Students of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University are protesting against corruption and undemocratic rule on campus. The fact that the university authority, on September 21, chose to undemocratically declare early puja vacation and subsequent attacks on protesting students indicate that the authority prefers tyranny over any possibility of dialogue and constructive change on campus, writes Nasir Uz Zaman
SINCE the very beginning of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University it has been making news for all the wrong reasons. One of the main allegations against the university is that it has no regard for academic freedom. Teachers and students alike have criticised the vice chancellor, Khondoker Nasiruddin for his autocratic rule, undemocratic practices. There are also allegations of financial irregularities and callousness in timely implementation of university’s development work. Any student who raised question about the misrule is slapped with show cause notice that often results into temporary suspension orders.
Recent protests sparked when a student of law department and campus correspondent of a national daily, Fatema Tuz Zinia was temporarily suspended. According to the suspension letter, Zinia was suspended for a Facebook status. However, Zinia says otherwise, she says, she was suspended because of her news reports on various irregularities on campus. In the face of nationwide protest against her suspension, the university authority eventually withdrew their decision of her suspension, but it brought undemocratic and corrupt practices of the administration.
Rampant suspension to repress students’ voice
FOR the past several days, after the issuance of the show-cause letter to student journalist Zinia, students of BSMRSTU have taken to street with their one-point demand — immediate resignation of the sitting vice-chancellor. Students were enraged at the tyrannical rule of the administration, but in fear of interruption in their academic career they kept silent. In the first nine months of this year, New Youth learnt that at least 15 students were suspended and 20 students got show-cause notices on unjust grounds. The suspension notices that the New Age Youth have obtained show that nine students were suspended for posting statuses and comments on social media that in authority’s claim has tarnished the image of the university.
On May 30, fourteen received show-cause notice for participating in a human chain organised in solidarity with the farmers of Bangladesh who endured huge loss as the government failed ensure fair price for the paddy growers. The act of solidarity, that is quite common in our history, was read as an attempt at hampering the university’s educational environment, as the show cause notice suggests. One of the 14 students, Rathindranath Bappy, president of BSMRSTU unit of Bangladesh Students’ Union said, ‘On May 16 , students formed a human chain in front of the university’s main gate demanding fair price of paddy for farmers. They did not get fair price of paddy which is clearly an injustice and was a national issue at the time. Students have their rights and responsibilities to stand against any form of injustice. From our sense of responsibility, we expressed our solidarity with the countrywide protest and demanded fair price of paddy. But the authorities saw it all differently. They termed it as anti-government. Moreover, the list included at least four students who were not there in the human chain.’
A student who was not in the human chain but got show-cause notice told News Age Youth, ‘I actually do not know why the show-cause notice was issued against me as I was not there. However, I have lent my voice on other occasions. That might be the reason. Actually, the authorities including the VC want to repress students’ voice in an autocratic way to dominate students and to hide their irregularities. Undemocratic practices have taken such a turn now that student could get suspended for just asking for a clean class room.’
A former student of the university said that their experience was no different. In 2017, a student was slapped with show-cause notice and barred from sitting for examinations as s/he shared information about the operation of a beauty parlour from vice-chancellor’s residence. Later, the student was also suspended for a specific period. At the time, students were raising concern about some of the basic facilities on campus. To silence students demand, the VC decided to suspend seven more students again on the ground that students’ mobilisation on irregularities on campus are tarnishing the image of the university. The former student said that, existing administrative procedure to take disciplinary action against any students were not followed in their case.
When contacted the proctor and the registrars of the university about the recent suspensions orders, neither of them were able to confirm how many students were suspended and for what reasons. In all cases, their responses were that the decision was made by the vice chancellor. The registrar, Nuruddin Ahmed told New Age Youth that he does not know what is objectionable about Zinia’s reporting or her Facebook post, he said, ‘The suspension of Zinia was the vice-chancellor’s decision.’ The VC could not be reached for comments over the phone despite several attempts. In the face of nationwide protest, the authorities hurriedly withdrew her suspension order, but the unilateral decision on part of the VC to suspend her proved allegation of undemocratic governance on campus.
Financial irregularities in development works
THERE have been many reports of irregularities in teachers and staff recruitment process. Aggrieved candidates have sought resolve from the Anti Corruption Commission, even tried get the attention of the chancellor of the university. An applicant for the post of office assistant and computer operator, ASM Shariful Islam of Gopalganj have shared his ordeal with New Age Youth, ‘I was given the appointment letter through due processes, after taking the written exam and viva. However, for some unexplained reason, I was not allowed to join. I assume, nepotism or speed money is at work here.’
