Thursday, 29 July, 2021

Break The Culture Of Padlocking

Dr. Kundan Aryal

Just two days before the lifting of the 120-day-long nationwide lockdown, a student wing close to the main opposition Nepali Congress padlocked all the major offices of Tribhuvan University on July 19. The nationwide lockdown, imposed to combat COVID-19 since March 24, ended on July 21. But the TU administration at Kirtipur has remained locked by teachers and students.
The protesters had expressed their anger against the appointment of the Head of the Central Department of English and moved to shut the main doors of the office of the VC, Rector, Registrar and TU Service Commission. The next day, agitating students and teachers forwarded a 33-point demand to the TU administration. A cursory look at their demands is sufficient to understand the flawed motive of the teachers, who have used the letterhead of the Democratic Professors Association while submitting their demands to the administration. The padlock of the main doors of TU offices manifests the motionless state of the institution. Even the protesting teachers and students understand that they put up their demands for the sake of demand. The TU administration has been consistently calling for dialogue with the dissatisfied teachers and students to resolve the deadlock.

Lack of seriousness
Some of their demands show lack of seriousness and responsibility on the part of teachers. Demanding the resignation of the VC, who was appointed with due process just nine months ago, is simply disgusting. The teachers are demanding the COVID-19 perks for running online classes during the pandemic. While the entire nation and the people from the different walks of life are suffering from financial crisis, our academic friends are demanding money for a laptop and books with the institution whose annual budget is around Rs. 130 million. Any sensible citizen would raise eyebrows over such demands by the teachers in this difficult moment. The teachers also demand the budget for all 61 constituent campuses and forty central departments under the Quality Assurance Accreditation Certificate without the University Grants Commission's scrutiny.
Over the years the teachers, students and the TU staff have been indulged in the acts of padlocking the TU offices and campuses which symbolise the culture of negation guided by coercive measures. There is a hope that the intellectuals would solve the problems rationally through dialogue. However, such protests have been just the bargaining chips for gaining the positions and the chairs of the departments considered to be lucrative ones. A small clique has been benefiting from the political divisions for many years. They are neither pursuing any ideological debate on higher education nor providing a guideline to the nation as it witnessed contemporary upheavals.
Responsibility, self-dignity, critical mind-set over the anomalies and the intellectuality of the TU teachers are being overshadowed by the parochial politics and the arrangements. The chronic problem is being more complicated by such acts of closing the doors for the officials who are there to administer the university. No academics can see the solution in the lockdown and directionless situation. The oldest university of the country cannot ignore the dreams of the thousands of students and their parents.
There are many problems besetting the TU. But if TU is a big family, any of its sensible members first need to think about the quality of its education and products. All other problems will be streamlined. The TU needs to be transformed into a vibrant institution with debate and discourse on social as well as very internal issues in a free and frank manner. But the nature of the objections and the way of the expressing grievances ought to be changed. Prevalence of proper, impartial, effective and fair way of grievance handling mechanism is a must.
Every individual in the TU family should have access to justice to flourish his or her academic excellence and honesty. But one cannot expect any change from such non-academic culture of the padlock. The closure of the offices has hampered the TU’s budget preparation process for the upcoming fiscal year, examination-related works and human resource management. Even after the end of the lockdown, the campuses are not open for the students. But TU had already gone for the alternative for teaching and learning during the nationwide lockdown. The virtual online classes have already started. The university is bracing for an alternative way of conducting examinations and improving the online classes.

Academic quality
The teachers who followed the students to padlock the main doors of the officials have not raised the issues essential to revitalise the TU. The country wishes to see enhanced academic quality and removal of anomalies thriving under political patronage. Today, hundreds of thousands of students are trying their best to overcome the adversities created by coronavirus. Thus, it is time to say enough is enough. Let’s break the culture of padlock forever and make the TU a centre of excellence.

(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)