A Vice Chancellor who is engaging with students on social media during lockdown, personally monitors repair works of classrooms and keep students informed about the University’s initiatives.
Write: Mudasar Moazzam'
''We slaughter one another in the stereotypes and mistrust that linger in our heads; the words of hate we spew from our lips. We slaughter one another in the responses that some of us give to efforts aimed at bettering the lives of the poor.''
The two biggest issues that hinder social and economic development of Pakistan are deep-rooted corruption in its governance system and stereotypes in its society. But here is a Pakistani who has come back from abroad and challenging these stereotypes by his actions every day.
Prof. Dr. Asghar Zaidi, who was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of GC University Lahore few months ago and he is doing all the work to challenge these stereotypes associated with high-ranked officers in this part of the world.
Some people have launched a malicious campaign that he is a Dutch national, but they fail to mention that he’s actually a bright product of Government College University Lahore, and Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and a proud Pakistani, who left his professorship at the Seoul National University, a public university in Korea ranked 36 in the World QS Ranking 2019, and a fellowship at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, UK to come back to Pakistan and serve his motherland.
Prof Zaidi, who holds a PhD in Economics from world’s top university i.e. University of Oxford, UK, was at No. 1 on the merit list for appointments as Vice Chancellor, selected by a panel of esteemed educationists and leaders and top bureacrates. He has come with the experience of working at the world’s top educational institution including London School Economics and University of Oxford, UK. He worked with international organizations (including United Nations and European Commission) and served as an economic advisor in the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Work and Pensions.
He holds exceptional academic credentials with several reputed books and articles published in the top ranked journals to his credit, but still some people go on to say that “he has never worked or taught in a Pakistani university earlier, so he doesn’t understand the culture here.” I don’t know what culture they mean to talk about, because what our Pakistani universities need is to learn from the culture of research and innovation from the best universities of the world.
They unnecessarily blame that Prof Zaidi uses social media (e.g. twitter), and actively engages with students, alumni and faculty on these public platforms. Moreover, he has created different WhatsApp Groups to directly interact with faculty and administrative staff on daily basis for speedy working of the University. Is this self-projection or is it making the best medium of social media to undertake his work?
For a Vice-Chancellor, listening and addressing to students’ grievances on social media may not be less than a ‘crime’ for many, because here in Pakistan students and staff are rarely given opportunity to interact with the head of institutions.
He is perhaps breaking the taboo as he has started operating in a University where more than 70 percent of his faculty and gazetted staff colleagues still don’t have a twitter account or they rarely use it. They are certainly not aware of usefulness of these latest digital paperless communications.
Another allegation against him recently is that he took notice of poor condition of classrooms in GCU, and personally monitored civil works and repair of desks and chairs during lockdown when mostly officers and professors were home. For this purpose, he incentivised his staff and used daily wagers so that they can also earn during these difficult times.
Some people say it’s not a stature of a vice chancellor to monitor repair of classrooms and then post pictures on social media to inform the students that their university cares for them, and the new administration is fully committed to providing better teaching and learning environment to them.
Recently, voices were also raised against his stay in a small room on the second floor associated with the GCU’s Faculty Guest House when Vice Chancellors of other universities were living in large official houses with dozens of servants. I don’t think these persons are privy to the fact that GCU is an exception among large universities in Punjab where there is no official residence for its Vice Chancellor. The University Syndicate granted Rs. 150,000 per month to the GCU Vice Chancellor for maintain an official residence. But he’s not receiving this amount from GCU Treasury and instead staying in a small room to save useful public resources.
People criticizing his act of getting developed hand sanitizers and presenting them to Governor and distributing face masks to his staff may not be aware of the term social responsibility. In West, social responsibility is the requirement for any leadership position of such stature.
When COVID-19 broke out in Pakistan, there was an immediate shortage of disinfectants and hand sanitizers in the country. GCU Chemistry Department immediately developed and provided hundreds of litres of hand sanitizers for paramedics and doctors besides supplying free 25,000 litres disinfectants worth millions of rupees to hospitals across Punjab.
Besides, GCU also set up Mental Health Helpline for people suffering from depression, fear and other mental health issues due to COVID19 and subsequent lockdown. This Helpline could only be helpful until it is formally connected with the government’s Telemedicine Helpline. For this, VC GCU visited Governor House twice or thrice, but people fail to understand that Prof Zaidi adopted a cost-effective method twitter, WhatsApp and low-cost flexes instead of giving millions of rupees advertisement to newspapers. Posting about Helpline and meeting with the Chancellor of the GCU and starting an awareness campaign through Twitter may have badly hurt the emotions of those people who lack initiatives and criticise out of frustrations of their own inertia.
People also criticize him for a lack of research on COVID 19 at GCU without realizing that he has been in office not later than six months. He inherited this faculty and resources for research. You will be surprised to know there is no Bio Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory in GCU, which has a history of 155 years. No previous Vice Chancellor or past governments were ever criticised for not developing a lab which is mandatory for research on infectious viruses at GCU. Again, he took up this issue on social media with the relevant ministers and discussing with the Punjab’s Planning and Development to set up a new BSL-3 lab.
As far as his efforts are concerned, he has already started working for construction of new laboratories for research, initiated recruitment processes for research chairs lying vacant for decades and even motivating his faculty by himself doing research and publishing articles in top ranked journals. After joining GCU, he has already published five research articles in top international research journals. Even the most esteemed academic professors are not able to match this phenomenal level of publishing. He has also contributed newspaper articles on risk of coronavirus to older population in Pakistan.
Someone wrote that he removed a very senior person from position of Director Research, Innovation and Commercialisation. The writer doesn’t know that the Director Research position in GCU was in fact discharged by a retired Professor as part time. Moving forward, Prof Zaidi has advertised the position of Director Research to bring in a person who is highly qualified and hold requisite experience for this post.
Prof Zaidi is also breaking stereotypes by assigning different administrative duties to young faculty members which is considered a weakness by many in Pakistan.
Soon, a solo article can be written about his initiatives to develop digital systems for transparent and merit-based appointments at GCU, development of Learning Management System for students, biometric attendance for intermediate students and other initiatives but one thing I must mention here is that within six months of his appointment he successfully got approved a Rs. 1.15 billion Phase II development at new campus at Kala Shah Kaku.
Here again he broke stereotype by himself appearing before a committee of HEC being chaired by an officer lower than his rank. If we met, I will advise him to follow protocols instead of his passion for GCU to avoid criticisms.
Do we deserve traditional leadership who’d love protocol or such a fresh perspective person who carries a passion towards development of his alma mater! God make our country and GCU great again!
THE WRITER IS A BLOGGER, OLD RAVIAN, AND A PROUD FATHER OF RAVIAN.