BUET crisis needs urgent resolutionby Omar Khasru
A POPULAR US saying states, ‘Put your money where the mouth is’, which implies that actions should match the assertions and stance. All deans, one but all department heads and most institute chiefs of the renowned and revered Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology have resigned en bloc from their designations to demand the resignation of the debatable vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor and in protest against the alleged pervasive misdeeds and irregularities committed by the two.
The strife has been brewing for a while before coming to head and collective firm action. Deans, department heads and institute chiefs resigned en masse on July 11 to express no-confidence in the university administration, mainly the vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor, over various alleged irregularities including promotions and appointments.
The deans, most department and institute heads, by resigning on principle and out of exasperation, anger and aggravation, have put their money where the mouth is. The hope is that the government and the ministry will take appropriate and prompt mitigating actions, better late than never, to stop the slide and resolve the acute crisis.
After vehemently opposing the growing storm of teacher-student-staff gripes and protests and downplaying the escalating crisis, the obstreperous vice-chancellor has now come up with a novelty stipulation for resignation. ‘I don’t have the authority to resign. The president appointed me. I will step down only if he wants,’ Professor SM Nazrul Islam said (bdnews24.com).
The inference is that he feels he has no right to resign unless the chancellor says so. This is slightly disingenuous and would turn the concept of quitting topsy-turvy and upside down. People resign because they want to or because peers and others have lost trust and faith in them or for the good of the institution because they have become redundant and detrimental. Being obligated by the boss is a compelling but not the sole reason.
Most concerned people seem to strongly feel that the vice-chancellor along with the pro-vice-chancellor should resign right away to spare the pre-eminent institution of higher learning in the country needless complexity, disturbance, disruption and disrepute. And the sooner the better. By staying on, the crisis, anxiety and ordeal are gratuitously amplified and prolonged.
The combination of demonstration and agitation, work stoppage by teachers and class evasion by students is nothing new in most public universities. The alleged nepotism and favouritism and hiring irregularities and a slew of other anomalies and wrongdoings are also rather common at public universities.
What is new is that the charges are being made against the vice-chancellor and his deputy at BUET which hitherto had maintained a semblance of order, stability and scruples, and adherence to rules and regulations. That all seems down the drain and the typical administrative disarray and disorder, turmoil and transgression at other public universities unfortunately and apparently have now caught up with BUET. And that is just too bad.
BUET has been the top-notch university in the country where the most gifted and the brightest students, the cream of the cream, so to speak, receive education and training. The teachers are highly qualified and the knowledge that is imparted is of top class. All have been going so well for so long in direct contrast to most other public universities.
Successive groups of students and graduates have brightened the image of the university and the country through their performance, accomplishments and professionalism at home and abroad. To see the reputation of the remaining public university, where ability, feat, skill and achievement still mean the most, tarnished is doubly painful and extremely daunting and disappointing.
The teachers levelled a dozen allegations against the vice-chancellor and the pro-vice-chancellor, including nepotism, autocratic rule, grade manipulation, result tampering and irregularities in the administration. Teachers abstained from work for nearly a month starting in early April to push for their demands. They suspended the strike on the prime minister’s May 5 assurance of resolving the matter shortly and suitably.
Nothing was resolved and nothing seemed to have changed since then. No discernable action was taken to calm the situation despite the prime minister’s involvement. The teachers have become increasingly dejected and restless and resumed their demonstration earlier this month.
On July 10, teachers gave the vice-chancellor and the pro-vice-chancellor an ultimatum to resign by July 14. Or else they threatened strike for an indefinite period. If the government bigwigs wanted to push the whole mess under the rug through sheer apathy, inaction, clumsiness and silence, after the mass resignation now they have to urgently deal with it with immediate defusing measures.
Rather than trying to settle the commotion and unrest, the university authorities on July 11 announced that BUET would be closed for 44 days for a variety of reasons including summer vacation, Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr and Durga Puja earlier and longer than the scheduled recess.
Teachers, students and administrative staff earlier in the day began a sit-in in front of the academic council building demanding retraction of the long university vacation and the resignation of the vice-chancellor and the pro-vice-chancellor. Several hundred teachers and students attended the sit-in. They condemned the unilateral and unwarranted closing of the university and termed the decision illegal and illogical. They felt that it was meant to foil their movement.
