Immediate Past RU VC: He did what he fought all his life
Rajshahi University's Prof Abdus Sobhan spent a good many years fighting for educational causes and against unlawful recruitment and corruption by the university authorities, and he even had to go to jail.
But when he became the vice-chancellor, he went back on all his ideals.
On his final day of second term in office Thursday, he required police protection when a protest was raging on campus against his alleged misdeeds.
The same day Sobhan had appointed at least 137 teachers and staffers, ignoring recruitment rules.
Later in the evening, the education ministry announced the recruitments illegal. It also formed a four-member committee to identify those involved in the hiring process.
The committee members flew to Rajshahi yesterday and began the investigation.
In another development yesterday, RU registrar Prof Abdus Salam issued an office order suspending the recruitment processes and the joining of those recruited on the last day of Sobhan until the ministerial probe committee comes up with its findings.
Born in 1953, Sobhan studied applied physics and electronics at Rajshahi University until 1975 and started teaching at the same university in 1979. He completed his PhD at the University of Newcastle in Australia in 1992 and become a professor at RU in 1997.
He was general secretary of RU Teachers Association in 2000, and convenor of the Progressive Teachers Association for two years till 2008.
During the BNP-Jamaat rule, Sobhan and others raised their voices against illegal recruitments and irregularities, especially against the recruitment of 544 employees.
In 2007, he was at the forefront of the movement when the administration recruited 200 staffers in three days without budgetary allocations and moved to recruit 800 others in exchange for bribe.
The Daily Star then quoted Sobhan as saying, "The instances of cashing in on the recruitment are alarming and the controversial appointments beyond budget will turn the institution into a white elephant soon."
He was arrested and sent to jail along with six other teachers for five months until December 4, 2007, for joining the democratic movement of students and teachers during the caretaker rule.
In 2008, Sobhan played a key role in making the then VC Prof Altaf Hossain appear before a hearing by UGC against allegations of corruption and irregularities.
These records of his fight against corruption and irregularities did not take long to become a thing of the past when he was made the VC for the first time in 2009.
His dubious deeds came out in the open in the allegations made by teachers and job-seekers and consequent probe reports by the UGC.
Chairing his first syndicate meeting, he recruited at least 51 teachers against 21 advertised posts. In his first term until 2013, he recruited 330 teachers, 95 of them on ad-hoc, and 595 staffers.
He was also involved in offering tenders to a section of bidders, misappropriating funds by repeating same projects as well as by appointing teachers with lower qualifications, campus sources say.
He was then accused of harassing his colleagues for not supporting him.
Allegations against him of patronising Jamaat-Shibir men went rife in February 2010 when Faruk Hossain, a Chhatra League man, was killed in his campus dormitory by Jamaat-Shibir men.
The university under Sobhan then suffered a fund deficit of more than Tk 50 crore due to the large-scale recruitment without UGC's approval of budgets for their salaries.
His administration had to raise different fees and launch night courses to plug the budget gaps.
As the previous allegations of corruption and irregularities were never investigated, Sobhan became the VC for the second term in May 2017, a first in RU history.
Sobhan left the VC post vacant for one day on June 21, 2017, so he could take voluntary retirement from his post of a teacher of applied physics and electronic engineering. This process required prior permission of the chancellor but that was not taken.
Then three days later, he hid the information of his voluntary retirement when he wrote to the chancellor seeking permission for taking it on June 29 and his reappointment as the VC.
This was challenged at the High Court that issued a rule to explain his holding of office, but the writ petition did not progress.
In August 2017, Sobhan moved for changing the university's standard policies for recruiting teachers and staffers and eventually relaxed the educational qualifications and age limits for applying for different posts.
Using the relaxed qualifications in October 2017, he recruited his own daughter and son-in-law who could not find a job at the newer universities like Kushtia Islamic University and Begum Rokeya University.
This opened scope for many others to claim jobs, and 34 teachers were recruited who were not eligible to even apply as per the previous recruitment policy.
With the 34, a total 52 teachers and 191 staffers were recruited in his second term.
He also raised the age limit, and lowered educational qualifications for appointing low-tier employees.
Alongside enjoying the VC's residence, Sobhan occupied a duplex for 18 months till 2019 causing a revenue loss of Tk 5.61 lakh, a UGC probe found.
It also gathered that the former VC used his relatives and the teachers loyal to him in carrying out his misdeeds. The report recommended initiating an investigation into the wealth of Sobhan, and seven others.
In last two months of his tenure, he sanctioned three projects -- Tk 15 crore drain construction, Tk 12 crore teachers' quarter expansion, and Tk 9 crore auditorium repair. These projects were overestimated and given to persons of his choice, flouting rules, RU teachers alleged.
Following the UGC probe, the education ministry suspended further recruitment in December 2020.
In January this year, the Prime Ministers' Office made a humanitarian request for appointing one physically challenged person. After his appointment, Sobhan incited job-seekers to wage a movement so they could be recruited as well.
In a phone clip, reported in different newspapers, the VC was heard of promising highest priority to the ruling party men in giving jobs and asked them to launch a movement.
In October 2020, he was criticised for spending Tk 2 crore from university coffers to build a madrasa and naming it after him, Sobhania Al Quranul Karim Hifzkhana.
Talking to The Daily Star, science faculty dean Prof Khalilur Rahman said he had to endure Sobhan's pressure to recruit people that Sobhan chose.
"His reappointment was a bad decision as he had prior records of unlawful recruitment."
Talking to journalists after facing the ministerial probe committee yesterday afternoon, Sobhan refuted the allegations.
"The appointments were overdue, given on humanitarian grounds. Those people were leading miserable lives for want of jobs. I had to meet their demands."
Asked about his previous role against such recruitments, he said, "All those recruitments were later legalised; no one investigated those. Now why should I have to face an investigation? I did nothing in personal interest."
He said the ministerial probe committee was formed on the basis of misinformation and without consulting him. All the persons he appointed are either tested workers of the ruling party, or family members of the ruling party men.
He claimed he never did anything in violation of the laws. "I did everything that made sense to me."