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Dhaka Tribune

The wrong place for politics

Update : 04 Mar 2014, 07:04 PM

Scenario 1: A new department opened. The course was a professional one. Teachers were available. But they did not belong to the group that ruled the campus. So, another one had been chosen, who had no degree, no certificate, not even a minimum level of experience in the subject. But he was made the chairman of the department, as he was a stalwart of the group that decides everything in the university. The result was a lack of quality teachers being hired, and a high dropout rate.

Scenario 2: A teacher of a public university is a leader of a party too. First, he was chosen for a top ranking position, but there were feuds within his group. He was then sent to another public university to a top position.

Scenario 3: A teacher, surely a front line activist of the ruling party-backed teachers group, contested the teachers’ association polls. He lost. But the next day, he got a big administrative post in the university, as the ruling team did not want to see him disappointed.

These are only three scenarios out of hundreds of immoral, illogical, and crooked practices going on in public universities these days. Recent events in Jahangirnagar, Rajshahi, Begum Rokeya in Rangpur, and other public universities give clear signals that grave problems are there.

As private universities are still at an elementary level, public universities are highest seat of learning. There are many criticisms of the violent activities of student organisations.

The campuses in most public universities are being badly affected by corruption and nepotism. Teacher politics is so strong now, that universities these days actually recruit voters, not teachers.

Many academics say that the current trend of highly politicised teacher politics is responsible for demeaning the image of the universities in the country. As these universities are financed by the government, public universities turn into havens for those who are pro-ruling party.

No one will disagree that political awareness is a must for educated citizens. But will teachers understand that their politics should be different from that of the country’s political parties? Teachers’ involvement in party politics always results in the abuse of power in the name of autonomy. The blue-white-pink political identity of teachers damages their academic identity.

Be it academic or administrative, everything is controlled by pro-ruling party teachers. Transfers, postings, and recruitment are all based on political loyalty, not merit. One of the main causes of deterioration of the public universities is said to be too much autonomy granted under the 1973 university ordinance.

The ordinance was believed to have been contributing positively towards the democratisation of the administration of the universities. Once seen as a great virtue, university ordinance is now being looked down upon as a vice, as it is misused seriously. Teachers say public universities are given full freedom by the 1973 ordinance. But the much talked about ordinance made these institutions highly undemocratic, as only the ruling party enjoys everything there.

The situation is so political that every government has been following their own methods to run these universities, flouting their autonomy. University teachers also get directly involved with politics. And the ultimate result is the spread of corruption.

A former student of Rajshahi University told this scribe that 554 teachers and employees (all on political consideration) were recruited during the past BNP-Jamaat regime. And the same way, over 600 have been recruited during the last five years.

Now, he said, the university was facing difficulties to pay their salaries. In most of the public universities, recruitments were done without UGC approval. The approvals were managed later.  

Teachers want comfortable positions either inside the university or outside. For this, they do not hesitate to sacrifice their values. They resort to any kind of acts they want. When a new government takes over, it appoints a vice-chancellor upon political consideration, and the VC starts recruiting others in different positions the same way.

As it is said earlier, they employ new teachers on the basis of their party allegiance, not on the basis of merit and academic performance. It is strongly perceived even by university teachers, that successive regimes, through their appointees in the public universities, have recruited many teachers who have seriously undermined the academic standards of these institutions.

In any discussion of public universities, a section of teachers and students try to talk about the glorious past of student politics in national movements. In fact, those days are gone. Student politics contributed to the enrichment of national politics, and to the struggle for the rights of the people in the past.

But today, it has grossly degenerated into all out attempts by political parties to occupy campuses and establish influence and authority. Politics by teachers are rather fuelling the violence among feuding student organisations. Even if we accept the contributions of student movements in different historical turning points, the question comes as to whether we should say that public universities were established for political purposes, not academic ones.

In fact, the problems are built in. Political spirit always gets preference over academic excellence in these universities. The expectation is also not clear. The priority is also not fixed. The general expectation is education, but since the very beginning, the universities are used for political gain.

Today, the overall focus is on politics, not on education. The intellectual environment is gradually overtaken by sectarian political grouping. Most teachers, students, and employees (if not all) feel that it is better to have links with politics, not with academic work. If they can reach the desired position without doing academic work, why should they bother?

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