RAID ON UNIVERSITY AUTONOMY  

STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

OPEN LETTER TO CHIEF MINSTER USMAN BUZDAR

Greetings, but on second thought greetings for what? What have you achieved in nearly two years into your term as the Chief Executive? You head the largest province of Pakistan. I would love to be educated about steps you have taken towards “Tabdeeli”. It is politics to maintain the status quo. PTI came in as a party for change. What initiatives have you taken to implement the PTI agenda?

There is intense disappointment, shattered dreams, unfulfilled promises and lethargic governance. Punjab is 60% of Pakistan. Chief Minister, Punjab is the 2nd most important political position after the Prime Minister. You come across as a sleepy leader in a daze, still not believing the good fortune of being hoisted into this position. This tentative, indecisive behavior of doing nothing makes you vulnerable. Guess who amongst the ruling classes are quickest to pick it up? The bureaucracy.

They move in quickly to fill the void and strengthen their chokehold on the levers of power. In a political setup, the politicians chart the pathway, but if the leader is clueless the bureaucrats quietly take over the steering wheel. They systemically deepen their claws into the power structure. This is what is happening in the recent proposed changes in the laws governing public sector universities.

The Public Sector Universities (Amendment) Act 2020 spells disaster for the future of running these autonomous bodies. The biggest casualty is Punjab University being the oldest amongst them having a history of 138 years. Established in 1882 it has been the flag bearer of education in the whole region. It has over four million alumni in every walk of life within Pakistan and scattered around the globe.

I am proud to be one of them. I joined Punjab University in 1967 as an undergraduate in their Honors Program. My relationship spans more than five decades. Whether in Pakistan or abroad, my linkages with my alma mater are deep and strong. I value them immensely and will call out anyone that intends harm or attempts to derail its smooth operations.

Punjab University is one of the few institutions in Pakistan that has weathered many a storm and always emerged stronger than before. It has built institutional strength that is envied by many. It has been a target of multiple attempts to take it over and dominate its operations. Mr. Chief Minister, this latest attempt to push through this Amendment under your watch is meanest of them all. You and the minions supposedly under your control are usurping the autonomy of this great institution.

What are the bureaucrats and their incompetent political masters proposing in this law? The amendment is aimed at the heads of 29 institutions. It nefariously seeks to clip their wings and bring them under your subjugation. You are using a well drilled martial arts technique “Control the head; control the body”.

How will this be achieved? Through four simple, yet extremely tough head locks:

  1. Since 1882 Vice Chancellors have been appointed for their tenure based on their experience and competence as head of an autonomous organization. They operate with freedom within the bounds of law. No more. This Amendment takes that autonomy away. VCs will be “deemed as civil servants” governed by Punjab Employees Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability Act 2006 (PEEDA). There goes their freedom!
  2. VC’s appointment recommendations are made by a “Search Committee” from amongst the applicants seeking this position. Under the new law they can invite anyone they deem appropriate. Back door entry!
  3. “Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the university’s benchmarks and targets will be set under the “advice” of Chief Minister two years at a time. No mention is made of input by VC or syndicate. Performance audits will be conducted twice a year and submitted to Chief Minister for “comments or action”. Autonomy thrown out the window!
  4. The Syndicate is the governing body in a university, headed by the Vice Chancellor. A cohesive body. No more under the new law. The VC will no longer be the chairman of the syndicate. The Chief Minister will appoint a chairman from amongst a designated group. Welcome to a hellhole! Expect two warring groups amongst the academic and administration staff siding with the VC or Chairman Syndicate! The Syndicate will also be reconstituted to introduce politicians who will do the Chief Minister’s bidding. A perfect recipe to paralyze any institution!

Punjab University is the prime target being the oldest and the biggest institution. Do you want to undo the 68% improvement in its standing amongst the global universities achieved during Dr. Niaz’s tenure?

Why is this being done Mr. Chief Minister? You can’t even manage your cabinet how the hell do you expect to run 29 universities? This is definitely not part of PTI’s agenda. PTI program revolves around institution building not demolishing existing ones! How would you know? You got on the bandwagon of PTI when it was nearing its destination.

Mr. Chief Minister as a part of the PTI founding team I know the above for a fact. PTI program was effectively verbalized and stated by my friend Hassan Nisar in the founding documents. I want you to wake up and see the disservice you will do! You are undermining PTI and its Chairman. You owe your appointment to him, if you can’t help him don’t harm him. For the life of me I still can’t comprehend why IK appointed you and why he continues to put up with you, risking his own political future. Pull back this crazy Amendment Mr. Chief Minister!

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