So back and forth it goes and where and when it will all end nobody precisely knows. One hopes it will end soon, perhaps even before this article is in print. In the meantime, crucial academic activities are being disrupted, teachers have stopped teaching and students have stopped attending classes. The image of the institution with enduring exalted reputation is being damaged and sullied.
The teachers’ association has sought immediate intervention of the president, who is also the chancellor of the university, and the prime minister in the resolution of the furore, chaos and predicament. The association president asserted that the vice-chancellor was trying to deceive the government by providing false information.
The association stated that the university big shots were trying to intimidate students to thwart the movement but the students have spontaneously participated in the agitation because of their genuine concern for the wellbeing of BUET. Before the sit-in, several thousand students and staff members walked in a silent procession expressing their support for the teachers’ demand.
The vice-chancellor met the Prime Minister on July 12 and declared that she wanted him to discuss the matter with the agitating teachers and come to an amicable solution. The teachers in turn expressed their unwillingness to discuss anything with the current vice-chancellor. So there seems to be no progress.
The students said the university authorities were disrupting their normal life by closing dormitories and dining rooms and barring transports for students. When most students have taken the anti administration posture and seem really conscious and apprehensive about the sordid state of affairs, the ruling party-backed Bangladesh Chhatra League activists said that the protests were backed by Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Chhatra League members distributed a leaflet, threatening students with dire consequences if they joined the movement under the leadership of what they termed as teachers loyal to Jamaat. The flier impertinently implied that the resigning deans, department and institute heads all have Jamaat connection. It may be mentioned here that the Chhatra League BUET unit was disbanded in June after a serious clash between two factions.
The rage, resentment and revulsion of the vast majority of teachers, students and staff cannot be spurned and pooh-poohed as big Jamaat scheme. That is customary scapegoating and blame game of the worst type. This claim also happens to be fallacious and appalling.
The BUET students and teachers are better suited to respond to this atrocious assertion. It is sufficient to say that there is no indication of specific or single party affiliation of the protesting teachers and students. It is patently unfair, improper and impolite to give a non-political movement a party tinge and partisan tone.
BUET is different from other public universities in more profound ways than one. Whenever the government changes, successive see-saw affair between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the last 20 years, the vice-chancellors of most public universities are changed overnight and are replaced by party henchmen, party favourites and intensely partisan loyalists. The exception has been BUET which has customarily been spared this ignominious and impudent act.
The BUET vice-chancellor has traditionally been picked on the basis of ability, acceptability, seniority and suitability and most in the past have not been subjected to derision, controversy, disgrace, scandal or humiliation. Until now, party attachment or intense partisanship has never been the forte of most BUET vice-chancellors. They have always been honourable gentlemen and were duly respected.
The current vice-chancellor and his deputy seem to be exceptions to that norm. The vice-chancellor is generally perceived as less skilful and imprudent, lacking both in proficiency and discretion, and is generally unpopular with and unwanted by increasing numbers of BUET teachers and students. The general perception also is that he is controversial, tactless and negligent as his words and deeds indicate. The pro-vice-chancellor is no less contentious.
The shortcut, sure-fire and pragmatic government action now would be to oust the vice-chancellor and the pro-vice-chancellor and bring back sanity, tranquillity and favourable academic atmosphere back to BUET, sort of like the recent Jahangirnagar University solution. Any other tangible action seems infeasible and undesirable to most. When you are left with one viable option and the time and circumstances are of the essence, the thing to do is to cut the losses and grab the available and practical ready choice.
Last May, the government had to face similar unpleasant and volatile situation with respect to the vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University. After the prime minsiter met the divergent parties, the vice-chancellor was quickly axed and calm and order were restored. Similar action is speedily warranted to control the damage, hinder the decay and restore academic environment at BUET.
General Douglas McArthur, five-star US General and commander of the allied forces in the Pacific theatre during Second World War, later the commander of UN troops during the Korean conflict, was sacked by President Harry S Truman for insubordination. In his poignant farewell speech McArthur uttered the famous words, ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away.’ It is time for the BUET vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor to come to a quick reckoning and appraisal of the bleak and volatile situation and resign forthwith and fade away.
This is definitely not the time for the government to act indifferently with a blasé attitude. Any indecision, obfuscation, suspended animation and utter vacillation with the pressing problems at BUET will make matters more complicated and more difficult to handle and resolve later.
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