The Problem with Politics
Muslehuddin Ahmad discusses the need to end party politics on campus
What we, the sponsors of private universities, see in the campuses today is exactly the situation that prevailed in the 1980s that ultimately paved the way to the creation of private universities in the first place.
During the 1980s, campus violence and session jams meant that both students and teachers were ready for a change, and private universities offered a different path. We formally started working on a private university in late 1989 and we got final approval for the first private university from the government in 1992. Today we have about 56 private universities that have been officially approved.
The most important achievement for which we take pride today is that there is no student-teacher politics in private universities. There are times when our students agitate over lack of quality education and absence of other facilities, demands that are legitimate, as they must receive good education commensurate to the relatively high fees they pay.
It is necessary to state here that we have already set up a private Educational Quality Assurance Foundation (EQAF) to evaluate the educational standard of mostly private universities.
It is widely known that the students at the private universities do their studies peacefully and get degrees within the fixed four years. Indeed, we at NSU were the first university to introduce four-year degrees instead of three-year degrees in the state universities. Such a change, along with the introduction of semester and credit systems that did not normally exist in the state universities (except IBA), revolutionised the educational system of Bangladesh.
The contributions of the private university system are enormous, and several researchers including some in foreign universities have already started assessing the impact of the private university system on the education, employment, human resource development, etc of Bangladesh.
Students of private universities do learn politics through studies of political science and the political debate system that practically all private universities have. Thus private university students do not lack anything in terms of learning politics. As a result, party politics is not necessary to teach politics to the students.
Should Student Politics be Banned?
The big debate is whether student politics should continue or be banned on the state university campuses. The initial recommendation was to ban student politics for a limited period to get rid of the non-students who generally control student politics of today, and allow time to the real students to settle down in studies.
But this seems to have garnered a negative reaction as many feel that university students have the right to do politics for the purpose of preparing themselves for the future. It is also a fact that only a small number of the students ultimately join politics on completion of studies.
However, knowledge of politics is important even for those who do not join politics. Thus we must find the way to meet all these conditions, as well as allow the students to continue studies without interruptions.
No Political Parties
The best course seems to be to allow those university students who want to do active politics to join directly any political party of their choice. In other words, these students shall be the active members of the country's respective political parties and could work for those parties, but when they return to campus they must engage in studies and will have nothing to do with party politics. This would mean there would be no student political parties on campus, not even in associated form.
It has been proved beyond doubt that these student bodies on campus become the extensions of some of the major political parties of the country, leading to students doing party politics and becoming tools in the hands of the self-interested politicians.
Such student politics have been creating murderous situations on campus. This is why there should be no direct or associated student political bodies on campus. However, those who are interested to do politics during their student life can do so as suggested above.
It is imperative that the political leadership of the country take a firm decision in the matter, keeping in view the interest of the students and also the future of the country. Otherwise, people will make the political parties and their leadership fully responsible for their wrong policies on the future of the students.
The students must not be used for the purposes of political gains and be fodder for the party-based political agitations. If a law is enacted allowing students to directly join a political party of their choice but prohibiting student political bodies on campus, calm will return to the campuses in no time.
The example of private universities serves to prove that the students are really not interested to do politics directly while studying in college and university. In most national universities, political parties wilfully mix up student life with politics for their own political gain, something that ultimately hurts the students who are the future leaders of our country.
The present government may recall that the student bodies have hardly played any role in bringing them their huge election victory. So why involve the helpless students in disastrous party politics and make them extortionists, rent seekers, forced occupiers of halls and hostels, etc and thus ruin their careers? Leave them alone!
The students can, however, have a common association/union without any party political colour, which could take care of their interests in the academic and hall/hostel affairs. Regular elections could be held for such association/union where they would indeed be able to show their leadership qualities. Such systems with small modifications here and there are observed in the academic institutions in many of the developed countries of the world.
My efforts so far is not to take away anything from the past glorious contributions of students in national issues like Language Movement, Liberation War, movement against undemocratic authoritarian rule, etc.
One feels that the student community as a whole can always rise up in the unlikely event of any form of attack on the country's sovereignty and other common issues of interest of the country which generally erases the party political borders. In other words, regardless of political affiliations, all would then work together to protect the interest of the country.
Teachers involved in politics should have a similar prescription. If they want, they could also join political parties of their choice and do political activities outside campus. However, when they return to their respective campuses, they should engage in teaching, research, student guidance, etc and not be involved in party politics. They can also express their views openly and freely without any party political bias.
The bottom line is there should be no party politics making the campus life miserable and dangerous. Teachers can have their own associations without any political party line. They should also speak on common problems that the country faces and offer their perspectives without bringing party politics or any kind of bias into their discussions.
What is important is that they should not do party politics for uplifting their positions in the universities. Their rise through the academic echelons of power should be based strictly on merit and research work and certainly not on political affiliations.
Appointments of Deans
The present system of election for the post of dean must end. Deans are generally required to do administrative work, but they are very often required to teach too. The university authorities should appoint deans strictly on the basis of experience, and not on the basis of their political performances or affiliations.
If the deans are appointed on the basis of elections, then the teachers remain engaged in politics and do not concentrate on teaching. This leads to alignment of teachers with student politics on party lines, leading to the politicisation of the campus administration.
Appointments of Vice-Chancellors
The appointments of VCs are also usually done on political considerations and the results are usually disastrous, as the VCs belonging to the political party in power cannot really run the university administration neutrally.
He has to show partisanship in his administration and also in academic affairs, i.e. appointing teachers on party lines regardless of their academic qualifications. Even the academic results are often manipulated to the advantages of the political party/coalition in power. Independent and fully neutral search committees without government interventions should be introduced for the purpose of appointments of VCs in the universities.
It is absolutely necessary to free the campuses of party politics in the best interests of the students and the teachers. The students, teachers, and other academics must be allowed to pursue their academic life independent of party politics.
Muslehuddin Ahmad was the principal sponsor and founder Vice-Chancellor of North South University.