Absence of democratic system leads to state interference: Serajul Islam Choudhury

Shahin Akhter | Published: 01:35, Oct 18,2019 | Updated: 20:19, Oct 19,2019


Serajul Islam Choudhury

Dhaka University professor emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury told New Age on Monday that the state was currently interfering in the administrations of the public universities due to absence of democratic system.

He also said that following the interference, the appointments of teachers were politicised and the teachers put the hall administration under one party rule.

Finally, the students became engaged in criminal activities and the atmosphere in the universities became unhealthy, he added.

While talking about the current situation in the administrations of different universities, the professor emeritus said that the universities should be democratic institutions, places for creating and distributing knowledge.

‘The universities should enjoy autonomy to fix the syllabuses, maintain the quality of the teachers who are to be appointed according to their merits and standard of the students to be admitted without any state interference,’ he said.

‘In the public universities we achieved autonomy through a long struggle,’ he said, adding, ‘After martial law was imposed by Ayub Khan, the authorities took away all that stood for the idea of autonomy — no activities of student politics were allowed and no opportunities were given for the teachers to express their opinions.’

‘We struggled against them and the outcome of the struggle was this autonomy which was achieved after the liberation,’ he continued.

Serajul Islam Choudhury said that this autonomy was clearly abused after 1991 when a section of teachers involved themselves with state power.

‘After the fall of HM Ershad, when we got into a so-called democratic system, then getting close to the state power became an issue,’ he said and added that before that the university teachers did not have direct relationship with the state.

This reality unfolded in two ways — on the one hand the state wanted some teachers to stand in alignment with the ruling party and on other some teachers wanted to cosy up to the state power, he said. 

The professor emeritus explained that after 1991 when Bangladesh Nationalist Party came to the power, then some teachers kept in touch with that party and when the regime changed and Bangladesh Awami League came to the power, some teachers remained in touch with that party.

BNP and AL thus entered the universities and from then on the autonomy had been abused by the two sides — the teachers and the state, he said.

‘In this way the autonomy we enjoyed was compromised,’ he said.  

He further said that to people, the universities were models of democratic practice.

‘The main problem is interference of the state,’ he said and added, ‘For that reason, the vice chancellors are elected and appointed entirely in agreement with the political line or through party affiliation as the government preferred to appoint them.’

After that, during the appointment of other teachers, these pro-government vice chancellors tried to take pro-government teachers for keeping them at his or her side, he said.

‘More than other qualifications, this becomes as the primary qualification,’ he said and added that following this trend, the teachers in the teachers’ associations, senate and syndicate became pro-government.

Serajul Islam Choudhury said that like the teachers, the pro-government students also did not allow students of anti-government parties and ousted them from the university campuses.

‘As a result the universities came under the rule of one party which is connected with the state power. So students of that party dominate everything, get involved in criminal activities like tender business, seat allocations at halls, extortion and sexual harassment,’ he observed.

He also observed that what happened at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology also happened at public universities.

The demand for ban on student politics was not wise at all, as it was akin to cutting down the head to lessen the headache, instead of taking medicine, he argued.

‘Annual elections of the student unions are essential for establishing democratic practices and for ensuring accountability, academic atmosphere, encouraging voices of the students and revitalising the cultural activities in the universities,’ he said.

The professor emeritus alleged that since 1991, no elections were held at the public universities.

At Dhaka University, the long awaited election had been held but was not acceptable as that was not a neutral election, he said.

‘If there are student unions there would be voices of students, their cultural activities would be there, they would practice democracy and create leadership which would make the atmosphere healthy,’ he said.

Following that, the professor believed, the teachers would also become accountable and unbiased and would think twice before letting the hall administration be administered by one party.

Serajul Islam Choudhury said that in this regard the recruitment of teachers was crucial.

‘When a teacher enters the university, he or she stays there for 40 years and if he or she is not qualified, it will make the university weak and these teachers will stay partisan, always showing a pro-government attitude,’ he said.

‘Secondly, in appointing provosts and house tutors and promoting teachers, the administration intervened, especially for the position of provost and in cases of promotion the pro-government teachers get the opportunities due to biased role of the administration,’ he continued. 

The professor emeritus felt that the universities should be accountable only to the students, the society and the teachers while it should not be accountable to the state.

Serajul Islam Choudhury said that the students at the universities should do research where the best minds came to receive education and for that reason the atmosphere of the universities should be attractive.

The teachers should interact with the students not only in classes but also in halls, functions and symposiums in an ideal situation which was absent in the country due to interference of the state, he said.

‘We are not living in a democratic system. If we were in a democratic system the state would tell the universities to run by themselves rather than interfering in their affairs,’ he said.

‘Since the state is interfering in sphere of life, it is also doing the same in the universities,’ he said.

The professor emeritus said that as the universities were the most sensitive institutions these could not function properly in any kind of interference other than in autonomy.  

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