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Dhaka Tribune

As a university teacher, I’m terrified of student politics entering campus

Addressing the possible ramifications of allowing student politics in private universities

Update : 19 Apr 2024, 10:22 AM

Student Abrar Fahad's murder back in 2019 by a group of Bangladesh Chhatra League (student wing of the ruling party) members left a scar in the hearts of teachers, students, parents, and every stakeholder of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

The overwhelming demand for a ban on all political activities within BUET's premises did bear some fruit, until recently, when BCL, in the face of tremendous protests by the common students, still declared to reinstate their political presence. Around the same time, North South University’s (NSU) BCL committee declared departmental sub-committees for law, engineering, business, and other. This has made news and has become a matter of grave concern since the expansion of BCL means more political activities -- this piece analyzes the reasons for anxiety by students, parents, and teachers. It also discusses the legal footing of the political student wings at private universities. 

The general fear

The general public are particularly afraid of the inclusion or activities of student bodies that are funded, patronized, and considered ancillary forces of parties that play a role in the national politics of Bangladesh -- student wings of the major political parties, including BCL, their university committees, and all their subordinate committees make news every other day, with members involved in sexual harassment, sexual assault, arson, and even murder. It is not only natural for guardians to feel unsafe that goons would harass their children or even have a negative influence on them during their formative years.

If we consider a group of students who might be believers in a particular political ideology, what harm could they possibly do? In fact, in an ideal nation, such involvement of students would instead assist in the evolution of future leaders. However, in Bangladesh, this image might be far from the truth. Most private university students who are least bothered about politics fear any potential shifts in their campus culture.

A teacher’s view

It so happened in the recent past that I was subjected to humiliation on a publicly accessible Facebook post of a BCL leader from my workplace, simply because I opposed the idea of student politics in private universities on my online account and shared an old newspaper piece that I had written in this regard. His post was an attack personally extended towards me, which demeaned my family, many of who happen to belong to a political party that is currently in the parliamentary opposition. Although his words lacked any form of constructive criticism, what makes it worse is that he is a former student of mine, whom I have always had a pleasant relationship with, both inside and outside the classroom.

Given the Eid-ul-Fitr period, the NSU departmental BCL committees could not start full-fledged operations. But in the future, I fear that any complaints made to the proctor's office, just like in public universities, would be entertained with bias if made by, or made against, BCL members. BCL members would be prioritized with their meetings with the departmental heads because, chances are, they would have a “soft power” to play on the appointment of Chairs or their tenure extensions. Any future vice chancellor would perhaps be compelled to give BCL members easier access, simply because an influential ruling party leader, or even anyone from the Education Ministry is only a call away. Let alone teachers with different political views, any neutral faculty might find it difficult to provide a BCL member with a deserving grade, due to external or pressures from “upstairs.”

Even if a few public university academics are known to make bold statements in the media, it would not be the case for private universities since our jobs would be in the hands of the BCL power structure. Even vice chancellor, pro vice chancellor, or even the treasurer nominees might have to practice shameful demeanour in building a rapport with the BCL for their respective positions and power.

To be able to legally form BCL committees at private universities and its departments, an amendment would be required in the Private University Act of 2010

Needless to say, the recruitment of all academic and administrative staff would most likely be based on “recommendations.”

It would be disheartening to see faculty members who would have difficulty keeping their heads up high. It would be heartbreaking to see that deserving academics would be deprived of leading their departments -- the talks on making our place at international quality rankings would be nothing but a cry in the wilderness. 

Where private universities stand at the moment

Recently, the Registrar’s office has notified that although NSU acknowledges Bangladesh’s glorious past of student politics, it is a non-political entity, and no political activities would be allowed on campus. Students are, however, free to involve themselves with politics outside the premises. 

It is noteworthy that BCL’s only legal status comes from the ruling party, which recognizes it as its student body in its party constitution. This gives BCL some legal footing (even if their central committee declares subsidiary committees such as those for specific universities and now NSU departments) because the Awami League is a registered party at the Election Commission of Bangladesh.

To be able to legally form BCL committees at private universities and its departments, an amendment would be required in the Private University Act of 2010. Since otherwise, a university would be able to exercise its own right in prohibiting any political forum of BCL calling themselves “official” to operate within the campuses. 

Campus security can bar them from holding meetings under the banner, disallow all forms of posters that the universities do not authorize, take disciplinary actions against loud slogans that might hamper regular classes, and ensure the application of the university's code of conduct.

BCL’s way out

BCL can file a writ petition, arguing that the Constitution guarantees the right of someone's political affiliation and that there should not be any bar on practicing politics on campus. This, however, leaves it to the Supreme Court.

Even easier, they can lobby for parliamentary intervention. After all, the Awami League currently enjoys an overwhelming majority in parliament. Since it has also been reported that plenty of politicians are unfortunately known to use student strength for muscle and other political gains, they can amend the Act and arrange to get BCL established with air-conditioned offices in private universities, even next to the vice chancellors’ if they deem fit.

Even if BCL is allowed no official standing per se, their influence on the university administrations would nevertheless have effects, but hopefully with lesser impacts. 

Many of us chose to teach in private universities because of the respect we receive: We love the freedom teaching entails. We pride ourselves on every achievement of our institutions and students.

I hereby make an appeal to the Honourable Chancellor (President of Bangladesh), the Prime Minister, the Education Minister, all private university trustees, the vice chancellors and concerned high-ups: Please, for God’s sake, let us keep our children safe, allow them to focus on education and let their parents' hard-earned money be worth it, let our academics work with honour, and let interested students become politicians outside the campus.

Let us not allow the growth of universities like NSU fall into oblivion.

 

Advocate Saquib Rahman is a political analyst and Editor of Progress Magazine. He teaches law at North South University and is the former International Affairs Secretary, Jatiyo Party.

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