by Awais Masood
It was such a tragedy to see a news item mentioning that the Vice Chancellor (VC) of University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore who has been ‘ruling’ the institute for last twelve years has been granted another (fourth) term. There is almost everything wrong with Mr. Akram and the extension of his tenure. Almost every problem that could be identified with Pakistan as a state could be identified with him and the university he is supposed to look after. One cannot find better symptoms of degeneration anywhere else than what should be one of the prime institutions for technological education in the country.
It was year 2003 and my first week as an undergraduate student at UET when during a lecture; we were visited by a few senior members of university Dramatic Club who wanted to introduce us to the nature of their work. After a brief orientation, the only female member accompanying the members of Dramatic Club turned to my female class fellows and told them that the Vice Chancellor does not allow female students to act on stage but there are important back stage tasks to which they would be able contribute if they are interested in joining. The ban remained effective through my four years as an undergraduate student. It has also been confirmed by a recent graduate that that ban still remains in place in year 2010; Female students are not allowed to appear on stage and female roles (if they exist) are performed by male students. As someone rightly pointed out, when she was told of this ridiculous ban, there seems no difference between twenty first century Pakistani universities and sixteenth century Shakespearean England.
I have also been informed that recently the Electrical Engineering department of the university prohibited male and female students from forming combined final year project groups. Perhaps one must ask the VC if he is heading a university situated inside Mansura or Muridke?
While Mr. Akram does not want female students to occupy the public space during activities related to theatre and dramatics, he is not a typical Islamist or mullah and can act in very different way if suits his purpose. It so happened that the then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf (another military general) was to inaugurate the construction of new (Kala Shah Kaku) campus of the university and the university administration was looking for a student who could do the announcements during the event. The selected candidate was rejected by VS on the sole reason that she covered her head with a dupatta. According to him it was the era of enlightened moderation (yeh enlightened moderation ka zamana hay) and so such an attire was not acceptable and he would only allow her if she was ready to uncover her head during the event. One can only wonder at the opportunist hypocrisy and male chauvinism of Mr. Akram.
De-politicization of Students and Fundamentalism
One of the main achievements credited to Mr. Akram is the de-politicization of university which was a hub of violent student politics between multiple factions. He got rid of the violence and politics but in the process completely de-politicized the university culture into a suffocating space where he acts as an autocrat. But the lack of political activities may not mean that there are no political or semi-political alternatives available to the students. It happens that while no political party or even secular civil society organization may be allowed to work with university students, Tableghi Jamaat operates freely as it does through most of the institutions of the state. Its assertion that it is a non-political organization and that it does not condone violence has been repeatedly challenged by analysts but the Jamaat is allowed to operate freely throughout the educational institutions of Pakistan.  
A much more worrying aspect is the influence of rabid sectarian Wahabi/Salafi elements within the university academic staff. One must not forget that Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), was a professor at Islamic Studies department of UET. The reality is that the Wahabi sympathizers and affiliates of (LeT) have remained influential in that department throughout these years. Since military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq in his theocratic reforms, made it mandatory for the students of medical colleges and engineering universities to take courses in Islamic Studies, the department and its Wahabi affiliates are able to indoctrinate the students with their rabid ideology. The courses have been delibrately designed to teach rigid literalist interpretation of Islam to the students. I remember that one such member of the faculty (who is a well known Salafi figure), spent most of the time of his first lecture, in demonizing Ahmedis, declaring them as conspirators and making fun of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed’s death.
One more subtle and important fact is the tradition that the Friday sermon in university mosque is delivered by the Chairman of the Islamic Studies department which allows him (which is usually a Wahabi/Salafi academic) to preach a specific agenda and school of religious thought.
It is ironic that while Mr. Akram would not like Islami Jamiat –e-Tulaba (IJT), the student political faction of Jamat-e-Islami, to take control of university again, he has got no problem in accommodating the extremist elements within university faculty. Perhaps he symbolizes the very nature of Pakistani military establishment which claims that it is fighting the War against Terrorism but at the same time patronizes groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to take on India on proxy fronts.
Mr. Akram runs the university as authoritatively as any retired military general would do. Dissenting students who may try to organize or protest for their demands may face expulsions and suspensions. The VC is known to dictate his will to members of disciplinary committees who are then left with almost no option than to hand over the suggested punishments to the students.
One of the main questions remains that why a retired military general is heading one of the prime technology universities in the country for last twelve years. Why cannot the number of able faculty members, Chairmen of Departments and Deans of faculties replace him? Why has he been given extensions by political governments and military dictatorship alike? It is ironic that Sharif brothers criticize Musharraf and his military associates but were themselves responsible for bringing military officers to run civil organizations and are still repeating the same mistakes? Why is it that the only achievements that the erstwhile Vice Chancellor can boast of- in his repetitive and predictable addresses to the students- are the erection of new buildings and increase of certain funds for certain purposes? How long could one go running our universities as some medieval madrassas ?