LAHORE: In an unprecedented move, the Punjab government has appointed Professor Dr Shazia Bashir as the acting vice chancellor (VC) of the Government College University (GCU) — the first woman in the university’s 160-year history to have this position.

Prof Bashir, a former Ravian, has been serving GCU Lahore since 1996 and was previously the dean of the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. She has an extensive academic background, with a Master’s degree in Physics from the Government College Lahore, an MPhil from the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, and a PhD from the Technical University, Vienna, Austria.

Her tenure as the director of the Centre for Advanced Studies in Physics and Institute of Physics and Chairperson, Department of Physics, has been marked by significant contributions to research and development in the field. She has more than 150 research publications appearing in reputed international journals to her credit.

The appointment, conferred by Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman, is for a period of four months or until the appointment of a regular VC. The faculty, staff, and students have welcomed this historic appointment.

However, this appointment comes amidst a leadership crisis in Punjab’s public sector universities. At least 29 of these institutions are currently operating without regular VCs, leading to a host of academic and administrative issues.

The Higher Education Department (HED), which administers 34 public universities in the province, has seen the tenure of regular VCs at 22 universities expire one and a half years ago and four others more than six months ago. Three new universities established by the government also require the appointment of VCs.

The lack of permanent leadership has raised concerns among the academic staff associations of the universities, which believe that absence of regular VCs is compromising the standards of education and research in these varsities.

The most important positions, including VCs, registrar, treasurers, and controllers of examinations, have been lying vacant in many universities in the province.

On March 24, Governor Balighur Rehman had written a letter to Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, urging her to make permanent appointments to important posts, including those of VCs, across the province.

The interim government had issued advertisements for the vacant posts of VCs and constituted search committees for interviewing the candidates for the slots.

However, the process remained incomplete as it was challenged in court with the argument that the interim government could not hire VCs under the law.

Sources claim that HED officers are reluctant to re-advertise the posts and want to fill them based on the previous advertisement.

This lapse in statutory tenures has disrupted the varsities’ core functions, such as academic processes, administrative controls, decision-making, and financial management. Currently, these universities are being run by pro-VCs or VCs having additional or acting charge.

Prof Bashir is also third acting vice chancellor of the GCU, as the Punjab government has again failed to tackle the larger issue of vacant posts of VCs in the universities of the province.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2024

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