A noble profession disgraced
While briefing the media after the cabinet meeting on September 7, an eminent secretary suggested that the government was supposed to consider the maximum benefits of public servants instead of endowing a "particular profession" with greater facilities. His reference seemed to be a blatant and specific jibe at public university teachers. Here, the secretary barely bore in mind that investing on teachers would, to a massive extent, contribute to the greatest welfare of the country as teachers are primarily responsible for creating future leaders in almost every field. Such belittling does not merely exhibit the perception of only one secretary. In fact, many Bangladeshi bureaucrats harbour a similar notion towards teachers.
The prevalent allegations against public university teachers are many. They are supposedly "pawns" in the hands of political parties; they avail their jobs through lobbying and the meritorious candidates are not always given priority; they rarely contribute to seminal research; they have a yearning toward extra earnings no matter what the source is; they frequently show moral degradation and so on and so forth. Amid these charges, the basic question that arises is whether teachers deserve such tasteless comments or are worthy of the dignity and other facilities reserved for "intellectually active" beings.
At this juncture, the question is, why do teachers become puppets at the hands of political parties which mainly strive to remain in power even at the cost of students' future? It would not be unfair to say that teachers are compelled to negotiate with the nuclei of power which, in a struggling democracy like Bangladesh, are obviously the political parties. Here, institutions barely perform according to proper rule of law. Malgovernance, bribery, corruption are predominant.
Time and again university professors are often subject to public humiliation and physical assault from various quarters. The latest example can be drawn from the incidents at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST).
University teachers are primarily organic intellectuals who devote themselves to take society forward in the course of creating and disseminating knowledge. That is why, as a general rule, the brightest students and intellectuals choose to be university teachers. On the other hand, bureaucrats, as taken from Gramsci's theory of intellectual ability, are traditional intellectuals who are professional executives and officials of any particular production system of a state. Here, it is of serious concern that teachers are usually pundits, having very little or no coercive power, while bureaucrats exercise great (as per 'constitutional law') power, having little or no contribution to the spectrum of knowledge. Does this not create an awful sense of insecurity in both camps? Interestingly, to trounce this sense of inadequacy, bureaucrats and officers of law enforcing agencies these days, aspire for PhD degrees, while some teachers work towards acquiring some sort of political backup.
In general, an allegation against teachers is their meagre contribution to seminal research. In this regard, to what extent should people blame teachers for not being able to produce groundbreaking knowledge in Bangladeshi universities and laboratories? Currently, there's a severe crisis of teachers in public universities and colleges of the country. Most teachers, especially in new universities, are overworked. Along with this, there is very little or absolutely no research grants allocated for research purposes. Under the sway of neoliberal education policy, there is also tremendous pressure of the semester system in all disciplines. Assigned with voluminous syllabi, teachers are always in a rush to complete their syllabus on time due to various political and socio-cultural reasons. They rarely enjoy the space and scope to dig deeper into any topic. As teachers' state of subsistence is almost always under threat, some of them try to earn a little more by teaching in private universities or offering consultancy services to NGOs. As a whole, new ideas are discouraged or put off, contributing to research sterility in universities.
Ensuring proper facilities for teachers through a separate pay scale and including them in the Warrant of Precedence would certainly help to minimise the perpetual state of crisis in public universities. Uniformity of laws in all public universities can reduce stratification among teachers and staff in different universities. At the same time, political leaders should discourage teachers from blindly serving political parties. Teachers should ideally defend moral standards of society. When they engage in politics, their dubious political practices might diminish their credibility among the general public.
The writer teaches English at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Gopalgonj.