Allegations against vice-chancellors at public universities ,of improprieties committed and corruption, are extremely unfortunate and unacceptable, says University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman, Prof Dr Kazi Shahidullah. In an interview with DhakaTribune's Mamun Abdullah, the Dhaka University history department professor said the UGC having authority only to enquire, but not take action, is a barrier to the independent commission in meeting its goals and playing a vital role in such instances
How do you analyze the current situation at public universities?
It is always unfortunate to have allegations against a vice chancellor of a public university. Most allegations in the end are often found to be untrue, or are lodged to serve the personal interests of complainants. However, if a vice chancellor is found guilty after an inquiry, it is extremely unfortunate and unacceptable.
Because of the current turmoil at several universities, we have launched inquiries into some of them and will recommend the ministry (education) take action if the allegations are proven true. The education ministry informed us that they are also inquiring about issues related to Jahangirnagar University.
How can we ensure accountability at universities run on public money?
All universities have their own rules and regulations to operate. We expect that good governance will prevail at all universities and they will maintain their own regulations.
Allegations of corruption against Jahangirnagar University VC Dr Farzana Islam are now the talk of the town. Do you think she will continue to discharge her duties?
I can comment on this only after an inquiry is launched. It will not be right to jump to conclusions without even knowing clearly what actually happened there. Let us see if the ministry forms an inquiry committee. If the government wants, we are ready to do it. Without an inquiry, nothing can be said on the matter conclusively.
How will you react to the university authorities interfering in the freedom of speech of students?
Freedom means responsibility. Freedom does not mean you can say anything you want. Neither a teacher, nor a student can say anything in the name of freedom of speech when it is intended to humiliate others. Everyone should be responsible. We do not expect anyone engaging in social media on an issue that is untrue or fake.
What is the main reason for the rise in dishonesty among VC level representatives?
When I was a teacher at Dhaka University, I knew how to react. Today, we see people doing many things that were not common in our time. Society on the whole has become liberal, which is now reflected in each stage of life.
It is a major responsibility of the government to choose deserving and qualified candidates for the posts of VC, Pro-VC or treasurer, the top three positions at a university. Before an appointment to these positions, academic qualifications, administrative capacity, overall acceptability, ethics, and moral standards should be assessed.
Can UGC take any action against the vice chancellors and teachers of public universities allegedly involved in corruption or academic indiscipline?
The commission can only do its inquiry as all universities are regulated by their own structures. If we find discrepancies during an inquiry, we can send recommendations to the ministry (education). It is up to the ministry to take action. However, VCs misusing power and taking personal advantage is detrimental to all.
Do you have enough capacity to deal with complaints and investigation?
We do receive many complaints, particularly in recent times. If an investigation is launched, report submission takes time due to the lack of manpower at the commission.
Say for example, we are running an investigation into allegations concerning BSMRSTU in Gopalganj; the concerned member of the committee cannot finish the report on time because it requires a visit outside Dhaka.
Do you agree that UGC having no power to take action is a barrier to playing a vital role in reaching its goal?
Of course. If UGC is empowered, it can take strong action to tackle any situation. Currently, we do not have any power beyond running inquiries. There is no way for us to monitor whether recommendations sent by us to the ministry (education) are being implemented or not.