Like many other academicians in the country, I was awe-stricken to know that Jagannath University Vice-Chancellor Dr Mizanur Rahman expressed his desire to replace the Jubo League (the youth wing of the ruling Awami League) leadership
Then I thought it might have been a mere fun expressed as a sweeping wish in a light manner. By the way, who cares much about what is spoken in talk shows? Even talk shows are not to be deemed as having legal status of a juridical platform. Hence, it is better to spare that partisan gentleman who is serving as the chief executive of a public university in the capital for the second consecutive term. If asked, he might even say he had deeper meaning to what he stated, or he might even accuse the journalists for misquoting him or misinterpreting his statement as all the other big-fishes-in-the-net do the same.
Then I thought and read a little more about what he said. He wanted to take up the charge of Jubo League if the prime minister finds him the right Moses to save the nation's young generation. And his pleasure principle even allowed such wish at the age of 61.It is not surprising as even the current chair of the youth wing is in his seventies. Dr Rahman can seek whatever post he wants from the prime minister. There is no trouble with that. After all, this is the age of freedom of expression, wish and desire.
But when I realised that this statement was given by the vice-chancellor of a public university, this sweeping comment sounded like a discourse to me. I am sorry but I could not help using the word "discourse". As a learner of Critical Theory School, I could not spare that desire of a VC easily. A statement from a layman and a statement from a VC are different in weight and importance. Perhaps that is the hazard of a man or woman "Of Great Place". An academic spearhead and the chief executive of a university by default holds a number of responsibilities in statement and accountability regarding their actions.
Now, let us look at the word "discourse". Derived from Latin 'discursus', the French word 'discours' refers to the process of understanding, thought, idea, ideology, statement, speech, rhetoric etc. And the English discourse derives from its French counterpart. When we hear such an uncensored discourse from an academician, I think of other sub-discourses related to this intention. The Jubo League, the quarantine process of which is running at an urgent pace and which is blackened by a number of allegations, is at the top notch of national criticism and of course, the ruling party deserves its due credit for responding to such political decadence. Hence, a 61-year-old (not even an acceptable age to head Jubo League) academician's earnest desire to play the saviour then and there endorses a negative rhetoric about the sanity and integrity of the academia. A VC's desire to join politics leaving the education sector behind (as he said he is ready to join the Jubo League post immediately) leaves only frustration among the freshers, both students and teachers.
French philosopher Michel Foucault perceived 'discourse' as having intricate terms with power. Discourses have power and they are created to empower or overpower. Hence, we cannot leave a VC's explicit political ambition innocently. When a VC has a number of allegations for pampering the student wing of the ruling party, his wish to be the torch-bearer of another wing of the same party evokes laughter. Or he might just iterate for self-defense that it was an irony. Who knows?
Whether it was a tough fun to digest or not, it was something that he said. It was broadcast and published nationwide and now people know a VC finds it more lucrative to go into politics than remain in the academia. Now the students know even the individuals holding the highest executive posts of institutions of higher studies seek to quit the education sector. What are we really communicating to the nation through such political longing of a scholar? Politics is not necessarily bad, nor is the wish to serve as the lighthouse, but there is a proportion of time, place and position which can turn a sweeping fun into provocation for academic derailment. No wonder if a VC's political ambition leads his junior colleagues to more engagement into teachers' politics pulling them away from classroom. After all, patron shows the path. Hence, Foucault's assessment regarding the power of discourse is very valid.
I am not saying Mr Rahman is going to join Jubo League for sure. Let us say he will never join even after hypothetically given the post. However, the essence of a speech or discourse will resound and reverberate in the ears of the budding generations. Our students' search for an academic role model will once again stumble into obscurity.
Author and critic Ahmed Sofa's realistic yet horrifying satire about academia in his 1995 novel Gavi Bittanto (A Tale of a Cow) echoes in this context. What happened to our academic leaders? Are we moving towards an abysmal darkness in the academia? Or we will turn around to retrieve the sanity of education sector? Time has come to reform the academic mayhem.
Kazi Ashraf Uddin is an Associate Professor at the Department of English, Jahangirnagar University