Noted academician refuses to appear before selection committee for appointment of HEC chairman over inclusion of Syed Babar Ali as convenor

With a number of candidates vying for the vacant post of Higher Education Commission chairman running from pillar to post to ensure their selection for the coveted seat, a noted academician has bucked the trend and raised concerns among the academic circles by refusing to appear before the committee tasked with selecting suitable candidates for the post.

The six-member committee formed by Prime Minster Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is to begin the interview process of 60 candidates for recommending three names to the PM. The committee consists of former minister Dr Sania Nishtar, former parliamentarian Shahnaz Wazir Ali, educationist Faisal Bari, Mirza Qamar Baig and secretary of the federal Education Ministry. Renowned educationist and philanthropist Syed Babar Ali is the convenor of the committee.

The Beef

And he is apparently the reason why former Punjab University vice chancellor Dr Mujahid Kamran has refused to be part of the selection process for appointing a new chairman to the HEC.

Dr Kamran, who is currently engaged with the University of Lahore as its rector, did not himself apply for the position of HEC chairman, but was nominated by fellow senior academician – and a candidate for the slot himself – COMSATS University former rector Dr Junaid Zaidi. However, Dr Kamran has now categorically refused to appear for an interview before the committee due to his reservations over Syed Babar Ali being part of the process.

In an email to the Ministry of Education & Professional Training secretary, Dr Kamran said he had consented to the nomination made by Dr Zaidi as he did not know about the composition of the search committee at that time, however, now that the committee members had become known, he had been “dismayed by the fact that the said Committee is completely dominated by representatives of the private sector”.

In his correspondence, the former PU VC said, “The Committee, comprising almost entirely of individuals from the private sector, is going to select a panel for a position in the public sector that carries the status of a Minister of State of the Government of Pakistan! This is in itself is quite astonishing and disturbing.”

Bitter Experience

Moreover, Dr Kamran expressed serious concern over Syed Babar Ali being the convenor of the said committee, saying he had had “personal experience of Mr S Babar Ali’s bigotry, controlling behaviour, prejudice, autocratic temperament and utter disregard of merit when it suits his interests and hegemonic agenda”.

In his email, Dr Mujahid Kamran cited the case of his candidacy for appointment as PU VC in 2015/2016, in which he claimed he “scored the highest marks according to the notified criterion for appointment of the VC”.

“A perusal of the summary sent by the then Secretary HED Punjab to his Chief Minister reveals that Mr Babar Ali, Convenor, insisted that since the undersigned was approaching 65, my name must not be included in the list of three names that was to be sent by the Search Committee to the CM Punjab. What is not mentioned in the summary was the fact that Mr Babar Ali threatened to resign from the committee if the name of the undersigned was not dropped from the panel of names to be sent to the CM Punjab,” Dr Kamran wrote.

The former PU VC also claimed that Syed Babar Ali had “a serious conflict of interest” in the matter of appointment of PU VC, in that he was the one who set up LUMS with funds, among others, from USAID and other Western donor agencies and foundations”. Dr Kamran alleged that the interest of “LUMS… is served by wrecking the country’s premier public sector institution located in the same city in which LUMS is located”. Dr Kamran also appeared in a TV programme on Monday and reiterated his claims on air.

While it remains yet to be seen if Dr Kamran’s accusations of bias and partiality find any ground, they have no doubt cast aspersions on the process of appointment to one of the most critical positions in the country’s education sector.

A number of faculty members at various universities The Academia talked to said on condition of anonymity that the reservations of candidates, if any, should be given due consideration to keep the entire process of appointment as just and transparent as possible. A few were of the opinion that the committee should make public the merit criteria according to which it will be shortlisting the final three candidates in order to not only do justice but also make it seen as having been done.

 

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