EVEN in the middle of the death and mayhem that struck Pakistan over the past few days, the news about the National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, fining students for what they wore has raised eyebrows. It shocked because dress codes at universities — though they exist in Pakistan and even at some places in the West — are controversial. Universities generally are expected to offer far more freedom to students than schools. Partly this is because it is universally accepted that those attending universities are young adults who are about to enter practical life, and secondly, because unlike schools, institutes of higher edu-cation are also supposed to encourage original thought. And it is generally accepted that free thought flourishes in the opposite of a regimented lifestyle. In a lighter vein, there is after all a reason why the popular story of how Isaac Newton discovered gravity involves him having bunked school and whiling away his time watching an apple fall from a tree.
But sadly universities in Pakistan do not aim for these goals. And with many managements hiring former military officials because they are seen as effective administrators, universities are focused on regimentation and not research and higher learning. (Nust too is known to be run by former military men.) This is the message that Nust is sending to the world and to Pakistan. Surely, a university should have better goals than monitoring its female students’ clothes. Even if for some inexplicable reason the university management felt the need to regulate what students wear, there is no need to publicly display their names and ‘offence’. Such public displays of morality will only lead to bad publicity and strengthen the perception that right-wing views are prevalent in Pakistan. Is this what Nust wants?