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Changing Paradigms: Lessons to learn from Sindh University

The current practice to run public sector universities by the favourites of authorities, who happen to be the most suitable persons to run the university for reasons unknown to civil society and educationists has long been criticized. Despite the vows of educationists and civil society, government never seemed to consider the voices of education philanthropies. Retired civil/military bureaucrats have been re-employed-till-death (as the abbreviation retd. goes with its modern definition). This practice, along with other ground realities has contributed to downgrading and contaminated the higher education in many parts of Pakistan. Punjab, despite having much better infrastructure and greater budgets for universities is still struggling to free the process of appointments of VC from political influence. The HEC with her criteria and all power (financial and influential), is still struggling to uniformly implement its reforms to make the appointments of VC transparent and on merit as per the university model act 2002 which is adopted by the public sector universities. Despite the adaptation of model act, the provincial governments continue to mock the HEC on the very important issue of appointment of VCs in public sector universities. Last year, the difference of opinion between the governor/chancellor and the Chief Minister Punjab kept civil society, intellectuals and teachers amazed and sent them the message that criterion and merit are not worth-consideration for us. Appointments of VCs in six universities of Punjab were challenged in court for violating the rules; even they (the members of search committee) changed the criteria after advertisement in papers. Reappointments of only proved horses, as if they have some sort of inherited skill that others candidates may not have, for the second and third term has also worsened the situation in most big universities in Pakistan. Dr. Mujahid Kamran is re-appointed as Vice Chancellor of Punjab university is challenged in court as well. Punjab university Academic Staff Association (PUASA) criticized the re-appointment of Dr Mujahid (who has already crossed the superannuation age last year and is 61-years old now) and alleged him for nepotism and corruption, and controversies in the university, thereby ruining the academic atmosphere of university. We saw few good examples in the case of Quaid e Azam University, Karakoram University, Hazara university in 2010 where merit prevailed. Only few exceptions dont speak as the proof of character of appreciating merit and hence complete picture raises serious questions to the credibility and commitment of our rulers to higher education. Prof Dr. Masood Hameed gets successive terms in the office of VC in Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) and Prof. Dr. Pirzado Qasim Raza University of Karachi (UoK) still on the list of search committee for the third term. The search committee (the one and the same for both universities: DUHS and UoK) earns huge criticism from the faculty of both universities and civil society. Despite strong criticism from senior professors of DUHS, Prof. Masood Hamid gets the appointment letter from the chancellor for the third consecutive term while Pirzado Qasim has dropped from first place to second as Prof Dr Muhammad Qaiser (born in Aug, 1943, already retired) after getting consent from the president house tops the list of short-listed candidates. Same is the case with most vice chancellors of all public sector universites in the province. Each VC has got second to fourth term and is aged above 70,80 or 90 years. The whole discourse highlights the pathatic condition and dearth of able persons to head universities. This implies that the land has become barren, the institutions and universities have become unproductive and inefficient to replace one dozen of individuals all around the province since the arrival of these vice chancellors. This

also highlights the serious violation of merit and rights of many working and fresh people to get the chance to reach higher posts. Sindh University teachers started movement to oust the retired VC Dr Nazir A Mughal, imported from USA on the recommendations of some PPP lords who assumed the responsibilty for the second term as Vice Chancellor of Sindh University, two years back. Well-known for corruption, mismangement, nepotism and manipulating student wings by bribing them, didnt realise that he will face th music this time. Dr Mughal, who acts like a bureaucrat at times and like a king or more appropriately a prince couldnt concieve that Sindh University has changed considerablly during last ten years in the time of Mazhaul Haq Siddiqui, who, in his third term, was asked to vacate the office for Dr Mughal. Always surronded by Bushys, Bagots and Greens, was living intoxicated despite the poor law and order situation at campus, four murders of students, corruption and what not. He had corrupted every office in one way or the other by appoiting/rehiring on contract the retired persons and benefiting them out of the way. He didnt realise (to be naive) that by putting the responsiblity on the then director student affairs Prof. Dr Bashir Channar, he was making him vulnerable and target to the rusticated students as it was, for him a routine to put the responsibilty on others shoulders. Sindh University Teachers Association (SUTA) led by president Dr Azhar Ali Shah, and Secretary Dr Arfana Mallah came up with strong criticism after the murder of Prof Channar and straightaway demanded the constitution of judicial commission to probe the murder of Prof in broad day light, and the circumstances leading to the unfortunate event. They demanded the voluntery resignation from Prof Mughal after accepting the responsiblity of failure on his part. With recurrent murders of students and a Prof. on campus, the role of rangers and police deployed in Sindh university came under question, who never intervene the situation despite being the witness to the brutal assasinations. The cause of violation at campus is connected to the presence of various political groups/faction on campus who, for petty reasons, go to the extent of gunning down the students and recurrently interrupting the smooth functioning of the academic activities. Teachers took very bold stance and uttered, enough is enough in one voice. They withstood the pressure and criticism from some quarters but remained determined on their stance. Their movement gained impetus and support from education-loving people of all walks. Dr Shah and Dr Mallah were isued notices for their unfriendly behaviour to eduaction and received threats as well. The provincial education minsiter asked teachers to join politics instead of teaching. The governor/chancellor gave chance to Dr Mughal show his popularity and win the confidence of teachers but he chose to rent a rally of political group to save him, which eventually didnt work. He could afford to do so as he has already paid five crores for his appointment as many people believe. The demands of SUTA were so objective and appealing that all Sindhs universities, Federation of All Pakistan Universities Asoociation (FAPUASA) Pakistan, Sindh University Employees Association (SUEWA) most political parites in Sindh, civil society intellectuals and lawyers not only supported them openly and clearly but participated in their movement. While only pseudo-intellectuals, corrupt media men tried to dilute, divert and confuse thier movement. Witnessing the overwhelming support from all quarters of society, governor constitutes committee to resolve the issue by talking to teachers. The

