When Gold Rusts

Incompetence and the decisions taken by the incompetent have far reaching effects. Inconsistent policies, makeshift vice chancellors and HEC’s unwise actions have caused much damage to Pakistan’s oldest seat of higher learning – Punjab University — writes Dr Shaukat Mahmood.

The Arabic expression Qiht al-Rijal is generally used to indicate handing charge of of consequential and sensitive positions to undeserving personnel, people who simply do not have the capacity to take right decisions at the right time.A news item in daily Dawn on May 2, 2018 reported that the “Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) has formed a three-member committee to investigate alleged plagiarism committed by former Higher Education Commission (HEC)chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed in compilation of his two books. However, the former HECchairman claimed the books in fact were booklets based on his lectures. But media reports say

 

Dr Ahmed had mentioned them the books in his CV that he submitted for the post of HEC chairman.” MashaAllah. The icing on the cake came when Dawn newspaper carried yet another report on October 22 last year, claiming that the executive director of Higher Education Commission (HEC), Dr Arshad Ali, had resigned amid allegations of being involved in plagiarism. The post of executive directors a powerful one in HEC, because the ED acts as principal accounting officer of the organisation. Mr Ali was appointed to the post in January 2016 and the plagiarism case against him initiated early in 2018. But up until his eventual resignation in October over the matter, Ali continued to claim that he had “done nothing wrong”.This phrase remains a catchword (takiyya kalaam) of every wrong doer in Pakistan, especially politicians, and those appointed by politicians. And it is people as such who claim to have done no thing wrong that have seriously damaged the rapport of Pakistan’s oldest higher education institute, Punjab University. Recent happenings in the arena of education, particularly higher education, have jolted universities of Pakistan. The HEC recently asked Punjab University to halt several of its programmes offering MPhil and PhD education.This reminded me of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP founder. When he came to power, Bhutto passed a historic statement — “Idhar hum, udhar tum”—in order to gain cheap popularity,besides nationalizing several important sections of our progress. The three main targets were education, financial institution (like banks) and industry.

Any iota of hope and progress in the country was systematically annihilated during the “Decade of the Dacoits” that was 2008-2018. This decade deliberately engineered the downfall of every institution.

“Decade of the Dacoits” that was 2008-2018. This decade deliberately engineered the downfall of every institution. Prior to this decade, Gen Musharraf too contributed to the overall downfall, but as every dark cloud has a silver lining, he did a couple of things right as well. He created HEC and launched Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme (FFHP) and gave absolute freedom to print and electronic media. The so called journalists’ efforts and qurbanis had nothing to do with this change. The journalists did not have the capacity to venture such an effort as most of them are corrupt to the core, too. When I was serving at the International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then chairman of Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Atta-ur-Rahman visited me twice and addressed the Pakistan faculty there. He wanted highly qualified teachers of Pakistani origin to return to Pakistan to support higher education back home. His plans were ambitious but workable. Besides being a professor, I was also the holder of Al-Bukhary Chair (for promotion of Islamic arts and culture). I had free accommodation, free medical treatment, 2000-cc car with official driver and unlimited fuel, a secretary and massive amount of money at my disposal. I left all this and came to Pakistan in July 2006. I was placed at the College of Art & Design, University of the Punjab, Lahore. I was 66 at that time. Earlier in 2000, I retired as dean of Architecture & Planning, UET, Lahore and had left for Malaysia on the invitation of IIUM in 2001.

 

But like all good things, HEC’s foreign faculty programme began heading towards the end, all too soon. With the advent of “democracy”, FFHP began to dwindle. The situation worsened when Dr Rahman left or was made to leave HEC. The last nail in the coffin of HEC was driven by the 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan. Since then we have many HECs, one federal and some provincial. Once the FFHP was terminated, teachers who had left lucrative jobs and set careers aboard to come serve the motherland suddenly found themselves without work and facing an uncertain future. Here I must thank Dr Mujahid Kamran, then VC of Punjab University, for absorbing me into the university’s faculty, although at a quarter of my original salary. I was appointed Coordinator of the Research Centre for PhD and MPhil studies on September 01, 2010. My contract was renewed year by year. With the departure of Dr Mujahid Kamran, Punjab University plunged into new miseries. In a course of one year, I saw as many as three or four vice chancellors manning the seat one after the other. The Search Committee for VCs was probably playing ‘musical chairs’ and the government was unable to select a proper and permanent VC. The current vice-chancellor, supposedly permanent, was appointed last year. According to some information I have, he is heading as many as three universities at the moment, believe it or not. My last contract expired on March 31, 2018 it has not been renewed since due to fear of NAB. Like mine many other senior professors who were on contract were not accommodated, so they left. One of them was a gentleman heading the PU architecture department. An octogenarian like me, he has joined BZU, Multan as head of the architecture department at more than twice the salary that PU offered. I wonder why VC of BZU has no fear of NAB. He must be a brave man. Likewise at a selection board meeting at Women’s University in Sialkot where I was present as a subject expert, I met a couple of professors of my age. The lady VC had braved the threats of NAB, I believe the threats are only for Punjab University. Most probably it is not NAB, it is lack of coordination, depletion of will and abridgment good governance.

 

Senior teachers hired by PU on contract have been denied extensions, and have left. It has been a suicidal move. PU says it cannot hire teachers above 65. It says it has no money. The fact is, it has no inclination.

A thunderbolt of tremendous velocity stuck Punjab University in early May. A team of experts visited the university to assess the facilities being provided to MPhil and PhD programmes. They ordered that as many as twenty seven or so departments should stop the MPhil and PhD programmes immediately (nothing is known officially to the departments hit). The reason for this assault given was departments do not have sufficient teachers or sufficiently qualified teachers. Well, teachers, especially qualified, experienced and foreign trained teachers, do not grow on trees. A teacher who can judiciously supervise MPhil or PhD theses takes years to be so.

As a case study, I narrate the story of Research Centre of College of Art & Design, Punjab University, Lahore. The center provided facilities and training for MPhil and PhD degrees. As experienced teachers were not available, three experienced, very senior and retired teachers from within the college were approached and offered contracts. The Research Centre began operation (with the approval of HEC, of course). Later, two more college teachers joined after obtaining PhDs from UK and USA. I joined this center in 2006. Since its inception, this center rose to one of the leading places in Pakistan for research. It was enjoying tremendous reputation as a seat of genuine learning. For only twenty seats of MPhil, more than hundred and for eight seats of PhD more than twenty applications were being received every year. The rapid and quick-fire shuffling and appointments of VCs in Punjab University lent a serious blow to the Research Center. Senior teachers that had been hired on contract were denied extensions, and left. It was a suicidal move.

Once Dr Mujahid Kamran departed, Punjab University plunged into new miseries and three to four vice chancellors took charge of the seat over the course of one year.

PU says it cannot hire teachers above 65. PU says it has no money; the fact is, it has no inclination. Where there is a will there is a way. My head of department at Edinburgh University was more than 90 years old and serving. I wonder, instead of closing more than two dozen departments for research, why did HEC not force PU to hire senior teachers on contract as before. The step taken by HEC is myopic, catastrophic and repugnant. It is void of any percipience. It is a plot to bring bad name to the university. Can HEC give me a single example from across the world where MPhil or PhD programmes were terminated, as they were ordered shut at PU? What a shame!

Dr Shaukat Mahmood is a well known writer and the man popular maxim cartoons.He is currently heading Research center for Doctrol Studies at University of Punjab. He can be reached at drshaukatmahmood@gmail.com