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        Volume 11 |Issue 30| July 27, 2012 |


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Special Feature

Photo: Star File

The Buet Phenomenon

The stalemate in the Buet crisis has already caused too much damage to the academic activities of this highly subsidised institution. It is time the authorities take prompt steps to resume classes in the most reputed public university of the country.

Akram Hosen

Never in its 65 year’s history has Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) seen as many students and teachers take part in protests as it has during the last one year. The administration has never declared it closed for 44 days on the ostensible account of summer vacation in the middle of monsoon. Never in its history has any VC and Pro VC lost the trust of an overwhelming majority of their colleagues and students and still held on to their posts.

Unlike most of our other public universities, Buet has always been an internationally recognised institute of technology, known for the uncompromising rigour of its academic activities. But the recent demonstrations against the VC and Pro VC for their alleged irregularities have been causing great harm to the regular academic activities of the university for months. As if the frequent postponing of classes was not enough, the authority declared the institution closed on July 10. There is no doubt that the move poses a risk of causing a session jam for many graduating students. But the students, who have not left the campus despite the long vacation, say that they are more concerned about the future of Buet as a reputed university than they are about the possibility of a session jam.

"After the teachers have postponed the classes for three weeks, I told the VC to give in to the teachers' demands, and reassess the appointment on retrospective considerations," says the Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid. According to him, attempts were made to make the teachers understand that the protests are sparked by some administrative issues. But it is the students who are bearing the brunt of the stalemate.

However, the students in masses have joined the protests populated mainly by the teachers after the closure was announced. "That is when we realised that this VC could not care less about the academic calendar and the future of the students," says Suman, a final year student. The protesters' demand so far has been the removal or resignation of Vice Chancellor Prof Nazrul Islam and Pro-VC Prof Habibir Rahman.

The students' involvement in the demonstration is
a recent development in Buet's ongoing crisis. Photo: Star File
Buet Teacher's Association called a press conference to press home their demands on Saturday, 21 July. Photo: Star File

The students' involvement in the demonstration is a recent development in Buet's ongoing crisis. A third year student, reluctant to disclose his identity says, "Our teachers have always kept us out of the protests. But we reiterated our will to join them when we saw that the teachers' demands were completely ignored."

As a public university, it is no wonder that Buet should have recruitment and appointment of high officials partly on political considerations. At least that is how it has always been done in the past, informs a professor, who wishes to remain anonymous. "Political affiliations always play a role in getting the highest official posts in the public universities. We don't mind that. But in the case of these two people (the VC and Pro VC), the failure results from their incompetence," he says. He concludes that both of these individuals have a political façade, which they are exploiting for personal gain.

Buet Teachers Association has officially published 16 allegations against the VC and Pro VC, among which are the breaking of a tradition that values experience and seniority, the appointment of incompetent personnel as Pro VC and Registrar, tampering with the exam results of two students on the VC's written recommendation and more.

In this regard, the Education Minister says that he asked the teachers to resume classes, ensuring that a probe committee will be formed. "But the teachers didn't cooperate and said nothing to the probe committee. However, after the committee submitted their report, we wanted to sit with the teachers for a discussion. Then on the day of the discussion, they started the agitation again. So, we were back to square one."

Professor Ashraful Islam, General Secretary, Buet Teachers' Association, claims that there were above 50 more experienced and more senior academics than Prof Habibir Rahman. "But defying our tradition, none of them were made Pro VC.

Asked for his comments about the allegations, Pro VC Prof Habibir Rahman says, "I have been asking from the beginning to form a probe committee to look into the allegations. That is the only peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis." He also adds that if the findings of the probe committee do not mean anything to them (the teachers), he does not know what can be done. He refuses to make any further comments about the matter.

In fact, the Buet syndicate decided on July 11 to ask the Chancellor for a judicial probe into the matter. But the protesting teachers differ on the question of forming a probe committee. Prof Mujibur Rahman, president of the Teachers' Association says, "They have already conducted a probe that took a couple of months and nothing was solved." According to him, no impartial probe can be conducted while the VC and Pro VC are still in the office. Since the allegations are against them, and they are the ones who control the administration, the Teachers' Association has been opposing any further probe into the matter while they are still there. "A judicial probe will be welcomed only after the VC and Pro VC are removed from their position. If the allegations are found to be false in the investigation, they will return to the position and we won't object," says Prof Rahman.

Asked for his comments about a resolution to the ongoing crisis at Buet, the VC Prof Nazrul Islam says that he does not have anything to say. About the allegations against him, he echoes the Pro VC: "I want a judicial probe into the matter. Whether I should resign or be removed before the probe begins is for the Honourable President to decide."

Some students and commentators equate the ongoing crisis of Buet with the fact that the VC is not elected from a panel of teachers, but rather selected by the chancellor. The 1973 university ordinance gives Dhaka, Jahangirnagar, Chittagong and Rajshahi universities autonomy. These universities are supposed to have a panel of senators who elect the VC. However, despite being full fledged universities, Buet and Bangladesh Agricultural University do not have any senate. The tradition of Buet is to appoint the VC, Pro VC, and other high officials on the basis of experience and seniority. The appointment of the current Pro VC and the Registrar was a breach of that tradition, informed Professor Ashraful Islam.

Considering the present state of the four autonomous universities, many academics and students of Buet believe that the university has always been better off without any active politics of both students and teachers. Dr Md Ehsan, Department of Mechanical Engineer says, "Unlike others, the teachers of this university are not divided into red, blue and white groups. We are all working together, without any political motivations, for a better future of the university and the students."

Some newspapers have alleged that the teachers who are demonstrating are members of the BNP-Jamaat. Refuting that, Dr Ehsan says that the Teachers' Association has "nothing against the government for one thing, for another, the attempts to associate the demonstrations with any political party are aimed to undermine the unprecedented unity among the academics, administrative officials and students." It is indeed evident that students and teachers of different religions and political persuasions are spontaneously participating in the movement. Former Special Assistant to the Chief Adviser Prof M Tamim says, "The struggle is aimed to protect the tradition and reputation of Buet."

At one point of the demonstration, the deans of five faculties, directors of three institutes, and 17 departmental heads quit Buet, demanding the removal of the VC and the Pro VC. More than half of the teachers signed on resignation letters demanding the VC's resignation. In turn, the VC declared that he is going to find and recruit new teachers for the university.

The Education Minister informs, "I arranged a meeting with head of the state, but instead of coming to the meeting, they decided to resign. The meaning of this mass resignation is the ultimate destruction of the university."

However, the teachers decided on July 21 to postpone their en masse resignation till the end of this month. The softening stance will hopefully facilitate a resolution of the crisis. "There is no turning back from where we are now. We are very hopeful that the Prime Minister and the President will take any steps necessary to resume the academic activities," says Prof Mujibur Rahman, President of the Teachers' Association. He also states that the demonstrations have successfully made the people of the country aware of the situation that Buet is in now.

On the whole, there is no denying that the predicament of Buet has devastating effects on the educational environment of the institution. The chances that the students will have to go through a session jam because of the crisis are rather high. In this regard, it is the responsibility of the authority to resolve the matter.

It is being reported that initiatives to break the impasse have been slowed down since the agitating teachers and students decided to postpone their decision to resign en masse. Sources in the education ministry have said that the top level government leaders are disappointed in the agitating teachers for their decision to quit. Under the given circumstances, we want to remind the education ministry and the Buet authority that Buet is a highly subsidised institution. A lot of public money is being spent on every single student of Buet every year. Their future means a lot to the people of this country. Even if it is only for the sake of the greater good, we demand that the VC and his deputy should resign, putting their personal interests aside.

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