The comments of Finance Minister AMA Muhith about the demand of the University teachers for a separate pay scale not only surprised the academics but dumb-faced the whole nation. The Minister called the teachers of the highest educational institutions of the country as uneducated, irrational and corrupt in a very rude, awkward and insulting way. Muhith said the members of Bangladesh Federation of University Teachers' Association (BFUTA) - representing 37 public universities - could make such a demand because of their lack of knowledge and as they are unaware of what provisions are there for them in the new national pay scale approved by the Cabinet on Monday.
Yes, the Minister may be partially
right that the teachers are not aware of the benefits in the new pay
structure but did he play his role to make the BFUTA aware of them?
Surely he didn't. Then how would the teachers come to know? It was
expected that Mr. Muhith and Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid would
sit with the public university teachers to discuss their demand, vet
their proposals and find a way to save the universities from work
abstention by the protesting teachers. But the Ministers didn't feel
like doing so.
Instead, the Finance Minister lambasted the BFUTA in
very crude language. Maybe he was unconcerned and unaware of what
repercussions it could have on the overall education sector. His remarks
hurt the sentiments of the teachers, annoyed students and drew
criticisms from guardians who all want a peaceful academic atmosphere in
the public universities.
The BFUTA had a logical point to raise
demand for a separate pay scale. They surely have the right to ask for
it. But it was on the part of the government to find out the logic
behind and handle it nicely without hurting the sentiments of the
teacher - the artisans of future leaders of the country.
Minister castigated the university teachers when the Prime Minister had
actually referred the BFUTA demand to a Cabinet sub-committee to examine
and consider the demands. The Finance Minister, however, should have
patience to hold back his sultry comments.
Reading his remarks in the
media, anyone would feel that Mr. Muhith was talking about a group of
menial workers or garment employees or someone of lesser category. But
he ought to be wise enough to know the difference and act accordingly.
He is known for making 'rubbish' comments in the past too, over the
share market scam and other issues. But people generally took his
utterances as coming from a slightly imbalanced over-grown politician.
Now he has gone too far about the members of BFUTA, the apex body of
public university teachers.
He said no proportion was maintained
while promoting teachers and that now the universities have fewer
lecturers than professors. If that was the case, the Minister should
take account of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Education
Ministry. Why he suddenly got so furious at BFUTA is not clear but it
is certainly uncalled for.
A Minister of Mr. Muhith's stature should
know his limit and where to sew his lips. The university teachers are
the most revered creed in the country and are highly respected by their
students. Together they can do or undo anything and cause upset. The
universities, especially the Dhaka University, have a very glorious
presence in the history of Bangladesh Liberation War - and despite many
divisions in the student community, mostly driven by political
differences, the students can still play catalyst to any social or
political movement. The students and teachers, therefore, should be
spared from any indecent, arrogant and demeaning remarks.
Muhith's remarks have been criticized by university teachers across the
country. In an immediate protest, they abstained from work for a day
(Tuesday) and threatened to go for harsher action unless the Finance
Minister 'publicly tenders apology to the teachers.' The country's big
campuses have been running peacefully - except for few exceptions - over
the years with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina trying sincerely to
accommodate demands of the teaching community and tame the unruly
students including from her ruling Awami League.
But her noble
gestures often tumble on hard rock due to careless, irresponsible and
insensitive utterances by some Ministers like Mr. Muhith. Often his
remarks are provocative, callous or 'rubbish,' a coy word the Minister
likes very much to use every now and then.
Campus peace and contended
teaching staffs are remarkable standards of democracy and good
governance. The teachers belong to the highest category of citizens and
the most enlightened segment of the society. So, it's the responsibility
of all to give them due honour and protect their dignity. Mr. Muhith
probably forgot that.
However, we hope and expect the Minister to
re-track himself, sit with the BFUTA along with Education Minister Nahid
and cool the situation immediately. Unless he finds enough reason to do
so, the country may be in an uproar again and the first spark may come
from the universities.
We would also expect Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina to call and advise her Finance Minister to talk and act sensibly.
Otherwise, enemies of the government and country will try to use the
'insult' on the university teachers to fish in the muddy waters.