Pakistani universities are rarely ranked among the world’s best institutions for critical discourse and intellectual growth and a lot of it has to do with the suppression of independent thinking and creativity by university administrations and state regulated curriculums. In the past couple of days, the country has witnessed four events which hinder the growth of critical thinking in the country.
Faculty members of several universities have written an open letter to protest the undue scrutiny of the authorities because it affects critical thinking of the students and the academic work that comes with it
Please Circulate Widely: Letter from Concerned Faculty Regarding Academic Freedom and Increased Repression on University…
The faculty members who stand by this letter have stated, “as faculty members, we believe the university must be a space where faculty and students are free to share ideas and engage in thoughtful analysis of pressing social issues without experiencing fear or intimidation. The function of the university is to foster an atmosphere in which ideas are respectfully shared and rigorous research and analysis is encouraged. It is only through open discussion and debate that our most pressing social and political problems will be properly understood and diagnosed.”
The incidents that these teachers are protesting against took place in Habib University, LUMS, Punjab University and Gomal University
The first incident took place at Habib University in Karachi on April 13th. An event titled “Ethnic Rights, New Social Movements, and the State of the Federation In Pakistan”. The purpose behind the event was to get experts to analyze different social movements in the country. However only an hour before the event, it is being said that state functionaries visited and called it off. One of the guest speakers was also made to leave the campus despite an official invitation by the university.
The second incident took place at LUMS on the same date. The event planned at LUMS was the commemoration of Mashal Khan’s death anniversary. Now everyone realizes that this was someone brutally murdered for a crime he did not commit. Remembering him is very important because this reinforces where we have gone wrong as a nation and urges us to think of steps we can take to improve the situation in the future. However, the event again was called off and participants are suspicious of the reasons behind that.
I was to attend the memorial for Mashal Khan at LUMS yesterday until it got canceled due to 'administrative issues'. It seems like even the memory of some resilient souls is too much for those in power to take. https://t.co/gJkUGICR8t
— Minahil Mehdi (@minahil_mehdi) April 14, 2018
The third event took place in Punjab University which is not exactly known as a place for dialogue and creativity, anymore. At least that has been established due to the control of religiously inclined mafia and their narrative on the campus and the excessive interference of the state functionaries to ensure that academic growth and critical thinking is not promoted.
A professor of Punjab University, Ammar Ali Jan, was recently fired from the university in what he states is a bid to snub the critical voices.
Many have even protested the action taken against Ammar and have been vocal about his dedication to his work.
My dear friend & comrade #AmmarAliJan has been fired from Punjab University. Ammar Jan is a historian who completed his PhD from Cambridge & despite high paying job offers from other universities chose to teach at a Public University. He had previously received threats by IJT
— Tooba Syed (@Tooba_Sd) April 13, 2018
dedicated and fearless academics like #AmmarAliJan are disrespected and fired out from the institutes while the academics who harass and exploit students all under the facade of being progressive roam shamelessly, both within & outside campuses. Formal of Education PAKistan
— #TimesUp (@plathwoolf_) April 13, 2018
— Tooba Syed (@Tooba_Sd) April 14, 2018
The last incident, that the teachers of Pakistani universities have written an open letter over, took place at Gomal University in Dera Ismail Khan, where, it is said, state functionaries questioned the faculty about the content of their courses and explicitly asked them to not encourage critical thinking in the students.
These events, if true, are a proof of how much control is exercised and the amount of effort put into ensuring that no one challenges the status quo and is able to have critical dialogue
Whatever happened at Habib University, PU, LUMS and Gomal University yesterday, reminded me of my short stint at a public sector university.
When I got back to Pakistan after my postgrad, I taught college students in Islamabad for 2 years. Most of you know where. (Contd)
— Faran Rafi (@faranrafi) April 14, 2018
Between this and Habib University abruptly cancelling an event on the PTM yesterday (the same way LUMS had done on Baloch rights in the past) seems clear our universities are bent upon imposing an authoritarian notion of nationalism and suppressing all activism.
— Asad Hashim (@AsadHashim) April 14, 2018
So 3 developments TODAY at PK universities: (1) Habib univ forced to cancel discussion of PTM, (2) Ammar Ali Jan, a progressive activist/historian, fired from Punjab univ and (3) LUMS event to commemorate Mashal Khan cancelled for "logistical reasons." #PashtunLongMarch2Peshawar
— Tabinda M. Khan (@tabinda_m) April 13, 2018
Pakistan and the encouragement of intellectual discourse do not historically go hand in hand
The masses usually have a very limited spectrum of ideas because of lack of academic work which offers counter narrative to the status quo. While the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, there is strict scrutiny of the narrative which is built in the country. We may not want to agree but for many years, the liberal transformation of the country has been conveniently ignored.
We have witnessed the result of this suppression in our educational institutes. While they should be places of plurality, research, and freedom of expression; they have become hubs of extremism. The managerial staff of these institutes also wants to ensure that no dissenting voices are heard on the campus.
As a culture, we are taught never to “question your elders” and to blindly follow whatever is being asked of you. This is problematic because it stunts your ability to be a free-thinker who has to compete with everyone else in a connected, post-internet world who have been exposed to critical thinking skills and are able to “think outside the box”.
This disease plaguing the education sector of Pakistan is bound to cripple the future generations and hinder freedom in this country.
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Cover image via: samaa.tv