Lessons to learn from AUW experience
A series of reports on the Asian University for Women based in Chittagong, published in New Age on March 18, 19 and 20, has brought to the fore a number of irregularities that have taken place at this institution established through the enactment of a special charter in 2006. According to the reports, the university was governed for over five years by a US-based support foundation, instead of a trustee board, outside the authority of the governing charter. The reports specifically shed light on the conduct of the foundation’s president and chief executive, also founder and acting vice-chancellor of the university, who has allegedly made undue interferences in the governance of the university, causing the resignation of at least one former acting vice-chancellor, the dismissal of another and the resignation of other senior staff. The reports also shed light into his conduct in his previous job at the Asian Development Bank from where he was dismissed for ‘misappropriating funds’ among other things. While the university has now belatedly set up a trustee board and is reportedly in the process of appointing a permanent vice-chancellor, there are certainly some points to ponder upon in the events that have ensued over the last few years.
The university, which aims to provide a world class standard liberal arts university education for Asian women, was established through a parliamentary act through which the Bangladeshi government relinquished all its power to supervise the conduct of the university. It is the only university in the country whose chancellor is not the president of the country while the University Grants Commission has no jurisdiction over it even though the government donated 130 acres of land and the prime minister is a patron of the university. Given the serious nature of the allegations brought on against the founder and the manner in which the university has been run all this time, it is well worth raising the question as to why parliament in the first place had passed through a legislation which put the university above all kinds of supervision of the government of the country in which it operates and virtually left all responsibility in the hands of a trustee board which did not even come into existence when the alleged irregularities were taking place. It is also important to note that the legislation, despite whatever good intentions might have gone behind the decision, is essentially extremely discriminatory against all other private and public universities that operate under the laws of the land. The lawmakers had essentially created an ‘extra-legal’ haven for the AUW, much in the manner of a diplomatic immunity, even though it is essentially an educational institution.
The government must ensure that such extra-legal privileges are not accorded to any institution or person, because it also essentially contradictory to the spirit of the constitution. Secondly, the charter under which the AUW runs may well worth a review, both by the Bangladeshi government as well as the organisations and persons backing it, so that such allegations do not emerge in the future.
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