THE four days' nightmare at the Jahangirnagar University (JU) is over at least for the next ten days. Vice Chancellor Professor Anwar Hossain, who was kept shut in his office from August 21 till August 24 by his agitating colleagues, has been freed from confinement, thanks to the assurance of Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid that the allegations against the VC would be looked into by a probe body.
But what had been happening since August 21 until the JU VC could breathe the air of freedom is appalling. To think that the vice-chancellor of a university was not allowed to go out of his chamber after office hours, meet his family members, or take rest in his house for four consecutive days! And the state of his confinement could have been be prolonged had not the education minister intervened. What was the VC's fault? Did he commit any serious offence that his colleagues decided to punish him in this manner? No, but it was a method of agitation to force the VC to resign as they have a bagful of allegations against him and demands to realise.
A very strange and cruel way to treat the head of one of the highest seats of learning of the country by one's fellow teachers! One would not be surprised if it was the work of some unruly outsiders with no respect for the sanctity of a university campus. But no, it was done by persons recognised and revered by common people for their learning.
This is not meant to say that teachers cannot have their complaints and demands and they should not fight for those. Fight they must, but what is important here is the method they choose to voice their resentment. But their style of agitation should be like that of teachers. A line was necessary, to be drawn between their method of protest and that pursued by workers in a mill or an agitated mob on the street. Such difference was conspicuous by its absence in the case of JU teachers' agitation.
There were many civilised options of protest before the teachers. They could have given vent to their anger or disapproval by expressing no confidence in the VC by sending a letter signed by them to the president and chancellor of the universities. They could also make a copy available to the media. That would have been like the teachers of a university. Finally, they could make a representation before the chancellor. They actually made a similar kind of move by sending a delegation to the education minister but by that time the waters were already muddied.
But after what has happened, would not a parent think twice before sending her/his child for higher education to that university, not to mention the fate of some 13, 000 students of this only residential university of the country. Anti-VC movement has been in force since beginning of 2012, when Jahangirnagar University Teachers' Association (JUTA) demanded the then-VC Professor Shariff Enamul Kabir's resignation. His faults were many, including highhandedness in running administration supported by pro-government student body. The prime minister's intervention in the matter notwithstanding, the situation continued to worsen. Within days of his resignation, Prof. Anwar Hossain was appointed VC on July 17, 2012. Nothing changed during his tenure. Now he is also facing a situation similar to his predecessor.
JU teachers have suspended the movement following education minister's assurance. They said they reposed all their trust in the minister. So far so good. But did they not also put their faith in the prime minister's assurance during their agitation against the former VC? And what will they do at the end of the 15-day pause in their movement and nothing comes out of the probe? Will the unrest begin all over again? And can they assure that there will be no further anti-VC agitation, if the incumbent VC is also forced to resign?
The government cannot wash its hands of the continued instability and violence. It must end the practice of politically appointing vice chancellors. For in every case of such appointment, the VC after joining office begins to concentrate more on making his political boss happy than restoring the academic environment and campus discipline. The university teachers' main concern then becomes getting rid of the VC through tough movements.
It appears that the main job of JU teachers now is not to impart lessons to their students in the classrooms, but remain forever engaged in a battle to remove one VC after another. They must get out of this vicious circle and work to remove the causes through which political appointment of VCs take place, for example, by violating the Jahangirnagar University Act 1973 as it happened in the case of previous VC Prof. Shariff Enamul Kabir, or by chancellor's selection from a VC panel that is not fully representative of the university teachers. In the latter case, they need to ensure that the panel sent to the chancellor to choose a VC from is duly voted by the majority members of a full senate. To that end, they will have to make the senate fully functional and proactive.
The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.