There was a time when kings used to treat areas under their reigns as fiefdoms. Such was and is true for political leaders to a degree. With a few exceptions, vice-chancellors of the day consider themselves to be omnipotent and order crackdowns on the dissidents even if voices are raised against their whims, let alone misdeeds. Things have reached such a pass that they now issue summons immediately on top of impertinence opted to gag the nonconformists no matter how dignified the latter are. Such an episode took place at a major university of Bangladesh run under autonomy visualised and materialised by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1973.
While addressing Dhaka University’s 53rd convocation on November 19, honourable President and Chancellor Abdul Hamid said, “When I open the newspaper, it seems that the main responsibility of some vice-chancellors is to give jobs to family members and loyalists and take administrative and financial privileges in various ways.” Mentioning the supervision, management, evaluation and development of the administrative and academic activities of the university as a vice-chancellor’s key responsibilities, the chancellor added, “Respect for teachers in society is gradually shrinking due to the activities of some vice-chancellors and teachers.”
However, university teachers as a whole have to bear the brunt of criticisms for some teachers’ avarice and anomalies. Gratitude is thus due to the honourable chancellor for echoing the minds of university teachers. During the time of Bangabandhu and sometimes, thereafter, seasoned academics with solid moral principles were appointed as vice-chancellors. In fact, heads of the state used to search out and request celebrated educationists to take the helms of universities. Scenarios are poles apart now. With exceptions on few occasions, familiarity and connectivity are now the prime prerequisites for becoming top executives at universities.
At times, ministers and political leaders lament, or rather, relish in servile nature of university bosses and teachers in public. However, they cannot completely wash their hands of this precarious situation. A good number of enquiry committees found a number of vice-chancellors guilty of offences in the recent past. However, little punitive actions were taken against the offenders despite strong recommendations from UGC. What to make of it? Resultant sense of impunity has emboldened other vice-chancellors to strongly believe that they would face no serious action. Thus, some of them turn desperate by embracing the notion that nothing bad would befall ultimately no matter how mean and corrupt they become.
The chancellor also complained that many teachers also consider university job as an “optional duty” as they prefer to take part-time courses, evening courses or classes in private universities. The chancellor added that it is the expectation of everyone that teachers would be responsible towards the profession as they are respected figures in society. He also said that merit and qualification should be given priority in any recruitment, including teachers. In fact, preference for merit and morality should be guiding principles. To be candid, as a community we need to pull our socks up and this is the need of the hour for repair of rather decayed image.
The above expectations are not at all unfounded as the teachers are paid from the national exchequer. There is no room for taking university jobs as secondary duties. The teachers are being invited by the private universities because of their positions in public universities. There is also the issue of absenteeism in public universities, even without taking classes in private universities. In fact, some teachers have become indifferent even to taking classes. This is a flagrant misuse of autonomy. This has to be addressed with consummate awareness and alacrity.
The chancellor also said, “We want every university to become the heart of research and academic education under the leadership of the vice-chancellor and with the cooperation of students and teachers.” As administrative and academic head of a university, the vice-chancellor is supposed to be a role model observing whom both teachers and students would be motivated. By using the good office of a vice-chancellor, a vice-chancellor can take a university to a great height. Some vice-chancellors have made marks on this. Because of obsession with materialism as referred to by the chancellor, however, things are pretty different now.
In his very significant speech, the chancellor has underscored the need for accountability and transparency to ensure respect for teachers. In fact, this very observation summarises the speech of the chancellor precisely and makes it a proverbial one. The chancellor has struck the problem in its root. In fact, universities are suffering due to poor governance as a result of deviating from the canons of accountability and transparency. To be honest, the future of universities lies absolutely in bringing back the above golden principles which were the true spirit of University Acts provided by the Father of the Nation around 50 years back.
The writer is a Professor,
Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong.
Email: [email protected]