Campus crisis in Sindh

By Zubeida Mustafa

WHAT are the qualities — in terms of scholarship and character — that one should seek in the head of a university if it is to be run competently and produce excellence in education?

Inarguably he must, above all, inspire his students so that he can lead them with his moral strength and knowledge. Considering the fact that many of our universities are in a state of crisis today, it is time we looked at the leadership factor to determine what has gone wrong.

Sindh University presents itself as a perfect example of how poor leadership can destroy an institution of higher education.
There has been unrest at the campus at Jamshoro since January when a teacher was murdered. The protest is directed against the vice chancellor, Dr Nazir Mughal. When he was dispatched on ‘forced leave’ in February and his controversial orders dismissing some faculty members withdrawn, a semblance of peace was restored and classes resumed.

Yet all was not well at Jamshoro, because stopgap solutions do not resolve problems. Last month Dr Mughal was back and there has been trouble again. Immediately after his return the vice chancellor announced summer vacations and the examinations that were in progress were disrupted. Soon thereafter a really heinous crime occurred. Two professors — Amar Sindhu, who received bullet wounds, and Arfana Mallah, the secretary general of the Sindh University Teachers’ Association (Suta) — were attacked. Masked gunmen opened fire on them, giving rise to widespread anger. It was plain that those in power were trying to eliminate the VC’s two most vocal critics.

What is at the root of this crisis? The fact is that Dr Mughal does not enjoy the confidence of the faculty. There are serious charges against him. In a petition filed before the Supreme Court, Marvi Memon, a former Senator, has listed a number of them.
They range from the absence of transparency in his appointment in 2010 to his failure to keep peace on campus. Two students and a teacher have been murdered in the last two years. Allegations of corruption, embezzlement and other malpractices have also been levelled.

Meanwhile the vice chancellor has kept himself in office by manipulating pro-PPP student groups. As a champion of the ruling party’s interests he also enjoys the support of political patrons who need compliant and subservient subordinates in critical positions. Since student unions remain banned from Gen Zia’s days, there is no way of knowing where the youth stand on the issue.

All this has affected academic standards while charters have been granted with abandon to institutions with dubious credentials. Instead of universities being cradles of research and intellectual regeneration, they are stagnating. The powers that be have clamped down on students to prevent original thinking that could challenge the status quo.

Dr Mughal had earlier served as vice chancellor of Sindh University from 1995-98 and was reappointed quite arbitrarily in 2010 because of his connections in the right quarters. That was a slap in the face of education in Pakistan considering that his credentials are not impeccable. A committee appointed after his last dismissal in 1998 had recommended disciplinary action against him. In his last tenure he was removed when a student was killed on campus and there was widespread public agitation.

The Suta has now issued a white paper that levels 24 charges against the vice chancellor. Some of them cast doubts on his eligibility for the post he holds today. His association with two educational institutions with foreign links is said to have kept him away from Sindh University, where he was first appointed in 1974 but never confirmed as his presence there was minimal.
The white paper meticulously records photocopies of bills and memoranda in support of corruption charges ranging from financial embezzlement to academic malpractices such as allowing students with zero attendance to appear in examinations, nepotism in the appointment of teachers and the sale of teaching positions. It calls for an independent enquiry.

What is, however, most serious is the fact that the vice chancellor’s relations with the faculty are adversarial and militate against healthy academic activity. The rise in violence at Sindh University — 235 FIRs have been registered since 2010 — is disturbing. Attacking teachers is no solution when matters have reached such a state.

While it is a matter of serious concern that the students of Sindh are being denied a good education and their academic life stands disrupted, the wider implications of the troubles in Jamshoro are grave. Marvi Memon spoke of the vice chancellor’s role being indispensable in facilitating the election of MNAs (said to be 23 in number) who have suspect degrees from Sindh University. She requested the Supreme Court to ask the Higher Education Commission to verify their degrees. This has not happened.

What is happening in Sindh’s universities can at best be described as the politicisation of higher education to facilitate the perpetuation of a party in office. If the axe falls on MNAs who support the present government, that would be destabilising for it. Schools have already been used to consolidate the power of those in office by planting their henchmen in educational institutions. Universities are also being used for the same purpose even though this practice has been deemed illegal by the Lahore High Court in the case of the appointment of the vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences, Lahore and others.

