The ongoing crisis at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) reflects an insensitive attitude of the authorities of the country's public universities towards their students. Instead of discussion and consultation, the authorities find it right to ignore and harass students. If the demands of the students seem irrational or unrealistic, it is the responsibility of those who are in charge to convince students of the untenable demands with logic and facts. Instead of doing so, utterly rejecting the demands and trying to find a conspiracy behind students' protest the authorities have adopted a hard line.
SUST students demand the resignation of the vice-chancellor (VC), for alleged irregularities of the university authority. Discontent has also been simmering there for long. Its outburst occurred when Provost Zafrin Ahmed of Begum Sirajunnesa Chowdhury Hall has been accused of misbehaving with some students. As the students started agitation protesting the misbehaviour, a fraction of Chatra League, the student wing of the ruling party, attacked and manhandled the protesting students on January 15.
The victims and their supporters went to VC, Professor Fariduddin Ahmed for redress. The VC, however, refused to pay any heed to the students and entered the ICT building. Agitating students confined him there. Later, the police attacked the students to free the him and used truncheons, rubber bullets and sound grenades on the SUST campus. The consecutive assaults from the ruling student wing and the police sparked further protest and agitation on the university campus. At this stage, Zafrin Ahmed resigned from her post, citing health issues. But students have started a movement for removal or resignation of the VC and some students went on a fast-unto-death protest since January 19. Students from other universities also expressed their solidarity with the SUST students. Even some teachers from different universities urged Fariduddin to resign.
Interestingly, Bangladesh Bishwabidyalay Parishad, the organisation of the vice-chancellors of the public universities, has taken a stance in favour of Farid Uddin Ahmed. At least 34 VCs of different public universities also said that they would also resign en masse if SUST VC resigns. The so-called threat of en masse resignation of the VCs is quite intriguing and indicates how they treat their students. Before taking such a stand, they should have asked themselves if they are not presenting them as adversaries to students instead of friends, philosophers and guides.
To quell the SUST students' movement, some new tricks have also been applied. The police arrested some ex-students of the university alleging that they are financing the movement. Mobile bank accounts of a few protesting students have also been suspended. This kind of oppressive step reaffirms the insensitive attitude of the university authority which is against fostering a vibrant environment of higher education. Though former SUST faculty and noted author Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal along with his wife Professor Yasmeen Haque arrived in the campus on Wednesday and persuaded students to end their hunger strike, the students have pledged to continue their movement. Now the bigger picture of students' well-being and the university's academic atmosphere are at risk of suffering more damage if no amicable solution is arrived at. Any vindictive measures against any student will be unacceptable. Better it would be to concentrate on removing the root cause of the problem