One of my teachers at college would often say, “Even if you take a walk through a (public) university campus, you will learn many things about life.” The recent feud between teachers of University of Dhaka reminded me of her and the countless stories she would share with us about her university life—stories that were set in the backdrop of the glory days of the university. I wonder what she would think now about the highest seat of learning in the country.
Going by the reports published in this daily, on November 2, two factions of the pro-Awami League Blue Panel teachers got into a row at a meeting at TSC. At one point, the proctor of the university allegedly assaulted a professor of the sociology department, Jamal Uddin. Afterwards, both the factions blamed each other for the incident. The faction loyal to former vice chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique demanded immediate removal of Proctor AKM Golam Rabbani, while the teachers of the other faction, loyalists of incumbent VC Prof Akhtaruzzaman, have protested the alleged assault of the proctor by Prof Jamal Uddin. The division between the two factions started a few months ago over the senate polls and the appointment of the vice chancellor. With the recent incident, this division has widened.
The convener of the Blue Panel, Abdul Aziz said, “We will not hold any meetings of the Blue Panel with teachers who assaulted Prof Jamal and will wage a tough movement if he [the VC] does not punish the perpetrators.” Given the circumstances, there is little hope that this division will end anytime soon.
The incident has drawn widespread criticism from all quarters. Teachers and students of the university have vented their frustration on social media. Some senior and former DU teachers commented on the incident but most of them did not want to be named in the newspapers. While a few teachers said they didn't want to be named because they were ashamed of the incident, needless to say, there were a few who did not want to be named because of the consequences they might face if their names were revealed. And a large number of teachers, who are not involved in teachers' politics, have chosen to remain silent.
Over the years, teachers' politics in public universities has taken a turn for the worse. In the past we had teachers who gave us hope in times of need and led us in all our democratic movements. Back then teachers used to engage in politics because of idealism, for the greater good of our society, while today they engage in party politics for petty interests—mostly to get promotions and important positions in various organisations which give them power and financial benefits.
The process starts with the appointment of teachers. There are allegations against almost all major public universities of the country of appointing teachers based on political consideration. It seems the university administrations don't care to follow the due procedure of appointment. Only a few days ago, a leading Bangla daily published a report on this "appointment trade." The report revealed how the VCs of two public universities allegedly appointed a large number of teachers in exchange for money. When the report of their gross corruption was revealed in the media, the education ministry intervened and directed both the universities to halt the appointment process.
When teachers are appointed upon political consideration and engage in politics for personal interests, can we expect anything better from them? It seems as if these teachers are playing the role of party thugs—often engaging in scuffles with students and even with their fellow colleagues over petty issues.
In July this year, a group of DU teachers got into a scuffle with students when the students demanded the long-pending DUCSU election and were protesting the absence of student representatives in the senate. Earlier this year, at Rajshahi University two groups of pro-Awami League teachers got into a row over holding of a press conference to reveal "irregularities of the administration" in buying a guesthouse for the university (The Daily Star, February 28, 2017). However, the latest clash amongst teachers at DU is the worst example of teachers' involvement in party politics.
And while these teachers are busy in political squabbling, our public universities are plagued by a myriad of problems which remain unsolved. Question paper leaks of university entry exams have become a regular phenomenon, session jam is eating away precious time of students' academic life, quality of higher education is deteriorating due to lack of research activities, violent student politics is ruining the educational environment of the campuses, and so on.
Last month, when allegations were made that the question papers of DU's “Gha” unit entry exams were leaked, DU authorities outright denied the allegations, without even investigating the incident. While research activities are an integral part of higher education, our public universities have failed miserably to produce quality research works in recent years. Sadly, DU's yearly budget for research activities is too little to support the kind of research expected of such an institution. For the fiscal year 2017–18, only two percent of its budget was allocated for research activities. Moreover, clashes among the various factions of pro-ruling party student organisations on university campuses make news headlines almost on a regular basis, but we never hear about any pragmatic steps being taken by the authorities to stop such violence. At a time when university administration and teachers' communities ought to concentrate on resolving these problems prevailing in their respective institutions, their involvement in petty political disputes and violence is a huge disappointment to the nation.
When I went to Jahangirnagar University campus earlier this year, I was surprised to see a banner hung over a street in which general students of the university urged the teachers to come to classes instead of engaging in party politics. Who would have thought that a time would come when students would have to remind teachers of their responsibilities? We hope the teachers who prefer politics to taking classes (we hope they are only a few in number) will come to their senses. We would prefer to see the names of our teachers in the news for their academic excellence and achievements, not for their involvement in unhealthy party politics and violence.
Naznin Tithi is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.