governors committee agrees to accept their demands in the second meeting and therby setting the historic precedence. Their movement has set the foundation of change in the existing paradigms. They proved with their struggle that the legitimate concerns of teachers can not be over-looked when the acedemic environment and process and peace at campus is in question. Their determination to challenge the status-quo and to bring peace, harmony and conducive environment for the students and teachers is appluaseble and must be lauded. Their four demads are accepted and they are still charged to ensure that next vice chancellor is appointed on merit, that the assasination of Prof Channar is investigated by judicial committee and culprits are brought to justice, that universitys own security system is upgraded and university does not incur heavy budget on rangers and police, that non-partisan student unions are restored to part take in the univiseritys decisions. The task taken by SUTA is demanding and many optimists dont go beyond the hope, just hope, but SUTA is committed to the cause and well-prepared to restore the peaceful environment for their students and generations to come. SUTAs struggle was on ground but they succeeded to catch attention of thousands of students, parents, civil society members, alumnai and teachers in Pakistan and abroad through social media. It seems for the first time, that education came into notice for everyone. Everybody seemed to be concerend and voicing, debating and arguing on social media. Groups of students of different departments and institutes of Sindh University held debates and many students educated themselves on the issues with new members approcahing these groups everyday. New pages/groups mushroomed on facebook with hundreds of members joining the groups each day. Sindh University Teachers Association earned the credit for mobilising the young teachers and there by converting their enthusiasm to reshape the practices of activism which is unique and progressive in many ways. Sindh University teachers used to follow the most influential old professors who could change their course at any time sensing the direction of wind. There were times when teachers used to be associated with the most powerful group(s) of Kazis and Shahs but this time,all teachers are one under the democratic body of SUTA which is a unique and hetrogenous body in recent histroy. The office-bearers of SUTA come from three major pannels/groups : the reformist, the harbingers of change and the progressive democrats, yet united and equivocal. Its leadership is young, dynamic and intellectaully progressive. This movement has broadcasted a message to the teachers of all other universities that there will be no compromise on rules, principles and procedures if any vice chancellor or administration is violating them. If one professor is killed by culprits it hurts everyone in society in general and teachers of all universities in particular. With the intervention of Minister for Education and Literacy Sindh, Pir Mazahr ul Haq, who is also the pro-chancellor of Sindh University, to save the removed Vice Chancellor Nazir Mughal, by dis-respecting the agreement reached between the representatives of Sindh University Teachers and Federation of All Pakistan Universities Association Sindh Chapter and governors committee has brought yet an other controversy to people of Sindh. The ramifications could be dangerous. Teachers receiving direct threats by messages now from administration and their supporters. Dr Shah has already warned if there comes

any danger to him or any other leader/member of SUTA, Prof Mughal, Pir Mazhar and Chancellor are to be held responsible. Pir Mazhar is supporting a retired and corrupt Vice Chancellor fearing that the precedence set by Sindh University Teachers could threaten their vested intersts in all universities of Sindh and can harm their agenda of ruining the education of Sindh, which they do by appoiting retired bureacrats in almost all the universities of Sindh. Their fear is legimate as teachers vow for structral reforms to eliminate the political influence in universities to ameliorate the situation on campuses. This will lead to independance and progressive environment in universites which will ultimately contribute to greater change in the society from voting behaviour to accountabilty of politicians and institutions ; demand for respect for merit and democratic rights, social justice, and human rights. With the support of Pir Mazhar to save corrupt Prof. Mughal and a student wing associated with PPP, while all other political parties and wings at the campus demanding to keep Prof Mughal away from the university and to restore the dignity, respect and order at campus by withstanding teachers principled stance, one fears a clash between students. This clash will ultimately worsen the already tensed situation. Pir Mazhars statements are adding fuel to fire and he has to know the consequences of fire. The movement of teachers is going to spread to all Pakistan universities as FAPUSA, Pakistan has already warned and reiterated their strong support for teachers of Sindh University. If the moment gains more even wider support and widespread manifestations across the provence and country, which seems to be the case from now, then the results may not be what Sindh Education minister seeks to be. The movement can increase its demands to gain more out of the struggle. The efforts to save one corrupt man can cost more retired Vice Chancellors in Sindh/Pakistan universities and/or even government/appointing authorites. When the lawyers strated their movement, they were only few but at the end of the day they were able to not only restore the Chief Justice but dethroned musharraf also making him a figure of detest and disgust in Pakistan. Pirzado Azhar Ali Ayaz, France The writer is a lecture at Sindh Universty Laar Campus, Badin and is pursuing his PhD in Nanotechnolgy at University of Strasbourg France.