Top journalism school eludes KU as staffers sabotage project
Karachi has been robbed of a top journalism school owing to petty politics spawned by university staffers unsure of their future if the venture succeeded, The News has learnt.
Seven years have passed since the foundation was laid for a state-of-the-art Mass Communication Institute at Karachi University (KU) but, despite the good intentions of its sponsor, the institute remains a dream.
While classes at the institute building started recently, the present arrangement is pitiful compared to the what the sponsor had envisaged when she made a generous endowment to the Karachi University in the name of her late husband so that the country could have its own world-class journalism school.
The project was thwarted from its very inception by faculty members of the Mass Communication department and other vested quarters who were scared that they would have to make way for more competent and professional teachers, most of whom would have been attracted from the industry.
Bearing the name of eminent scholar and activist, the late Dr. Feroze Ahmed, the institute remains a dream. Senior officials of the Mass Communication department (MCD) claim that the institute, “would be functional in a few months time,” but students at the department are growing increasingly agitated with the never-ending delay.
Talking to The News, Nadera Ahmed, widow of Dr Feroze Ahmed, says that after waiting for so long for the aesthetically-designed institute to become functional, she is not sure what the future holds.
Her original proposal to make the institute a regional centre of excellence for print and broadcast journalism was sabotaged by senior faculty of the MCD. Many of these faculty members see their jobs coming to an end if professional staff is hired. Most staffers at the MCD have done little in terms of research and almost all have no links with the media industry. The media industry in Pakistan is currently undergoing a massive expansion but few from this department get jobs in it.
Students at MCD complain of poor teaching standards and little in terms of professional training. Graduates from MCD are not given preference by media employers owing to their poor training at the department.
Nadera Ahmed says that she has had to compromise her original plan “at every stage.” However, the project could not be completed within the stipulated time. MCD staffers claim that the contractor had been “posing hurdles.”
“The project was delayed because the contractor we hired initially ran away with Rs80,000. We then had to hire another contractor,” clarified Dr Mehmood Ghaznavi, chairman of the MCD.
Ghaznavi added that the construction has been speeded up and the department will soon be shifted. However, he did not give a date. Little or nothing has been done in terms of the academic and staffing issues that were to be addressed as well.
“The proposal for upgrading of the department of Mass Communication to an institute was approved by the KU syndicate in April 2000 following which I signed a contract with former Vice Chancellor Dr Zafar Zaidi,” says Nadera Ahmed.
The construction of the institute began soon after with Rs10 million as seed money, donated by Nadera Ahmed. The entire structure was completed within a year (in 2001) during Dr Zafar Zaidi’s tenure.
Later, Nadera Ahmed also pushed for the preparation of two PC-1s of Rs500,000 and Rs10.12 million and got these approved by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The money is being utilised to equip the institute with media equipment, primarily for the campus radio (FM 90.6).
“Some of my husband’s old friends, and his sister also donated an extra amount up to Rs500,000 to speed up the process of finishing and furnishing the institute. I don’t know what is taking the university officials so long to complete the project and commence functioning,” questions Nadera.
Nadera was also told that it took the university officials a while to have the furniture tender approved. This is why, they claim, the department could not be shifted.
However, independent observers say that, while the furnishing process is underway, the pace of the work is not satisfactory. “Former VC Dr Zafar Zaidi was supportive of this project,” said Nadera Ahmed, adding that it was after his death in 2001 and the appointment of new members of the KU syndicate, that the project faced problems.
Her initial proposal to hire a qualified director from the media industry — who would have a sound academic and professional background to run the new institute — was rejected by the department.
“The executive board is an independent body that should predominantly comprise non-faculty members. That is why the members of Dr Feroze Ahmed Trust suggested that, apart from the original composition, media professionals from the industry, a representative each from the judiciary, electronic media, print media and the advertising media be hired,” said Nadera Ahmed, adding, “but the department faculty insisted that majority of the members of the board shall be from the department.” This went against the spirit of the journalism school.
MCD staffers insisted that a senior faculty member of the department be made the director who would then recommend to the Vice Chancellor, who is also the Chairman of the board, the names of individuals to be hired from the print and electronic media.
Under the chairmanship of the Vice Chancellor of the university, the executive board would now comprise the Dean, Faculty of Arts, one member from the KU syndicate, one member from the Academic Council, a senior professor from the department, along with an assistant professor, associate professor and a lecturer from the department. The whole idea of bringing in people from the industry who would breathe life into the department was thus thwarted.
Nadera Ahmed was initially reluctant but eventually accepted this condition, too, in the hope of seeing the institute functioning.
Some university officials, however, doubt this will happen any soon, especially after the death senior faculty member Professor Sarwar Nasim, who was actively involved in the project.
It is said that since the executive board now predominantly comprises faculty members, this may affect the (independent) functioning of the institute as faculty members may serve their vested interests instead of improving teaching standards along with the upgradation of the institute.
At a time when a professional training institute for media personnel is becoming increasingly significant and is the need of the hour, it is rather unfortunate to see Nadera Ahmed’s project falling victim to petty institutional politics, they say.
Ahmed says she has agreed to accept all the conditions laid by the KU Senate and syndicate and the department officials only to see the institute running, but the functioning of the institute does not seem to be the priority of the university and the HEC at the moment.
What is indeed surprising is that the HEC has turned a blind eye to this project. Instead of taking to task those brewing trouble and sabotaging such an important project, the HEC has preferred to remain silent.
This conspiracy of silence from the HEC, the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of KU and the members of the senate has meant that hundreds of students each year see their future being destroyed so that a handful of university staff members of questionable credentials can continue to hold sway at the MCD, say observers.
Just a new building and chairs
Although classes for MA are being conducted at the institute three days a week, students do not appear satisfied. “By conducting three classes a week in the new building, the department officials cannot fool us into believing that the institute is functional. There is nothing different about the institute except a new building and new chairs. I thought the institute was meant to provide proficient practical training by some professionals from the industry that our department lacks, which is why I was looking forward to studying there, but unless they change the syllabus a new building means nothing to me,” an irked student of third-year at the department, Haya Fatima, said.
Who is Dr Feroze Ahmed?
By our correspondent
Dr Feroze Ahmed was an eminent scholar and crusader in the cause of democratic revival in Pakistan. He was widely respected at the national and international level for his profound scholarship, pioneering research on demographic and social subjects, and political activism against dictatorship and social injustice. He remained associated with progressive movements within and outside the country, particularly between 1960 and 1985.
Author of about 20 books and more than 300 journals, articles and research papers, Dr Feroze also launched the magazine “Pakistan Forum” from Karachi in 1974 and remained its editor till he was forced into exile in 1980. Later, he also served as consultant to a number of organizations including UNICEF, NICHD and SAMSHA. He also founded the Pakistan Democratic Forum of North America, which provided critical support (in the United States) to the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) of Pakistan during the early eighties.
Although many people referred to him as a journalist due to his numerous published articles in various newspapers and journals, he was actually an activist. He came into prominence as a student leader in Karachi during the Ayub Khan era in the early 60’s before he was offered a scholarship at Johns Hopkins University where he did his doctorate in demography. He got post-doctoral training in Harvard and taught at several universities in Canada and the United States besides the Sindh University.
Dr Feroze Ahmed died due to a heart failure at the age of 57 on April 5, 1997, in the US. At the time of his death, he was teaching as a professor at Howard University School of Social Work. Following his death, his wife, Nadera Ahmed moved to Pakistan in 1998, after having spent 31 years in the US, to carry on the work of her husband.
Source: The News