Wednesday, 26 January, 2022

Culture of Closing Universities to Deal with Untoward Incidents

Masum Billah

Whenever any untoward incident takes place in our higher educational institutions, the authorities declare the closure as  the easiest solution so far to avoid further incident without giving a second thought to its consequences for students, especially the girl students. Covid-19 forced us to keep the educational institutions closed for nineteen months together and KUET students received only fifteen days of class after its reopening. On top of that,   two assassinations took place that compelled another one week of closure. Recently the death of a young and meritorious teacher met death following rough behaviour of a student wing belonging to the ruling party. It has created another round of disturbance in the university. 

The teacher was a professor in the department of Electrical and Electrical Engineering who could not digest the unruly behaviour and threat of the students who took him to his office by force and it was followed by closure of the university, and students were asked to vacate the halls by 4 pm on 03 December 2021. It sounds good to hear that out of four thousand students of KUET 800 of them are girls. These meritorious students are going to positively contribute to the nation. However, within seconds this positive thought gets shrouded by black clouds to remember how their sacred campus is being vitiated! 

The university authorities are yet to understand the problem the girl students face when universities get suddenly closed, particularly the higher educational students located in remote parts of the country such as Khulna, Dinjapur, Patuakhali. I experienced several times the mayhem caused by such sudden declaration of university when I was studying at Jahangirnar University. Once, we were asked to vacate the halls by five pm when police had already cordoned our halls. I somehow managed to escape the hall and took shelter in the university post office peon’s small room where I stayed the whole night and found the police vehicles and lorries moving around the campus. Next day, I came to the road very carefully to take a Barishal bound bus. I then thought what was the situation of girl students who could not go to even Dhaka city to take shelter at any relatives and distant relative’s house. So, university authorities’ easy solution to close down the university must come to an end considering the difficult situation girl students usually face.

The young learners of university embroil themselves in heinous activities because of their carefree lifestyle, thanks to the blessings of the party they belong to. This tradition has seriously vitiated and corrupted the entire gamut of higher education. Still, we pretend not to understand its poisonous effect and they need to be prepared and groomed accordingly. Several days back we witnessed how a student of Sylhet Medical College was tortured by his fellow classmates and party followers. Mymensingh Ananda Mohan College has been closed due to a clash between two factions of Chattra League. All these are well-known to those who run the state. However, hardly any action is taken as an example to stop such incidents in the sacred campuses of higher educational institutions.

The mischief-makers rather get indirect encouragement from the high ups. We have come to learn that Dr. Selim died of heart attack following misbehaviour, and mental and psychological torture he received at the hand of his own students. It is surely a serious crime which is tantamount to murder. However, these students don’t bother about it. Why? They know nothing will happen to them. They also know the university authorities have nothing to do with them.

This culture of impunity casts bad omens for the higher educational institutions.  It is learnt from newspapers that the selection of Lalon Shah Hall canteen caterer led the student wing to misbehave with their teacher, which he could not bear and ultimately met with unnatural death. There is no doubt that their rude and non-student behaviour hastened his death. These students seem to have a license to do it and no common students dare to raise any issue against their crime. Teachers cannot even talk against them. How an educational institution will run if muscle power prevails there continuously! How small and petty interest is making a section of students inhuman! What will they give to the nation?

A committee was formed to probe the cause of death where two teachers out of three expressed their inability to do it which is another point shrouded in mystery. That might be because of the difference of colour on which teachers are divided or they know they would not be free to develop the report based on the fact or some unknown beckon did not allow them to continue the probe. All this puts us into a question of what we are going to achieve at the cost of burying the truth. Students will show their demonstration for several days out of their respect and emotion towards their teacher who left this mundane world and arrange a human chain. However, after several days another issue of the university or of the country will sink this incident into the sea of oblivion. Nobody will raise this issue again.

The role of VCs and Principals in response to such kinds of incidents seems very frustrating as they can do nothing except supporting directly or indirectly the student wing of the party in power. So, the speech, promise and trial of VCs and Principals don’t exert any impact on the mindset of the people. They are absolutely powerless and helpless before the students who belong to any party that our Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader uttered two months back ‘our VCs follow students’ orders’. It convinces us that the prevailing way of employing/selecting Vice Chancellors and Principals for universities and colleges need to be changed. The VCs and the Principals cannot give any attention to academic and research related works of the universities and colleges. They have to remain busy with settling down the chaos and conflicts among the intra-party conflicts and conflicts among different students' wings. Of course, without the state policy and state support these people cannot do anything. Politics will follow its own course and so will education. In this situation how they will prepare the future nation-builders and leaders? As the VCs and Principals have to deal with these nasty affairs, they cannot solely and purely dedicate their time and energy in the greater interest of higher education. Though some of them try to contribute positively and neutrally, they cannot do so because of their insecurity. The unruly students don’t bother about the honour, position and honesty of a teacher.

In this perspective, we need to decide whether we will allow the current odds on the campus to continue or ensure an environment where students will prepare well for facing the 21st century challenges so that they can contribute positively to the nation and humanity.


The writer is the President- ETAB (English Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh) and works as an Education Expert in BRAC Education Program