Islamic University and My Stewardship

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    Dr. Rashid Askari

    Islamic University nestles snugly in a lush green rural landscape straddling the Kushtia-Jhenaidah border bypassed by the national highway. The passing of the 1980 Act conferred this institution the abiding status of being the first university established after the independence of Bangladesh.

    Over the years, it has developed into a major international center of excellence, where a specialized stream of theological studies and seven other of humanities, social sciences, business, law, applied sciences, biological sciences and engineering are running parallel. The university embraces global quality assurance mechanism to boost the power and professionalism of the teaching and non-teaching staff with a view to ensuring quality education and research through the deployment of ICT facilities.

    The university addresses the needs of both the national and foreign students, facilitating them with a broad spectrum of undergraduate studies and postgraduate research and teaching. The university gains the stakeholders’ confidence by way of creating a sustainable culture of transparency and innovation, excelling at producing graduates in all thirty four disciplines providing them with broad career choice. On the way to internationalization, the university looks forward to forming partnerships and fostering relationships with universities across the globe. It makes great strides in quest for quality culture and academic excellence and is committed to transforming itself into a world class university (WCU).

    I took up the stewardship of the university on 21 August 2016 by order of the Head of the State, Honourable President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh at a crucial moment. It was a sloppily run institution badly damaged by disorder, corruption, indiscipline and a broken chain of command. I felt like sort of a fish out of water. I have always been a simple teacher and had no previous knowledge of administration, let alone the skill of troubleshooting. So, people thought that I won’t be able to survive much longer and would give in gracefully. However, contrary to the apprehension that situation will worsen again, my stewardship worked miracles and the situation kept improving. To rid the University of the vested interests who had made it their cash-cow was at the top of my agenda. The metaphorical dairy cow which had grown weary of giving milk over the years and got no maintenance in return began to recover. It is a significant breakthrough and I attribute it to my artless sincerity and a little luck. Effective motivation, close monitoring and increased working hours have made this possible.

    I was so absorbed in my work that I could not feel how my time has flown by. I am now at the fag end of my tenure. Most of the members of the university family – the teachers and students, the officers, employees and a great many well-wishers are full of praises for what I have done during these four years for the development of the university. Although the nay saying breeds of people have not yet become extinct, they are now endangered species. Perhaps I am the lucky vice chancellor who wins the appreciation of his work from the teachers’ association, which even asks the government to grant an extension of the tenure of my administration to ensure the sustainable academic growth of the university. This is sure a great boost for my confidence and morale. Although sometimes I feel flattered at being called ‘the maker of modern Islamic University’ or eulogized as ‘a visionary’, ‘a hero’, blah, blah, blah, what I tangibly did for the university weighs more with me than anything else. However, it’s no exaggeration to say that during these four years, Islamic University has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and achieved an academic regeneration. It’s been very well poised to become a center of excellence in quality education and research nurtured by proper attention and care. I tried to realize my vision of a world class university through a set of reasonably practicable missions, goals, objectives supported by smart strategies and good teamwork.

    Before I wind up my activities with some fine-tuning, the university suddenly falls victim to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which is taking heavy tolls on the academic activities at my university like everywhere in the world. Sixteen thousand students of my university along with total thirty five lakhs in the country have been stuck at home. But we did not grin and bear it. Islamic University is one of the pioneers that felt a new urgency to online teaching in emergency as the only practicable and viable alternative and started conducting virtual classes immediately after the universities of our country were declared closed on 18 March 2020. Later, on 30 April 2020 a virtual meeting was held with the Education Minister Dr. Dipu Moni in the chair which was attended by the Deputy Minister of Education Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, UGC Chairman Professor Dr.  Kazi Shahidullah, some higher education family high-ups and vice chancellors of public and private universities. The meeting resolved on going for online classes as far as possible and in its wake our online academic activities gathered momentum. All the thirty four departments of Islamic University are now conducting online classes with a view to preparing students for exams to be taken immediately after the pandemic is over. IU family welcomed the new normal mode of education especially in emergency in a bid to escape from the clutches of session jams and thereby to minimize, as far as possible, the impact of Covid-19 on education.

