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Universities Running without Elected VCs

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The country's three top public universities are being run by non-elected and government-nominated vice-chancellors, without elections of students unions and with unelected representatives of registered graduates in the Senate. Appointed temporarily, the incumbent vice-chancellors of Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chittagong universities have refrained from holding the VC panel polls apparently out of fear of not getting a second term. On the other hand, only the VC of Jahangirnagar University is elected by the senate members. Sources informed that, the non-elected VCs might not secure a victory in the elections due to rifts among teachers and senate members. Even if their panels win, the government might not appoint them as VCs. None of the three is taking the "risk". These universities are run under the 1973 university act, which stipulates that the VC will be appointed by the chancellor for four years from a panel of three elected by the senate. The last elected VC of Dhaka University was SMA Fayez, the predecessor of incumbent AAMS Arefin Siddique. Fayez was in office in 2002-09. The situation is worse in Chittagong. At Chittagong University, senate elections to the VC panel have not been held for the last 20 years. The only public university that called a VC election during this Awami League government's tenure is Jahangirnagar University. Professor Shariff Enamul Kabir on May 17 stepped down as the JU vice-chancellor, following a months-long standoff and unrest on the campus. President and JU Chancellor Zillur Rahman appointed Professor Anwar Hossain, a senior teacher of Dhaka University, to replace Kabir. As Professor Anwar fixed the date for the polls, a section of teachers launched an agitation demanding the senate election first. Nevertheless, the polls were held on July 20 as per schedule. The High Court had directed the government to ensure a peaceful atmosphere at the first-ever election to the highest position of the university in the last eight years. On July 24, the president appointed Professor Anwar as the JU vice-chancellor for the next four years, choosing him from an elected three-member panel. Teachers say the practice over the last few decades of VCs getting appointed and dismissed with the change of government conflicts with the democratic process of public universities. After the JU VC panel election, teachers of the three public universities expected the same in their respective universities. The tenure of a number of senate members in these universities has already expired. If the authorities call for senate elections, many teachers might protest demanding elections to the senate bodies first, leading to a chaotic situation, sources said. Moreover, the incumbent VCs personally do not want any such move to provoke troubles. Professor Arefin Siddique arranged elections of registered graduates' representatives and teachers' representatives - the main bodies of the Senate - soon after taking charge of DU in January 2009. Senate members said they had expected the university authority to hold the VC panel election. No initiative was taken to that end although the tenure of these two bodies expired in June this year. The issue reached the High Court in 2012 after Professor Wahiduzzaman Chan, general secretary of DU Teachers Association, filed a writ petition with the court seeking an order for holding a senate session immediately to select a VC panel. At Rajshahi University, the last election to the VC panel was held in 1998. Professor Sayedur Rahman Khan was the last elected VC. His tenure expired in 2001. Incumbent RU VC Professor Abdus Sobhan, who took charge in February 2009, did not call for the VC panel election. And he passed his tenure of 4 years without any tension. The new RU VC professor Md. Mizanuddin has been elected 3-months earlier. But he is also walking on the same way. However, most RU teachers are sceptical about the holding of the polls soon. Among the three universities, the situation at Chittagong University is the worst as the last VC panel election was held in 1988. The university is being run by an unelected senate for long; elections to other bodies also were held a long time ago. The last election to the registered graduate representatives took place in 1986 and its term ended in 1989. On the other hand, the election for teachers' representatives was last held in 2001. Professor Dr. ANM Munir Ahmed, chairman of the CU political science department, said the senate was so old that some of its members were already dead. Most of the VCs do not take the initiative to hold the VC panel election for fear of not being appointed again. CU VC Professor Anwarul Azim said there was no guarantee that an elected VC would remain in office with the change in power as there were instances of elected VCs being removed and unelected ones being appointed. He admitted that it would definitely be good if elections were held. "But why didn't people say anything when there was no elected VC for around 25 years?" "The government has appointed me for a four-year term and I will take the initiatives at the right time," he said.

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