Professor Ahrar Ahmad as I know him
Tanvir A. Khan
The Development Studies Group of Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) including its faculty and students with the ardent support of the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice Chancellor, the Treasurer and the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences were all unanimous in honoring Professor Ahrar Ahmad on June 10, 2008.
Why Professor Ahrar Ahmad? Is it because he received the prestigious US teaching award by the Carnegie Foundation? Yes, to a large extent. Is it because the classes he took on development studies at IUB and made everybody spell-bound so much so that the Pro-VC in his speech at the dinner most graciously acknowledged that he would be too keen to have been Prof. Ahrar's student? What a compliment it was coming from a former Harvard graduate who himself has excelled in his field!
What it all came down to was the recognition of the process through which Prof. Ahrar attained these attributes. And these are all mostly due to the training of the teachers at St. Gregory's and the co-curricular activities that Prof. Ahrar had participated in to become what he is today. How the cub and scouting movement in the late sixties could make or break somebody, mostly make is the emphasis of this article.
The scouting movement in the sixties in Dhaka and largely Bangladesh was a robust one. One would start as a cub and after passing the sixth grade would enter the scouting arena to graduate to a Quaid-e-Azam Scout while in the 11th and 12th grade during the Pakistan times.
The fourth Pakistan National Jamboree was held in Karachi in 1967 and an East Pakistan contingent of 200 plus scouts went by ship to Karachi from Chittagong. It took them nine days. The selection was rather intensive and the very best were chosen to participate. Around 20 scouts from the 5th troop were selected. Who were the mentors of these scouts that were chosen to attend?
The mentors were the Patrol Leaders of the 5th troop (meaning St. Gregory's High School) in the scouting movement of those times in the late sixties: Mr. Mujahidul Islam Selim (presently GS of Communist Party), Dr. Joe D'Silva (presently teaching in a North American University), Prof. Shawkat Hossain (presently teaching at Dhaka University in the English Department) and none other than Prof. Ahrar Ahmed (presently Black Hills State University political science professor who also received the prestigious US teaching award by the Carnegie Foundation).
Where did these mentors receive their training? Mr. Nicholas Rozario was our Scout Teacher and Brother Paul c.s.c was our Cub Master at St. Gregory's. The cub jamboree at Chittagong somewhere around 1962 (I have to check with the institution) held in St. Placid's High School was an eye-opener. The number of scout camps at Mouchak (Kaliakoir) and Chunkutia (the other side of the Buriganga River) seasoned us to gather a live-in-field experience from the very early days. As a cub, the proficiency badges that the cubs earned ranged from ironing, to cleanliness, to discipline, to timeliness; to how organized you are, to communication skills, to signaling, to cycling and what have you.
This is the process through which Prof. Ahrar has transgressed in his student days. These experiences had a remarkable influence on him as he always was a conscientious person immersing himself completely in whatever he was involved in. The year 1971 saw him as a Muktijoddha when he took a decision during his university days voluntarily to join the War of Liberation. On the 16th of December, 1971 I saw him returning from the battlefield in battle gears when he made a detour in front of our house in Wari. It was homecoming for him after a long and arduous struggle to free his mother land from the clutches of the vanquished.
What were the subsequent proceedings in his life? Prof. Ahrar began his teaching career in 1973 at the University of Dhaka after he completed his Master degree from the same university. He did his Masters from the University of Waterloo, Canada and Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA. Since 1975 he has been involved in teaching in various capacities in north American universities which include other than his present university where he is a Professor of Political Science since 1992, Eastern Illinois University, USA, University of Waterloo, Canada and John A Logan College, USA. He has researched and widely written on religion particularly Islam, contemporary politics, society and culture.
Prof. Ahrar Ahmad was with Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) as Senior Fulbright Scholar. Besides conducting his own research as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at IUB, he also taught a graduate course in Development Studies.
What is this prestigious Professor of the Year Award provided to Prof. Ahrar that was sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation? The U.S. Professors of the Year Programme recognizes the most outstanding undergraduate teachers in the US who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students. Sponsored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation, it is the only US national educational programme to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
The award focuses attention on excellence in undergraduate teaching and provides models which others can aspire to attend. The Awards officials note that it is through the art of teaching, the force of their knowledge, and the passion of their convictions that teachers can inspire students to reach beyond the ordinary.
Ahmad is an epitome for this teaching award as evidenced by strong support from students, alumni, and fellow professors and has been chosen for his dedication, commitment, continuing encouragement and unending mission to seek a greater understanding of people and the world.
(Dr. Tanvir A. Khan is an Economist and is currently the Registrar of Independent University, Bangladesh)