The University Grants Commission (UGC) has detected financial irregularities and moral turpitude against at least 25 vice-chancellors of different public universities in the past 12 years.
According to UGC sources, the commission recommended that the education ministry take action against these vice-chancellors (VCs) during their tenures. The charges the UGC has found include recruitment irregularities and financial anomalies, which are criminal offences.
The ministry only removed some of the VCs from their posts but did not take any legal action over the criminal activities they indulged in.
UGC Secretary Ferdous Zaman said the university regulatory body cannot take any action on its own; the education ministry is authorised to do that.
AKM Aftab Hossain Pramanik, additional secretary at the education ministry, told The Business Standard that the ministry usually takes action as per UGC recommendations. He declined to comment any further on the issue.
There are 46 public universities with 15,000 teachers and more than 3 lakh students in the country.
Education experts have said a culture of impunity is behind the financial irregularities and moral malaise and incumbent VCs also think they will not face any trial or be answerable for their transgressions if complaints are filed against them.
As a result, they turn roguish and do whatever they wish, even violating rules and regulations.
The experts say since financial corruption is a criminal offence, corrupt VCs must face the music after being removed from their positions.
Ministry did not pay any heed to report against RU VC
The UGC last year found 25 irregularities against the immediate-past Rajshahi University (RU) VC Prof Abdus Sobhan, such as providing false information to the chancellor, lowering recruitment qualifications to appoint families and relatives, and financial irregularities.
The commission recommended that the education ministry remove Prof Sobhan from the office of VC, but the ministry did not pay any heed to the recommendation. Instead the ministry gave him a chance to conclude his tenure quietly, an education ministry source told TBS.
Prof Sobhan also ended his second term almost quietly, except for the appointment scam on the last day of his tenure on Thursday.
Despite a UGC embargo on RU appointments enforced in October last year, the former VC cleared the appointments of 137 teachers and staff on an ad-hoc basis on the day.
After assuming office for a second time in 2017, he appointed 52 teachers and 191 staff.
The education ministry has said the appointment of the 137 people is illegal, and a ministry probe committee is now looking into the matter.
Despite several attempts, TBS failed to reach Prof Sobhan for his comments.
Rokeya University issue fades
With widespread criticism over the recent RU appointment scam, the education ministry is yet silent about Prof Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, VC of Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, despite detecting his multiple irregularities in the construction of university infrastructure.
In March, the ministry told the media that it would hold a meeting on the UGC report, which exposed the irregularities committed by Prof Kalimullah. But progress in this regard is yet to be visible.
The UGC is now carrying out another investigation against Prof Kalimullah's administrative corruption.
Amid protests on the Rokeya University campus and media reports, Prof Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah turned up at a press conference in Dhaka on 4 March. He rejected the UGC probe report, and claimed "the report was prepared under the influence and direction of Education Minister Dipu Moni. It is just an ill-political move."
They also go unpunished
A UGC probe found irregularities and allegations of corruption against Prof Dr Khondoker Nasiruddin of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University in Gopalganj. A day later, after the submission of the probe report to the ministry, Prof Nasiruddin resigned from his post on 30 September 2019 and joined the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) on 1 October in the same year.
He did not have to face any academic or legal action.
The UGC also found financial irregularities against Islamic University VC Professor Abdul Hakim in 2015. After getting the probe report, the government removed him from his post in 2016. But no legal action was taken against Prof Hakim.
Professor Rafikul Islam, former VC of the Bangladesh Agricultural University, stepped down after a scandal and recruitment of 307 employees through a violation of university rules. But no action was taken against him either.
More VCs who are in the spotlight
Khulna Agricultural University VC Prof Shahidur Rahman Khan allegedly appointed his family members to the university in violation of university rules and regulations.
The VC has already appointed his son as a section officer on an ad hoc basis and his daughter as a teacher. He is now trying to make his wife, who is livestock officer of an upazila, as a teacher at the livestock services department of the university.
After receiving complaints from the university syndicate, the UGC formed a three-member probe committee. Professor Dr Biswajit Chanda, UGC member and convener of the committee, said the UGC is now looking into the matter and will try to submit the report soon.
The UGC formed another committee to investigate financial irregularities in development work against Jahangirnagar University (JU) VC Prof Farzana Islam.
The VC reportedly paid Tk1.6 crore to the university unit of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), student front of the ruling Awami League, from the funds of an ongoing development project of the university.
Wishing anonymity, a member of the committee told TBS the UGC team will visit JU soon and submit a report as soon as possible.
For her part, the JU VC denied the allegations, terming the reports of corruption as a conspiracy against her.
Hazi Danesh Science and Technology University VC Prof Md Abul Kashem has been facing various corruption allegations, including taking bribes for appointments and promotions, since 2019.
Both the UGC and the ministry were urged to take action against the VC. In the face of student protests, the VC fled the campus on 12 January.
An investigation by the UGC is also underway against Prof Md Alauddin, VC of Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University.
The UGC is also investigating similar allegations against Professor AHM Mostafizur Rahman, VC of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University; Prof M Ahsan Ullah, VC of Islamic Arabic University; Prof Md Matiar Rahman Hawlader of Sylhet Agriculture University; Prof Iftekhar Uddin Chowdhury of Chattogram University; Prof SM Imamul Haque of Barishal University; and Prof Md Abdus Sattar of Jashore Science and Technology University.
Political appointment the cause
Noted educationist and former Dhaka University teacher Prof Syed Anwar Husain told TBS that unskilled, dishonest and less qualified teachers have been becoming VCs of public universities due to political appointments.
He said VCs should be brought to book if irregularities and corruption are found against them and if the culture of impunity is to be brought to an end.
"A search committee comprising reputed professors must be formed to appoint VCs. Otherwise, it will be a very challenging task to curb such irregularities," he said.
Prof AK Azad Chowdhury, a former Dhaka University VC who has also served as UGC chairman, said he was surprised by the kinds of allegations being raised against some of the public university VCs.
"I also served as VC of Dhaka University. But I never dared to do anything outside university rules and regulations," he said, adding, "The government must take stringent measures so that no VC dares to get involved in corruption."