Washing his hands off, Prof Dr Saiful Islam blames Directorate of Students’ Welfare and teachers
The brutal killing of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) student Abrar Fahad on October 7 nakedly exposed the Buet authorities’ total failure to rein in Bangladesh Chhatra League men, who have long been accused of torturing and abusing students in the dormitories in the name of ragging. Many students, who were scared before, disclosed numerous such incidents after Abrar’s murder inside the university’s Sher-e-Bangla Hall sparked widespread criticism and protests across Bangladesh.
In an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Mizanur Rahman and Fahim Reza Shovon, Buet Vice-Chancellor (VC) Prof Dr Saiful Islam has blamed the failure of Directorate of Students’ Welfare (DSW) in addressing the matters and patronization of teachers for Chhatra League’s absolutism on the campus. The VC recalled the days when Chhatra League even made the authorities remove a DSW Director, for he was not a man of their choice, by enforcing a wildcat five-day strike and locking down the buildings on the campus.
He also claimed he was innocent, saying it is impossible for the VC alone to take on everything.
How could you let Chhatra League impose this reign of terror in Buet?
It happened because of DSW’s failure, not mine.
Being the VC, isn't it your responsibility to be aware of such abuse and torture of students too when everyone else already knew?
The ragging culture has been in Buet for a long time, but it gradually increased since 2008-09 and took an extreme turn in June this year. But a VC cannot directly interfere into everything; it is DSW’s responsibility to look into these issues.
You are saying DSW is responsible for dealing with such matter. But there was a crisis over the post of DSW director. Why did the administration change people in that position frequently?
The DSW director is appointed for two years and it is very obvious that the person will change once their tenure ends.
The ragging culture was here even before I took charge as the VC. Former DSW director Prof Delwar Hossain tried to keep things under control during his term, but he retired citing excessive workload and health issues.
The next DSW director, Prof Satya Prashad Majumder, also failed to stop ragging in the halls possibly because he was too polite.
We had a meeting in June with all deans, department heads and directors where I came to know about the ragging issue. Also, some guardians had filed complaints. Satya Prashad was not at the meeting. When I asked him over the phone about this, he told me that there was no evidence of ragging.
Later, in a separate meeting, Satya Prashad told us that he will not continue as the DSW director. So, then we appointed Prof Abul Kashem Mia, but he had to step down because Chhatra League had some strong reservations about him.
Finally, Prof Mizanur Rahman was appointed as the DSW director. But within weeks, I saw that he was failing to control the [Chhatra League] leaders on campus.
If DSW had functioned properly, this day [Abrar’s murder and subsequent crisis] would have never come.
How and why did Chhatra League enjoy so much power that they kept choosing the person for the DSW director post?
It is because of the teachers [leaders of Buet Teachers’ Association] who patronize these students.
Has anyone from Chhatra League been punished during your term in office?
We did take action against two of them — Shuvro and Kanak [former president and general secretary of Chhatra League’s Buet unit] — because of indiscipline. But they completed their studies following High Court’s orders.
Do you believe banning student politics is the solution to all this failures?
I did ban student politics [on Buet campus], but I am not above the government. I do not know what will happen next. I believe the government will understand the need to ban student politics.
I personally think it is the right decision. I do not even want to know anything about politics. But if teachers' politics continue to control the students, it will become difficult to run a university.
Do you feel guilty about everything that has happened in your university? Particularly, the ragging and the murder of a student inside a dormitory?
There was no failure on my part. I have tried my best to manage the situation after Abrar Fahad was killed. But the Teachers’ Association is patronizing the students.
There is no connection between the incident and my resignation. What good it will do even if I resign? Can it be guaranteed that the next person [VC] will run the university better than me? No way.
I have been managing the university more peacefully than the two previous VCs. The only thing I failed in is managing two people [president and general secretary of Chhatra League’s Buet unit].
They went on a strike for five days demanding removal of Prof Kashem Mia from the position of DSW director. They locked the buildings on the campus. I had to solve that crisis with help from the education minister.
I cannot take care of everything that happens in the university. There is a specific organogram in place for that.