Saturday, June 15, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

How dirty can university club politics get?

Meaningful reform to university clubs would help the student community and the nation for future leadership

Update : 29 May 2024, 09:48 AM

The recent introduction of party-based student politics at private universities has been a matter of grave concern and anxiety on the part of stakeholders, especially guardians of current and potential students. 

Last month, I contributed a piece to the Dhaka Tribune on how my student, a leader of the university's Chattra League (student wing of the ruling party) branch had humiliated my family and me in his publicly accessible Facebook post, simply due to my stance against this brand of politics entering the campus. 

Whereas the aforementioned is an issue that requires strong unity of university trustees, students, guardians, and faculties for resistance, a different coloured politics that remains within the private universities is that of the student clubs. This piece focuses on how the clubs tend to operate and makes a recommendation that would inevitably change the scenario. 

Having studied at a private university, I pleasantly recall some of the best days of my university life as the vice president of the law club. Apart from organizing programs that had profound intellectual impacts such as workshops, seminars, and conferences, the club had become a social hub since university clubs are platforms that bring together like-minded individuals or those who share common interests. 

Now, what have I truly achieved as the club's VP? Would developing my network with legal professionals have been significantly difficult, had I not led the club? Not quite. I am doubtful as to whether most professionals in any line of work have any different impression of university club executives -- hence, I am almost certain that a student would not be preferred over another on this basis.

It is important to acknowledge that university clubs do not necessarily play a role in developing professional/extracurricular skills either. If someone is already good at playing guitar, he would play guitar anyway, and it is highly unlikely that his guitar-playing skills would significantly develop around his time of service at the cultural club. As for the law club, a student who might be able to develop mooting (legal debating) skills would go for competitions to represent the university, but would not necessarily climb up the ladder within the club to become an executive member. 

I have personally never heard of an instance when an employer stressed (or even asked) an interviewee's clubbing experience, or recognized the so-called “leader” that he might have been of a particular club. It might have played a tiny role in my Master's application at a university of high repute, but it would certainly make no difference had I been the VP of another club. 

It is important to acknowledge that university clubs do not necessarily play a role in developing professional/extracurricular skills

I have been the faculty advisor of a club as well, and I have come to the conclusion that the club culture is more toxic than one can imagine.

A fresher right after joining the university joins a prospective club, the works of which align with his interest or passion. Then he is required to appear for an interview in front of the executive committee members of the club, and I have personally heard of allegations regarding horrendous attitudes on the part of the recruiters (executive members), that are no less than ragging. 

Then, once he would be selected as a member of the club, he would have to invest his leisure time, serving the executive committee members with tea and coffee, while "their excellencies" would sit in their designated club room sofas and order that the jobs be done in due time. The culture is to impress the executives, while the faculty advisor is mostly out of reach. 

It is expected that he would be promoted from general member to core, and then to perhaps sub-executive member, and eventually executive. Any beef with an executive, lack of expected "loyalty" or not putting enough time or effort might even lead to his expulsion from the club.

Faculty advisors are voluntary positions and hardly any faculty has the time to indulge in petty club politics. A faculty member would likely consider the recommendations of the executives, choose those with the best results or ones who might have caught the attention of the advisor at club events, to select the upcoming panel. 

Many struggle to maintain their desired grades while working for their club at the same time. It is unfortunate that, although clubs were supposed to have executives who would be “leaders,” it is precisely the opposite -- many executives make their way through means that are outright upsetting and immoral. Therefore, they lack overwhelming acceptance on the part of the club members.

I recommend that the rare system of election be introduced. Every club should be able to elect its executives through voting, the details of which should be included in the clubs' constitutions. That way, an executive would think twice before misbehaving with any member. They would feel the need to develop leadership skills, give members the feeling of collective effervescence, and be respectful, just to ensure their place on the executive committee. The faculty advisor would be nothing but a guide in a student club, while true leaders, who also have good results, would come through the hands of their fellow students. 

There is a social construction of prestige attached to club executive positions, within the university. It is a matter of pride for one to hold such a position. Hence, if we could develop this system, we would be doing a favour to not only the student community but also the nation for future leadership.

Saquib Rahman is a non-practicing Advocate and Senior Lecturer of law at North South University.

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