LAHORE: A controversy erupted on Monday after Aitchison College Principal Michael A. Thompson resigned from his post, citing alleged interference of the Governor House in management of the college for a year or so.

Sources said the principal tendered his resignation as a protest after Governor Balighur Rehman allowed a leave of absence and a complete fee waiver for a period of three years to two children of former bureaucrat and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Ahad Cheema.

On the other hand, the backlash from the media forced the PML-N governments in centre and Punjab to do some damage control as they requested the principal to withdraw the resignation. Federal Minister for Information Attaullah Tarar contacted Mr Thompson and requested him to withdraw his resignation. Tarar was also quoted by a news channel, saying that the government would resolve the issue amicably.

Saima Ahad Cheema, the wife of the minister, had filed an application for fee waiver of her two sons before the Punjab governor, stating that she was a civil servant who had been transferred from Lahore to Islamabad in June 2022 and her children were minors who could not be left unsupervised in Lahore. She applied for reservation of seats and leave of absence for both of them.

Issue surfaced over fee waiver for Ahad Cheema’s sons; govt asks principal to withdraw resignation

However, she was later informed by the principal of the college that while the leave of absence had been accepted for her sons, she would have to pay the complete tuition fee during the duration of their absence. She submitted that she could not afford to pay tuition fees to two schools, in Lahore and in Islamabad.

The governor issued orders on March 21, available with Dawn, accepting the representation filed by Ms Saima for grant of leave of absence to both children with a complete fee waiver for a period of three years with effect from Aug 18, 2022. Consequently, the orders passed by the principal on Nov 14, 2022 and August 10, 2023 were withdrawn by the governor under the Punjab Educational Institutions (Reconstitution) Act 2021.

Michael A. Thompson is an Australian and he is the first foreign principal of the college since independence of the country.

Mr Thompson confirmed to Dawn that he had written a letter to his staff and sent it on Monday.

In the letter, available with Dawn, he states, “This is not how I planned to leave Aitchison, but I will share with you that a continuation of very poor governance has left me no other choice. Throughout my time as principal, I have done my very best to protect the school’s reputation while extending compassion to those in need.

However, there is a crucial difference between this pursuit and the presence of blatant policy manufacturing to accommodate certain individuals because such people simply insist on preferential treatment. Politics and nepotism have no place in schools.“

Mr Thompson referred directly to the authority interfering in the matters of the school.

“Over the past year, other prejudiced actions by Governor House have contributed to a breakdown of governance and management, under which I had to finally draw a line. It seems incredulous to me, and quite possibly to most other people, that a school so successful can be subjected to such unwarranted interference and brazen directives,” he added.

“I leave on April 1 and will not play any role in the management of upcoming admissions,” Thompson stated.

Mr Thompson had also tendered his resignation in September 2018 allegedly under pressure from political circles for taking disciplinary action against some students.

Sources in the Governor House claimed that the governor had passed the fee waiver order under the law. The decision would benefit all the parents who would have to leave the city due to any concrete reason.

The sources claimed that the principal had tendered his resignation last year to leave the college in August 2024, citing personal reasons. The governor had accepted the principal’s resignation and a search committee had also been constituted for the appointment of a new principal, they added.

The sources alleged that the principal had been facing disciplinary proceedings since February 2024.

Renowned businessman and philanthropist Syed Babar Ali who was serving as chairman of the school’s board of governors (BoG) management committee had also tendered his resignation on Feb 6, 2024, citing ‘health and advanced age’ as reasons.

Syed Babar Ali’s letter from more than a month ago surfaced on Monday, shortly after Mr Thompson’s resignation.

In the resignation letter, Babar Ali also praised Mr Thompson, saying that he had worked tirelessly for the college more than any other principal.

Mr Ali said Mr Thomson had not only been able to raise funds for three new boarding houses but had also been able to considerably improve the quality of teaching in all three schools.

He asked the authorities to recognise Thomson’s services, saying that Aitchison College had never before achieved better final academic results while Aitchisonian boys were admitted to top US universities (Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, and others) and also to Oxford and Cambridge in great numbers during his tenure.

Speaking on a private TV channel, Ahad Cheema pointed out flaws in the existing policy dealing with the children of civil servants who were frequently transferred.

He added that the policy approved by the college BoG was meant for the children of all civil servants or anybody else facing problems following their transfer to other stations. He said the governor had sent his wife’s application to the board of governors that had accepted the application for the fee waiver.

A protest outside the Governor House has been announced by the old Aitchisonians and parents of students against the incident that forced the principal to resign. In an announcement, they demanded restoration of the principal and expulsion of both sons of the minister.

Founded in 1886, the Aitchison College is one of the oldest schools and colleges of Lahore.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2024

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