facilities for personal and family benefits. They often forget that a public university is run by public money and approximately the government spends one lakh and fifty thousand taka per student per year as recurring expenses. The figures are much higher for technical and agricultural universities. Besides the recurring expenses, millions of Taka is spent for development works. From the actions and activities of some Vice-chancellors it seems most of such Vice-chancellors seldom feel it necessary to read the concerned University Acts or the University Statutes. Many a time investigations were made to find out the truth of the allegations and when someone was found guilty as accused no action was taken against the person.

Can incompetent and corrupt appointments of Vice-chancellors be avoided? If not completely, it definitely can be minimized or even avoided if some pre-emptive measures are taken. Before appointment to such posts detailed intelligence report needs to be collected by different government agencies which does not seem to be happening. Though the Vice-chancellors are appointed by the Chancellor, it goes through a great deal of paper work in the Education Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). These processes are seldom leak proof and there are even evidences that few key persons in these offices lack commitment and professionalism. In the recent past even there were incidences where files or papers in PMO were tampered with or even went missing. Corruption is all pervasive in the education administration and it is an open secret.

This country had competent Vice-chancellors like Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, Dr. Abdul Matin Chowdhury, Dr. Fazlul Halim Chowdhury, Dr. Alamgir Mohammad Serajuddin, Dr. Mazharul Islam and quite a few others. Things began to take a down slide in 2001 when Begum Zia formed her first government. Overnight she removed twelve Vice-chancellors, Pro-Vice Chancellors and Treasurers before they completed their terms, some of whom were duly elected by the Senate. She replaced them with people of her own choice; many of them did not have either proper experience to be appointed in such positions. At least one such appointee was so impatient to join his new position that he broke open the Vice-Chancellors Office in the middle of the night so that he can sign his joining letter. When Sheikh Hasina formed her first government in 1996 she did nothing of the sort and even important appointees in important positions like the Chairman of the Public Service Commission or University Grants Commission were allowed to complete their term

Regarding the Chancellor’s allegations about some university teachers who take the primary responsibility of teaching as optional and devote more time elsewhere, more specifically teaching in private universities, are true in most of the cases. In mainstream private universities whether its own faculty member or an adjunct faculty from a public university,  it is not possible to miss a class and even in certain cases if a class is missed it has to be rescheduled on another day. But in public universities there are a sizeable number of teachers who throughout the semester seldom takes their classes and only towards the end of the semester the concerned faculty ‘finishes’ the course in a day or two. Such activities not only deprive their students of proper learning but at the same time they virtually kill many potential talents.

Honourable Chancellor by speaking out some of the bitter truths about prevailing culture in some of our universities has done his sacred duty. The nation would be grateful if as a Chancellor he directs the concerned people to take actions against those accused and after thorough investigations are duly punished as per the existing law of the country and the Acts of the concerned universities. Some university authorities tend ignore most of the existing malpractices and corruption in the name of university autonomy.  But autonomy is not a license to damage the concept of a university. It comes with responsibility.

 (The writer is an analyst and a commentator)

Source: Sun Editorial