    On the verge of completing my four-year tenure as Vice Chancellor, I am left with mixed feelings. I am happy that I have played a good inning and am expecting to have a pretty happy ending compared to my predecessors. However, a feeling of incompleteness is nagging at me for I couldn’t keep the university fully functional for the last few months due to the abrupt and unscheduled closure we had to undergo due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the reason why the fullest implementation of my academic policies and infrastructural development has been somewhat impeded and my overall scheme of things could not come to fruition to the fullest. However, on the whole, I am satisfied that I tried to discharge my duties and responsibilities fairly and squarely to the best of my ability, honesty and sincerity. I have tried my best to get the university back on track after it suffered overwhelming odds since its inception.

    The major events that happened under my stewardship are: the opening of nine high needs-based subjects and three separate faculties for social sciences,  biological sciences and engineering; academic reforms in keeping with Quality Assurance (QA) mechanism – intended learning outcomes (ILO), teaching/learning pedagogies, core values, lifelong learning competencies and interpersonal skills; the admission of foreign students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels; the organization of the 4th convocation of the university after one and a half decades; the achievement of the biggest ever budget for the ongoing Mega Project called ‘Islamic University’s Further Development (3rd Phase) 2018-2022’ for huge infrastructural and academic development (the construction of nine 10-storey buildings – 5 students’  residential halls, 1 academic building, 1 administration building, 2 dormitories, and the full extension of 11 existing buildings); the erection of 3 eye-catching Bangabandhu murals – Mrittunjoyee Mujib at the main gate and Muktir Ahoban and Shaswata Mujib in front of Bangabandhu Hall; the creation of the post of Bangabandhu Chair Professor and recruitment to it; the establishment of Ekushey Corner, Muktijuddho Corner and Bangabandhu Corner at the Central Library; the launch of collaboration  and exchange programmes with foreign universities; the purchase of more than a dozen new buses, microbuses, minibuses, cars and ambulances; the making of the botanical garden so on and so forth. To enhance academic and research strength, Islamic University has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with different universities/institutes across the globe such as, Nagasaki University, Japan, Chonbuk National University, South Korea, Wildlife Research Lab, Kangwon National University, South Korea, Yunnan University, China, Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University (UNISSA), Brunei Darussalam, Confucius Institute, University of Dhaka, and the Istanbul Foundation for Science and Culture, Turkey. I have made sure that Islamic University goes ahead in keeping with the country’s paramount leader Sheikh Hasina’s vision of the digital Bangladesh and her well thought out higher education policies on the empowerment of the people of Bangladesh to cope with the challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution and to make the most of our demographic dividend.

    People often tend to ask me if I could complete my tenure. They also cite examples of my preceding vice chancellors who could not swim to the shore. But I was always least bothered about if I would be able to complete my tenure. I was never anxious about the fact of suffering the same fate as my preceding vice chancellors did. Nor do I find any reason why I should jump for joy at successfully completing my tenure and thereby going down in the annals of Islamic University history. I see the issue from a totally different perspective. I have enormous confidence and strength of purpose. I would love to do my duties with pleasure and dignity as long as I am in the chair. I prefer anything to dishonor.

    I don’t know who is going to lead Islamic University for the next four years after me. But I hope the trend I set would continue provided of course it falls into the right hands. I do believe individuals can make all the difference. It depends on the next vice chancellor where the university will be heading. However, I can give some ideas about how Islamic University should, at this point in time, continue its journey into the way to internationalization, one I launched. All I did in the last four years has contributed to what we call enhancement of the quality of education and research at the university. Now it has to be taken to the next step – acceleration and transformation. In crude terms, in my four year tenure, I have been able to season the main dish with some more spices to improve its taste and texture. Now, at the transformation level we have to cook new dishes in keeping with the consumer demand locally and globally. In the transformation phase, the university should be made to promote understanding of the rich cultural diversity of humankind in order to prepare students to go forth with skills, knowledge and wisdom to serve and advance the communities in which they live and work. In concrete terms, another large-scale project should be made for Islamic University, which will include an increase in the area of the campus by 50 acres of land, building high boundary walls, introducing central sewerage and waste management systems, opening the agricultural and health science faculties and a research and faculty development center. Above all, the university should be transformed into a world class residential university. Anyway, everything depends on how faithful the vice chancellors are to the motto of the university and how capably and masterly they can translate their dreams into reality.

    (Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, fictionist, translator, media personality and the current Vice Chancellor of Islamic University, Bangladesh and can be reached at the Email: rashidaskari65@gmail.com)

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