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Campus crisis in Sindh

Published Jul 25, 2012 12:20am


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WHAT are the qualities — in terms of scholarship and character — that one should seek in the head of a university if it is to be run competently and produce excellence in education?

Inarguably he must, above all, inspire his students so that he can lead them with his moral strength and knowledge. Considering the fact that many of our universities are in a state of crisis today, it is time we looked at the leadership factor to determine what has gone wrong.

Sindh University presents itself as a perfect example of how poor leadership can destroy an institution of higher education. There has been unrest at the campus at Jamshoro since January when a teacher was murdered. The protest is directed against the vice chancellor, Dr Nazir Mughal. When he was dispatched on ‘forced leave’ in February and his controversial orders dismissing some faculty members withdrawn, a semblance of peace was restored and classes resumed.

Yet all was not well at Jamshoro, because stopgap solutions do not resolve problems. Last month Dr Mughal was back and there has been trouble again. Immediately after his return the vice chancellor announced summer vacations and the examinations that were in progress were disrupted. Soon thereafter a really heinous crime occurred. Two professors — Amar Sindhu, who received bullet wounds, and Arfana Mallah, the secretary general of the Sindh University Teachers’ Association (Suta) — were attacked. Masked gunmen opened fire on them, giving rise to widespread anger. It was plain that those in power were trying to eliminate the VC’s two most vocal critics.

What is at the root of this crisis? The fact is that Dr Mughal does not enjoy the confidence of the faculty. There are serious charges against him. In a petition filed before the Supreme Court, Marvi Memon, a former Senator, has listed a number of them. They range from the absence of transparency in his appointment in 2010 to his failure to keep peace on campus. Two students and a teacher have been murdered in the last two years. Allegations of corruption, embezzlement and other malpractices have also been levelled.

Meanwhile the vice chancellor has kept himself in office by manipulating pro-PPP student groups. As a champion of the ruling party’s interests he also enjoys the support of political patrons who need compliant and subservient subordinates in critical positions. Since student unions remain banned from Gen Zia’s days, there is no way of knowing where the youth stand on the issue.

All this has affected academic standards while charters have been granted with abandon to institutions with dubious credentials. Instead of universities being cradles of research and intellectual regeneration, they are stagnating. The powers that be have clamped down on students to prevent original thinking that could challenge the status quo.

Dr Mughal had earlier served as vice chancellor of Sindh University from 1995-98 and was reappointed quite arbitrarily in 2010 because of his connections in the right quarters. That was a slap in the face of education in Pakistan considering that his credentials are not impeccable. A committee appointed after his last dismissal in 1998 had recommended disciplinary action against him. In his last tenure he was removed when a student was killed on campus and there was widespread public agitation.

The Suta has now issued a white paper that levels 24 charges against the vice chancellor. Some of them cast doubts on his eligibility for the post he holds today. His association with two educational institutions with foreign links is said to have kept him away from Sindh University, where he was first appointed in 1974 but never confirmed as his presence there was minimal. The white paper meticulously records photocopies of bills and memoranda in support of corruption charges ranging from financial embezzlement to academic malpractices such as allowing students with zero attendance to appear in examinations, nepotism in the appointment of teachers and the sale of teaching positions. It calls for an independent enquiry.

What is, however, most serious is the fact that the vice chancellor’s relations with the faculty are adversarial and militate against healthy academic activity. The rise in violence at Sindh University — 235 FIRs have been registered since 2010 — is disturbing. Attacking teachers is no solution when matters have reached such a state.

While it is a matter of serious concern that the students of Sindh are being denied a good education and their academic life stands disrupted, the wider implications of the troubles in Jamshoro are grave. Marvi Memon spoke of the vice chancellor’s role being indispensable in facilitating the election of MNAs (said to be 23 in number) who have suspect degrees from Sindh University. She requested the Supreme Court to ask the Higher Education Commission to verify their degrees. This has not happened.

What is happening in Sindh’s universities can at best be described as the politicisation of higher education to facilitate the perpetuation of a party in office. If the axe falls on MNAs who support the present government, that would be destabilising for it. Schools have already been used to consolidate the power of those in office by planting their henchmen in educational institutions. Universities are also being used for the same purpose even though this practice has been deemed illegal by the Lahore High Court in the case of the appointment of the vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences, Lahore and others.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (11) Closed

sikander Jul 25, 2012 10:01am
corrupt peoples r involve in this dirty game,our rulers don't want to improve a educational environment in our country.
G.K. Shahani Jul 27, 2012 06:35pm
Well, I'm quite disagree with the writer on some points, as Eleven of the 12 public sector universities in Sindh, including Karachi University, are headed by retired professors. Looking at the larger picture, capable and qualified administrators must be placed in charge of the nation`s public universities. They must be empowered to root out hooliganism and criminal elements from campuses and put the focus back on study. Decades of armed violence in Pakistan`s institutions of higher learning have had a decimating effect on education. Also, while Sindh University`s teachers have every right to protest, but they should at least choose alternative methods to voice their dissent as the suspension of academic activities is hurting students the most. But I'm sorry to mentioned here that our teachers are inflicted with politicization and ego problems were the main cause of deterioration of all public sector institutions of higher learning in the province and there was a dire need to review the role of the campus teachers Unions in the light of the 18th constitutional amendment.
G.K. Shahani Jul 27, 2012 06:44pm
Dear Amir, you may don't know that the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, has played a pivotal role in bringing about social transformation and political awareness in Sindh. Giants like Allama I. I. Qazi, Dr Nabi Bux Khan Baloch and Maulana Qasmi had devoted their lives to establish such a university that could meet the intellectual curiosity of the people.
Cyrus Howell Jul 25, 2012 06:37am
One of the chairpersons of one of the school's departments should be chosen. Choosing a professional administrator is not choosing "an educator."
Cyrus Howell Jul 25, 2012 06:39am
"It calls for an independent inquiry." It calls for a firing squad.
Rizwan Jul 25, 2012 06:46am
It is a pity that our rulers are bent upon destroying the second oldest University in Pakistan. Its true we do not have any value for our national assets. Shame.
Garib Manus Jul 25, 2012 07:39am
The problem is that universities today are hardly devoted to academic persuits. Their main preoccupation is with coducting exams and such. It does not help either that academics do not generally make good administrators--a fact often exploited by those who are in power.
Ammad Javed Jul 25, 2012 04:36pm
the system needs to be deformed,honest policy makers should be appointed who must pay sufficient heed to wards this phenomenon.
Syed Shah Jul 25, 2012 05:57pm
How come they could not find some one else for the position of a vice chancellor. Gives me an impression that even the chancellor is not doing a good job
Amir Jul 25, 2012 09:37pm
Sindh University is a dump both physically and intellectually. It has failed to graduate any intellectual of consequence in the the past many decades.
Professor Aftab Kazi Jul 26, 2012 03:38am
Last June, I joined Sindh University as visiting HEC foreign professor in order to develop a concentration in Eurasian Studies at MPhil and PhD level in the Department of International Relations. The Academic Board of the Department also approved the idea. Nazir Mughal and his PVS Parveen Shah (A plagiarist) never read the file, instead accused me of opening a new department. University leadership that lies blatantly and encourages plagiarism does not qualify for such posts. I was mistreated by Nazir Mughal, hence requested HEC for transfer at QAU, Islamabad, where by now I already have three students defending dissertations, and seven more will do so by November. I feel very sorry for the state of affairs at Sindh University.