Jahangirnagar University protest: No silver lining behind the clouds
For several days, there has been no class or examination in country's one of the best rated universities of the country Jahangirnagar University (JU) amid a student-teacher demonstration for the removal of the Vice-Chancellor Farzana Islam.
The protests demanding the VC's resignation over corruption allegations started in late August. After a short break, teachers and students under the banner of 'Jahangirnagar against Corruption' resumed agitations few days ago, when the authorities did not meet their demands.
Meanwhile the protesting students and teachers were attacked by students and teachers supporting the VC in the name of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) which led to the closure of the university though the protestors did not comply and continued with their demonstrations.
VC Farzana Islam stayed firm on her decisions to not resign with the allegations of corruption and protests continued. Upon severity, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also had to deliver a very strong remark that if the allegations against the VC are not proved then the protestors will also have to face actions. But still there is no sign of settlement and during this process the most affected thing is education. The exams are delayed for uncertain period and the classes are cancelled. This confrontation between the students and authority is becoming common hurting the overall education of the country. Hence, this scenario compels us to look into the incident from different perspectives.
According to many, the crisis at JU can be resolved easily if the VC resigns from her post willingly without further delay. But among the 19 VCs of JU till its establishment, 5 had to step down from their position till now. Current VC Farzana Islam can be the sixth on the list. As soon as she resigns, we will all treat her as guilty as it was for the previously resigned VCs. Amazingly, all these VCs had to step down due to matters completely different from education or quality of education. Most importantly, we need to think deeply if the resignation of the VC can be a good solution for the educational system of Bangladesh.
Not only JU but also most of the public universities have experienced the incidents of VC's removal through protests. It is becoming a trend in recent times as while we are going through the JU situation, another public university VC had to step down recently. Reportedly, University Grants Commission (UGC) is launching an investigation against several VCs of the public universities.
JU is a university with more than 800 teachers and over 14,000 students. Among these huge numbers of teachers and students, only a few are demonstrating in demand of the VC's removal. But the majority is not supporting or participating in the protest.
A huge project for the development of JU was passed by the ECNEC and to initiate a part of the project works, numbers of trees were required to cut down which would hurt the biodiversity - a trait itself for the university. Few students and teachers protested as they claimed the planning was faulty. In the meanwhile, the VC raised complains against the then BCL central president and general secretary as she claimed they demanded a fair share of the project money. Her complain even led to the removal of those two from BCL. But along with that allegations of corruption from the VC's part were raised as the protestors are continuously claiming that she had been associated with misappropriation of funds.
We may find the allegations against the VC true.
But the protests halting classes and exams cannot be a solution. If the protesting students or teachers are confident about their complaints and have proofs, then few of them could have filed legal complaints against the VC and the law enforcers could have looked into the matter. If guilty the VC could be punished as per the law of the country. But hampering the education cannot be accepted as a system of protest.
Moreover, the teachers supporting the protests are actually igniting the students to conduct such demonstrations for their own agenda. As teachers, if they are committed to their jobs, then they cannot support such protests.
It is alright if the teachers protest on some issues related to their jobs but protesting under the wings of students cannot be accepted. But sadly, this ill culture that started in JU is spreading at all educational institutes now-a-days and it will definitely hurt the overall education in Bangladesh. In this process, the teachers are hurting their own honor and today the students can easily throw their teachers in water and no teacher protests.
Another issue is if the VCs of the public universities are risking the lives and peace of their families for their job. The protesting students and teachers staged their demonstrations and arranged concerts surrounding the house of the VC where her family members also live. Those protests by the possibly violent students and teachers must have intimated the family members of the VC.
As any citizen of Bangladesh, the VC also has the right to live a secured life with her family. By such protests, the students repeatedly violated the human rights of many VCs of different public universities of the country. We can understand about the students as they are still young but it is astonishing that few teachers also joined such protests destroying the sanity of the family members of the VC, who is also a colleague of theirs.
The most talked about part of this ongoing protest was the attack of BCL leaders and activists on their protesting fellow students and honorable teachers. As soon as the attack took place, the newspapers and electronic media were flooded with comments about atrocities of BCL. Of course, none can support such attack over anyone. But before identifying the attackers as BCL members, we must first see if they are the students of JU and yes, they were.
If a group of JU students can have protest against the VC, then a group of students can also take their stand for the VC. That is, the protest itself is creating opportunity for standoffs. In any standoff, the majority wins and those students attacking the protestors were larger in numbers and might. Hence, the protestors had to face brutality.
No universities of Bangladesh could have secured a position among the top 1000 universities of the world. They failed to do so in terms of both quality of the institution and graduate employability. JU could not even earn a place among the QS ranking of top 500 Asian universities or among the top 6000 universities of the world as per the World University Ranking though the institution had a lot of promises.
Though JU failed to place itself among the top universities of the world, they definitely placed themselves in the topmost position in terms of uprooting and removing their VC. Unfortunately, none among the hundreds of protest at different educational institutes was for the betterment of educational quality or facility rather those were against corruption, crimes or other things. It is clear that the students and the teachers are least bothered about education.
Considering the current context, we are unsure who will play the role of the guardian of the VCs of public universities. If allegations rise against a VC regarding corruption, failure to carry out responsibilities or if there are some issues regarding the safety and security of the VC, there should be a guardian who would take steps to solute these matters. But we are actually missing out on that accountability and students or other teachers cannot take that responsibility.
The education system and quality of Bangladesh is facing the worst time right now. It is because, not only the students but also the teachers are mostly worried about everything but education. The teachers are active participants of politics. The employment of the teachers including the VC is conducted under political influence. Controlling these public universities has been vital for the political parties and the teachers are playing a great role in this process.
The appointments of teachers in these public universities are supposed to be done through merit assessment. But unfortunately those who secure top positions academically are denied the appointment and those with political recommendations are getting the opportunity to teach in these important educational institutions. They are not qualified enough but safe under political colors like; white, blue or red.
This trend is highly damaging the future of the country in many ways. Firstly, teachers of today are least interested in building the future of their students and hence, they are destroying the potential of the students by not teaching them properly ensuring the quality of education. Moreover, the focus of these teachers is diverted to gaining money and power by hook or crook.
As the talented and deserving candidates are not getting the jobs, they are mostly migrating to foreign countries and hence, the country is losing its brightest stars. A huge number of talented students today are pursuing higher studies on foreign soils and mostly they do not return to the country due to instability of the country and its educational institutions. In this process, we are failing to accommodate talents though it is highly required to take the country forward.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is approaching a new landmark with so many ambitious development projects. But these bridges, flyovers, metro-rails, power stations are not going to run the country. For that, we need to have skilled human resource. But everyday we are losing skilled and talented human resources. A skill or talentless nation cannot sustain the development and Bangladesh will definitely move backwards if the scenario does not change.
We hope our students and teachers can identify their priorities and education becomes their only focus while the authorities and the politicians eyes on the welfare of the country. Otherwise, it will be impossible to find any silver lining behind the dark clouds.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)