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          KARACHI: Raising serious objections over a recent scrutiny process carried out by a government-notified search committee for the post of Karachi University vice chancellor, six senior professors have urged the chancellor (Sindh governor) and the chief minister to intervene into the matter and declare the process null and void.

          The post of KU vice chancellor had fallen vacant over eight months ago following the death of Prof Mohammad Ajmal Khan. Later, the CM — being the controlling authority of public sector universities under the Sindh Universities and Institutes Laws (Amendment) Act 2018 — appointed Prof Khalid Mahmood Iraqi, a junior KU professor, as the varsity’s acting vice chancellor.

          Though teachers preferred not to raise objection over Prof Iraqi’s appointment at that time, sources said that the appointment was very much against the principles of merit and court rulings under which the senior most university professor should be given the top slot in the interim period till the government made a regular appointment.

          The governor and CM are requested to declare search committee’s scrutiny process void

          Change in selection criteria

          The sources said the government initially advertised the vacant posts of a vice chancellor at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Shaheed Benazirabad and Shaikh Ayaz University, Shikarpur in February last year and later in June advertised for the same vacant position at KU.

          What made the process of filling these regular posts at the three public sector universities questionable was the government’s decision to change the selection criteria.

          The same point was highlighted in a Jan 23 letter signed by Prof Mohammad Ahmed Qadri, former KU’s dean faculty of arts and social sciences; Prof Bilquees Gul, director of KU’s Institute of Sustainable Halophyte and Utilization; Prof Moonis Ahmar, former dean faculty of arts and social sciences at KU; Prof Jamil H. Kazmi, former chairman of geography department at KU; Prof Pirzada Jamal Siddiqui, former director of Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology at KU and Prof Arif Kamal, former dean faculty of science and engineering at KU.

          They were all candidates for the post of KU vice chancellor and have not been shortlisted for an interview after the scrutiny process.

          Those shortlisted are: Prof Fateh Mohammad Burfat, currently serving as the vice chancellor of Sindh University; Dr Khalil Ahmed Ibupoto of Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam; Dr Rukhsar Ahmed of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Law University; Prof Abid Hasnain of KU; acting KU VC Prof Khalid Iraqi; Dr Mehdi Hasan Kazmi of KU and Dr Mohammad Yousuf Khushk of Shah Abdul Latif Khairpur University.

          The Jan 23 letter says: “The initial advertisement for the said post [KU vice chancellor] was published on June 29, 2019, which required that the candidate should have at least 25 quality research publications in national and international Higher Education Commission-recognised research journals and that he/she should have at least 20 years’ experience in teaching/academic position with a substantial experience of working at senior administrative positions.”

          This was followed by a corrigendum ‘after the expiry of the first advertisement’ in October in which the criteria relating to experience and research work was downgraded, requiring that the applicant have at least 15 quality publications in national and international HEC-recognised research journals and 20 years of experience in academic positions, of which a minimum of 10 years in senior administrative positions.

          Demand to declare scrutiny process void

          In their letter, the teachers argued that some of them had earlier been declared eligible for the post of VC at KU and Federal Urdu University as per existing HEC criteria and that exclusion of their names in the recent scrutiny was questionable.

          They also objected to some members of the search committee who “have remained directly associated with KU”, which showed “signs of nepotism and conflict of interests” in the scrutiny process.

          They demanded that the scrutiny process be declared null and void in the far-reaching interests of KU and for justice.

          The search committee is headed by Prof Abdul Qadeer Rajput as chairman with Prof A.Q. Mughal, Prof Nilofer Shaikh and secretary of boards and universities as its member.

          Sources said Prof Mohammad Qaiser, a former KU VC, was part of the search committee which conducted the scrutiny process while Prof Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, also a former KU vice chancellor, declined to be part of the process after knowing that his nephew was among the candidates.

          Reportedly, the government had again invited Prof Siddiqui to join the Search Committee for the remaining selection process as his nephew was not shortlisted.

          Prof Iraqi ranked 27th on seniority list

          Prof Qadri, a retired KU teacher, said it was a mistake not to challenge the appointment of acting vice chancellor earlier and the changes made in the selection criteria.

          “We are not desperate for a position but want that the government upholds the principles of merit and transparency. Prof Iraqi ranks 27th in the list of seniority [and don’t deserve to be appointed as the acting vice chancellor or vice chancellor],” he said, contending that senior professors should have been called for an interview.

          In this respect, he referred to a 2016 decision of the Lahore High Court which called for handing over the acting charge of vice chancellor to the most senior professor at a university till the time regular appointment was made.

          Prof Moonis Ahmer, another senior KU teacher, said: “What happened was a grave injustice and violation of the basic principles of merit. We believe that it’s the last chance to save KU from total destruction.”

          Sindh govt rejects criticism

          Describing the whole process of selecting vice chancellors as highly flawed, a senior Sindh University professor, Dr Arfana Mallah, said the fact that the search committee solely relied on candidates’ claims and there was no investigation and inquiry into his or her credentials discredited the whole process.

          “Presently, all candidates are judged and shortlisted on the basis of their CVs. There should be an inquiry into the past academic and administrative records of the candidates,” she said, raising concerns that any person with a criminal record could be shortlisted and appointed vice chancellor in the current system.

          When contacted, Universities and Boards Secretary Mohammad Riazuddin rejected criticism on the selection process and said: “Those who have a problem can go to the court. The government has the right to do what it pleases.”

          Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020

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