Source: Dawn

14 thoughts on “Campus crisis in Sindh

  1. I must thank Ms Mustafa for writing on such an important issue. Sindh is facing education drought since 70s and today, even the standard of education is much better in KP than in Sindh including Urban centers like Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi. Dr Qadeer Ahmad, former chairman of International Relations, once quoted a Martial Law officer telling him at the time of Bhutto's execution," if Sindhis reacted violently we will close down its campus for months and even for a year." This mindset was there since the early days when Sindhi language was banned in the schools in Sindh in 1958. Militant groups were created to crush the progressive voices. I have serious objection on the selection of the VCs. How can you a committee searching for the VCs and the way they were called for interviews. It is humiliating, insulting. A board of senior including retired Professors can decide and priority should be given to the person teaching in the same Campus for years instead of bringing an outsider. Mazhar

  2. To an extent, you are quite right about the prevailing situation in Sindh university. However, you have mentioned two conflicting views. you have criticised the vice chancellor on the basis of politically motivated charges. on the other hand you have suggested depoliticisation. this is mere absurdity. what do you opine?

  3. most vice chancellors in india are political appointees, and increasingly unworthy in every way; some indeed are best called chancellors of vice.
    this issue cannot be sensibly discussed in isolation from macro and systemic structural realities.
    badri raina

  4. To me the most essential quality for the VC of a university is academic vision and administrative capability.

    1. Agree with Amir Usman. To "Academic Vision & Administrative capability", I would add "impeccable honesty". He should have established credibility in having these qualities through his behavior & work, so he is well respected.

  5. Yet another POST on your favorite concern on EDUCATION SYSTEM. Please carry on again and again and I am sure at some stage (may be after your death – as it happens mostly that contribution of a person is valued, acknowledged and accepted after death) and all would get better education due to educative atmosphere.

    Few words of a Hindi Movie song perhaps fits here:
    "e-mere dile nadan tu gham se na ghabrana ek din to samajh legi duniya tera afsana"

    Badri Raina has informed us correctly that vice chancellors are now chancellors of vice.

  6. Apart from the fact that I have known better days in this University as a Lecturer in the early 60s, I fear that Dr. I. I. Kazi will be turning in his grave. After reading Ms Mustafa's article, I might change muy plans to visit Jamshoro for nostalgic reasons. It hurts to see an insitution falling apart when once it was doing so well. All round, higher education is becoming a scandal.

  7. Excellent article by Zubeida Mustafa, highlighting the real issues and concerns. The questions she raises are pertinent and probing. It is most important that the leadership of any institution of learning should be of spotless character. Otherwise what kind of role models are we offering the students and the community at large? How can we have decent student body and expect decent behavior from them when the very people who lead them are suspect?

  8. Amar Sindhu is a legend, and she will not be silenced so easily. Furthermore, this is not only in the case of Jamshoro. Universities in Karachi, both private and government, have political pressure on them. Many of them are hand and glove. A very famous university located in the area of Shahra-e-Faisal awarded degrees to politicians in 2001 (I think) in order to please them. Similarly, a lot of teacher teaching inside many of the government universities are forced by students for better grades as these students are usually linked with "youth wing" of a political party.

  9. The process of choosing vice chancellors is flawed in Pakistan. Good scholars with strong academic credentials are never chosen and weak people with political affiliations are. I am now in the University of Heidelberg and I hear that rectors are elected by the professors here.
    In the UK they are professors with some standing in the field of schoalrship. Committees are powerful and the VC is not allowed to commit illegal acts.
    I would say choose good scholars and strengthen the committees. Unfortunately I do not agree with the student bodies being strengthened since they invariable want to pass without studying and hire people from their own political groups. IN the Punjab University the Jamiat is powerful despite the ban on unions and they have never allowed good scholars to flourish in that university.
    As the number of such schoalrs is so few we should have one or two real reserach universities while the rest should be teaching universities and university colleges. This will solve some problems but not all.

  10. There is a great deal of information available about the higher education in Pakistan. The clear indication is that the corruption in the political system is the only reason for this state of affairs.
    Unless political wheelers and dealers of the uncouth society see the light there can not be peace.
    It is unbelievably simple for even the corrupt to understand that their self interest is harmed if their children come out of the university polished thugs rather then having some kind of scholarly bearings. They need to agree that the education must be corruption free. Let the universities concentrate on the job they are there to do. Why do they interfere in the system at all? What would they gain by not agreeing to keep education clean?
    Apart from the hurt caused to the people in Pakistan, Pakistani stock is very low in the education world outside the country. Our degrees are not recognised, our students are humiliated for lack of required knowledge.
    It will have to start with the political party leaders.
    Whatever their educational credentials they can understand that they must keep their nose out of the Education in the country. Let this area of our society be clean.
    Once we climb this first hurdle we can start teaching our youth that academic prowess is a different world. Thuggish behaviour, cheating, telling lies and gaining anything without merit are not desirable behaviour.

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