The ongoing anti-VC protest at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) appears as the latest episode of student protests against abuse of power and corruption by the vice-chancellors.
SUST students on Thursday last week took to the streets protesting irregularities at a dorm. The agitation subsequently turned into the anti-VC movement on Sunday after the university VC Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed let police beat up the pupils, hurl stan grenades, lob tear shell canisters and fire rubber bullets at them.
Plus, the protesting students were sued on Monday night on charge of attacking police and trying to snatch their firearms.
A SUST economics professor said there had been no record of a police attack on any peaceful student protest in the campus. Even former SUST VC Prof Musleh Uddin Ahmed, who resigned in the wake of student protest, did not order police to assault the pupils.
"But on Sunday, students were beaten up over a trifle issue. Students' agitation is very logical after the police action," said the teacher while talking to The Business Standard on condition of anonymity.
Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed was appointed as SUST VC in August 2017. In June 2021, he was reappointed. With prolonged Covid-led university closure, he did not have to face any major student protest in his two terms until the latest one.
However, students said they had been annoyed for a long time over how the VC had been treating them. "The vice-chancellor would not listen to us every time we met him with any demand. Students were not allowed to organise any cultural event in the campus," said a Bangla department student of the university.
"Prior to his joining, female students could return to dorms after 10pm. But he mandated female students to return to halls by evening," said another agitating female student. A ruling party student leader complained about Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed's "massive financial anomalies" in ongoing development projects worth around Tk1,200 crore.
The university teachers alleged the VC pampered political grouping among teachers, and capitalised in on the rivalry.
50 anti-VC protests in 20 years
Like the student protest against corruption and misuse of power, there have been at least 50 anti-VC protests in public universities across the country in the last 20 years. Revulsion that fuelled the student movements include financial corruption, appointment irregularities, nepotism and autocratic attitudes.
In the face of the protests, 20 VCs left the office.
But not a single of them faced any criminal lawsuit though tertiary education regulator UGC flagged financial irregularities and moral turpitude by at least 50 VCs in the last 20 years.
Noted educationist and former Dhaka University teacher Prof Syed Anwar Husain said a sense of impunity, and a lack of accountability and commitment are to blame for VCs going rogue.
On anti-VC movements that have become common in recent years, he said, "Unskilled and under-skilled teachers are being appointed to the top post of the universities. Since political identity has appeared to be the lone qualification, they failed both in ensuring quality education and proper administration."
"VCs also should be brought to book if irregularities and corruption are found against them," Prof Syed added.
Professor Emeritus of Dhaka University Serajul Islam Choudhury told The Business Standard, "Politically recruited VCs think they are only accountable to the government. But VCs should be accountable only to their teachers and students."
They were let off the hook
Prof Khondoker Nasiruddin, vice-chancellor of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, suspended six students over Facebook posts in 2019.
Subsequently, the VC came under huge criticism on social media, and faced massive protest which spread to most public universities across the country. He allegedly hired goons from outside of the campus to launch an attack on agitating students that left at least 50 pupils injured.
Following a probe, Prof Nasiruddin resigned from his post on 30 September 2019 and joined the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) on 1 October in the same year.
Hazi Danesh Science and Technology University VC Prof Md Abul Kashem had been facing various corruption allegations, including taking bribes for appointments and promotions, since 2019.
In the face of student protests, the VC fled the campus in January 2021.
Prof Rafikul Islam, former VC of the Bangladesh Agricultural University, stepped down in 2015 after a scandal and recruitment of 307 employees through a violation of university rules. But no action was taken against him either. He resigned after a protest by students and teachers.
Prof Anwar Hossain resigned as the vice-chancellor of the Jahangirnagar University in 2014 following months of agitation by teachers and students.
The government appointed Shariff Enamul Kabir to the Jahangirnagar University VC in 2010. After his "politically blessed" appointment, he faced widespread criticism for alleged anomalies in teacher recruitment, admissions and corruption.
He was forced to leave campus in the wake of teacher and student protest in 2012.
A long list
The list of delinquent VCs includes Professor Abdul Hakim of Islamic University, Prof Abdus Sobhan of Rajshahi University, Prof Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, Prof Farzana Islam of Jahangirnagar University and Prof Shahidur Rahman Khan of Khulna Agricultural University.
An investigation by the University Grants Commission (UGC) is underway against Prof Md Alauddin, VC of Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University.
The UGC is also investigating corruption 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.
Prof AK Azad Chowdhury, a former VC of the Dhaka University who also served as an UGC chairman, said he was surprised by the types of allegations being raised against some of the public university VCs.
"I also served as the 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."