BUET and politicization of public educational institutions
"As I see it"
July 21, 2012
M. Serajul Islam
BUET had stood against the tide of systematic degradation of our public educational institutions since we became independent by refusing to be politicized, meaning to let it become a tool in the hands of the mainstream political parties for their political objectives. It never compromised on intake of students and academic considerations were given the highest priority in all activities of this institution. Recent disturbing happenings in BUET therefore are very unfortunate. It seems that those responsible for corrupting our public educational institutions have now focused upon BUET to spread the cancer called politicization that has affected all public educational institutions in the country and destroyed or close to destroying these institutions.
Our independence has done us a world of good in many aspects. Unfortunately in education that is the backbone for any society attempting sustainable development, we have messed up the country to such an extent that we can only be apprehensive of our future. All governments that have come to power have made tall claims about where we have gone with education. Not unexpectedly therefore, this government has also made huge claims in the sector of education. The yardstick of such claim is the literacy rate. At the time of independence, we had a literacy rate that was one of the worst in the developing world. That literacy rate was 51.9% in 2005 and has been growing at a healthy rate since.
Unfortunately, when the government makes such claims, it does not explain what exactly constitutes that claim. In lay terms, the government’s big claims on literacy are based on how many of our children enter the schools at primary level. If literacy is restricted just to such simplistic explanation, then one cannot fault this government or the others that have made the claims. However, if literacy is meant to explain education in the sense where those being certified as literate are able to translate what they have learnt for their welfare and that of the society, then I am afraid we are not very literate.
In fact, in the process of making the tall claims, we have also destroyed our educational institutions for higher learning that were the best when we were not as “literate” as we claim we are today. I have watched at least one, in fact the leading one, destroyed right in front of everyone. The deterioration of the public educational institutions started in Dhaka University that was turned into an extension of the ruling party immediately after we became independent. In the heat of the moment, no one felt that no matter what, an educational institution and politics are a dangerous mix; something that is prescription for disaster. Such politicization as was started in Dhaka University from where it spread everywhere is unheard of outside Bangladesh.
I received the first shock in Dhaka University when I had gone to see the Vice chancellor of the University Dr. Muzzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury in 1973. He was my teacher when I was a student there and had recruited me as a teacher. For three days, I waited with his Private Secretary to see him. . With me there were dozens of teachers, many very senior ones. The Vice Chancellor had no time for any of us because he was spending most of his time with the student leaders who were literally running the university on behalf of the ruling party! Being the great educationist that he was, Dr. Chowdhury was not spending such time willingly. He was being held captive!
Dhaka University never came out of the captivity. With the students, the teachers themselves became extensions of the political parties. Over the years as the quality of politics deteriorated, Dhaka University’s politicization also deteriorated. Soon, there were the session jams accompanied by control of the university dorms by the student parties. Then there were recruitments and promotions of teachers based on political affiliation. Even allotments of lucrative on campus residential accommodation were being made on basis of political affiliation. Crimes of all sorts became common place in the Dhaka University campus.
The politicization started in Dhaka University is based on a very simple system. When a particular political party is in power, the teachers who openly acclaim their affiliation to it and group themselves for the purpose get the promotions and the other privileges. That party’s students’ wing gets to claim the residential halls as their fiefdom where they pretty much carry out their own administration. The Vice-Chancellor who has to be from the ruling party under this “principle” ensures that the politicization is carried out smoothly and efficiently where the teachers and the students who support the ruling party benefit and those who support the opposition are punished.
The “system” established in Dhaka University has not been questioned by anyone; not even by the vibrant civil society. Like a contagious disease, the “system” was passed on to the other public educational institutions. The “system” weakened all the public educational institutions as seats of higher learning most of all Dhaka University but did not completely destroy them because the teachers and the students who took advantage of their political connections to the ruling party did not attempt to grab everything. Only the leaders and activists among the teachers and the students were able to use their political connections for their personal benefits. In case of the teachers, the one closest to the ruling party became the Vice Chancellor. He then ran the University at the behest of his political masters and distributed the spoils.
The “system” has gone haywire under this government. It started with the students of the ruling party who were no longer satisfied with the spoils going to the leaders. Their greed also lost limits. Those seeking the benefits of politicization became larger in number. They tried to legitimize participation in the development work of the institutions and the right to sell admission to the public! The same happened with the teachers. The current Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University has been chosen on recommendation of the students of the ruling party in direct contravention of the Dhaka University ordnance of 1973.
Jahangirnagar University epitomized this unfortunate trend where the ruling party followers among the students broke into two groups fighting each other with the Vice Chancellor openly patronizing one of the groups! Incredible and unbelievable stories came to light about the activities of the Vice Chancellor. He literally used the university as his personal property and under his tenure; activities were carried out in the University that would shame hardened criminals.
The BUET has finally fallen victim to this sad trend of politicization of the public educational institutions. There is no way out unless those responsible for bringing the public educational institutions to such a state are prepared to do what is necessary. The cancer that has affected the public educational institutions cannot be treated any longer with any other means but a surgical one. There has to be a consensus among the mainstream parties to put an end to politics among the students and the teachers. The ruling party must take the lead as it is now in the driver’s seat running the universities to their destruction.
Students no longer have the sort of impact in national politics as they had when we struggled for our independence. Teachers never had. Therefore it is time for the mainstream parties to cut their umbilical chord with their respective students’ organizations in the public educational institutions. As for the teachers grouping as agents of political parties, this is a national shame. Let the teachers and students of public educational institutions have groups, associations, whatever but only for academic pursuits and let them have none that makes them an extension of the convoluted and corrupt politics of the country.
The former Vice Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University and now the present Vice-Chancellor of BUET have ironically done the nation a favour. They have highlighted for the nation in unmistakable terms that the cancer of politicization is snuffing life out of these institutions. It is time to create national consensus to demand an end of teachers and students from being agents of political parties. These universities run with tax payer’s money and not with funds of the political parties.
The response of the government to the BUET crisis has underscored that the ruling party is not ready or willing to do what the nation wants. Where the nation expected the VC to be asked to step down, it has injected more politics into the crisis that has emboldened him to make incredible and unbelievable statements.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.