Allegations were made about teachers’ recruitment process in the sociology department. In this connection, the Anti Corruption Commission has reportedly asked the University Grants Commission to open investigation, but neither of the bodies could not confirm to New Age Youth about the recent status of that investigation.
The news reports that, according to Zinia, awarded her showcase notice and temporary suspension from academic programme (later withdrawn) was about some more financial irregularities in development activities on campus. She says, ‘when I started reporting on these issues, the VC tried to impose restrictions on my works. I observed, in fear of repercussion in their academic career, both students and journalist on campus were silent. I have started journalism from my passion, conviction and thought to break this silence. Justifiably, my activities made the VC and influential quarter on campus upset. On August 10, I posted a status on social media — ‘What is the purpose of a university?’ On August 22, when I went to the VC for reporting purposes, he behaved unprofessionally, rudely. He mentioned the Facebook status. On August 30, a report on irregularities in the construction of Bangabandhu Mural complex was published but I had to withdraw the report as the university authorities were putting pressure on me. On the next day, the authorities took away my source’s laptop, some goon loyal to the VC attempted a physical assault on me.’
So, what are the reported irregularities in the construction of Bangabandhu Mural complex? According to a project update report, signed by Tuhin Mahamud, deputy director of planning, development and works of BSMRSTU, 16.19 per cent project work of the mural complex is done. However, many sources from the ground confirmed that the mural does not exist at all. The construction of the mural complex is part of a development plan approved by the ministry of education in 2014. According to this plan, two dormitories of 400 hundreds seat for male and female students were supposed to be completed by 2017. However, the construction works are from reaching the completion mark. Students and teachers complained that there is no accountability on part of the administration why the project implementation process is delayed and how the fund allocated for these projects are disbursed. Meanwhile students are living in unsafe temporarily built tin-shed facilities.
A female student who is living in this tin shed facility said, she got a seat at the Sheikh Rehana hall, but that is under construction. Along with other students, she was shifted to temporary place without minimum facilities like water supply and cooking are missing. More importantly, the authorities have ignored their safety concerns. Theft in these places is common. Zinia have also reported about the living condition of the women students of BSMRSTU, but authorities termed her reporting as attempt to tarnish the image of the university. It is evident from the many suspension letters and show-cause notices issued by the authority that in the mind of the vice-chancellor or those who govern the university, the image of the university excludes student’s safety and their academic freedom.
Undemocratic decisions to quell protest
SINCE September 18, students of BSMRSTU have been protesting against the undemocratic practices of the university authority. They demand immediate resignation of the vice chancellor. Their hope is that a new leader with democratic vision could change their academic lives. On September 19, conscientious sections of the teachers also submitted their 16-point-demand. Majority of their demands ask for transparency in academic activities and democratic governance on campus — establishing a transparent student recruitment system, eliminating all irregularities in teachers’ promotion process, cancelling all punitive actions taken against students and teachers on unjust ground, ending the practice of issuing show-cause notice to students and teachers on the basis of their Facebook. On the same day, authorities issued a notice with 14-point decision. The notice said that freedom of speech will be ensured and no students will be suspended for Facebook comments and statuses, the construction of Bangabandhu Mural complex, auditorium and Shaheed Minar will began within six months. This is a welcome decision, however, it does not resolve the question raised by students about major irregularities in development activities of the universities — how has the university spending money on the construction of a complex when no construction took place? As mentioned earlier, the mural complex does not exist.
Aggrieved students demanding an end to this corruption and undemocratic rule are asking for a change in the leadership of the university. They are on a hunger strike in front of the university building for several days now. The demands from the students and teachers with concrete proposal were a possibility of dialogue. Sadly, the university authority, on Saturday, chose to undemocratically declare early puja vacation and asked students to leave campus. Some ‘outsiders’ loyal to authority, as alleged by students physically assault protesting students. The attack left at least 30 students including three journalists injured. Protesting students say, to quell the protest such violent measures were taken. The university assistant proctor, Humayun Kabir, resigned from his post following the on-going incidents. The sudden closure of the university and the attack on students indicate that the authority prefers tyranny over any possibility of dialogue and constructive change on campus.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.