SOMETHING'S ROTTEN IN KINNAIRD
Kinnaird is not just another college. The wrong doings that are surfacing must be addressed and set right.
From KHALID BUTT , LAHORE
Dec 05 - 11, 2005
I have had more than a passing interest in Kinnaird, which has been in spotlight of late. It was the college where my only daughter went to study. Some of my senior colleagues like Naushaba Burney and Anis Farhat, during my long stint in PIA, often talked nostalgically about the KC in such glowing terms to heighten my interest even more. It was, therefore, something of a rude shock when recent episodes revealed some hidden skeletons in the shining exterior of Pakistan's equivalent of an Ivy League College.
The tasteless and conspiratorial manner, in which the Kinnaird College Principal Prof. Ira Hasan was ousted from her post on November 2, stinks. The more one finds out, the more disturbing it gets. Had she been replaced in a proper way, with all procedural systems followed in letter and spirit and had she given way to an even younger and more talented Principal, it would have felt the right thing had been done. Having lorded over the affairs of Kinnaird unchecked and unopposed for 32 long years, Mira Phailbus should have been happy to call it a day but power has its attraction. Given Mira's affectionate bond with the Board, the "suitable" replacement may never be found and if indeed, surely would remain under her "guidance". The status quo thus is maintained. It seems that the Board reluctantly appointed Prof. Hasan after Mira Phailbus stayed on for four years even after her retirement and one legal extension that expired in 2000. Even then the Board had to "search" for a year to find the candidate when the candidate was there all the time.
The Board has some honorable people on it but according to one source, the removal is the result of a 'cold war' that has been going on for some months between the Kinnaird College Board of Governors (BoG) Vice Chairman, Eric Massey - an ex Wapda employee and Prof. Hasan over control of the college affairs. Mr. Massey, acting on an agenda of a vested group in the BoG, questioned administrative steps that were being taken by the new Principal and continued to undermine the Principal's authority.
The center of the controversy revolves around the Post Graduate Department set up in 1997, the focus of a great deal of infra-structural development and a source of large funding. This department headed by a Dean, wearing many hats all the same time and much favoured by Mrs. Phailbus and some Board members, was untouchable. When Prof. Hasan, in a routine academic meeting in September informed this Dean that she would be relinquishing one of her hats as Dean of the Post Graduate Block and would instead be the new Dean of Sciences - appropriate since she is a Physics Major, all hell broke loose. Prof. Hasan was acting well within her powers. The moving of Deans is an internal academic matter, which the Principal can execute without requiring a green light from the Board. However, this was not accepted by the Bishop, who issued a threatening charge-sheet to the Principal and annulled all the administrative decisions, Prof. Hasan had taken another move that indicates mala fide intentions. A committee led by the biased Vice Chairman Eric Massey started an "inquiry" whose findings were supposed to be revealed within a week. No such findings have been made public or a copy supplied to the Principal. Instead Mr. Massey demanded that the Principal re-instate the Dean of the Post Graduate Block or face the consequences. When Prof. Hasan refused to be pressurized, since she maintained all along that this was a matter under her jurisdiction alone and she had every right to form her own team, she in effect precipitated a chain reaction, which led to her midnight transfer and thereby removal from Kinnaird.
The question arises that if a Principal cannot even move a Dean then what kind of circus is she in charge of? According to my sources, the Deanship of the Post Graduate Block was the prized seat. The Dean was not willing to give it up. Was there no one else in the whole of Kinnaird's 100 plus staff that could take on this task? What's in this seat that the Board wants to protect at the cost of ousting a qualified, competent and honorable Principal? Is it big money since large-scale construction funds flow through here? These are disturbing questions.
Earlier during the year, two incidents had been blown out of proportion with politicizing of some students and use of media to undermine Prof. Hasan's authority.
What is even worse is that without any substantial or serious charge against Prof. Hasan and without giving her the opportunity to at least defend herself, she was chucked out. My sources tell me that the Chief Minister was presented a false and highly exaggerated picture of a "crisis" in Kinnaird College, choreographed by some key members with vested interests. The CM was misled into thinking that a serious situation needed to be averted and gave his nod to a decision, which is fundamentally wrong.
In talking with staff at Kinnaird and students what emerges is that Prof. Hasan had in a short period performed extraordinarily well and had launched a number of projects and proposals leading to higher academic standards that had been on the decline for many years. She had also brought in a fresh breath of air on the college campus and with her customary zeal and dedication she had laid down strict guidelines for more responsible behaviour from all sectors. Instead of receiving appreciation from the Board she was either ignored or worse victimized when she refused to tow the line.
Above all, in answering aspersions cast on her 'financial integrity,' Prof. Hasan had intimidated the Chairman & Vice Chairman, that to set matters at rest, she would request the Provincial Government to have a proper audit of the Post Graduate Block since its inception in 1997. This audit, the Principal proposed, would scrutinize each and every detail and would put to rest all misgivings and falsities that were mentioned in the office order she had been served. The contracts in question have been awarded to a firm run by the husband-wife team of Ms. Vandal, the Principal of NCA. She is also a member of Kinnaird's Board of Governors and on KC Finance Committee as well. This patent conflict of interest bothered the new Principal, but apparently didn't bother the Board. Kinnaird's three key Board members are now also on the FC College Board and have successfully routed more contracts to the same firm!!
Viewed on a larger plane, politicization of the alumni and the faculty alike has encouraged divisive tendencies, at the cost of academic excellence. Meanwhile, some technical loopholes mark the procedure adopted to remove Prof. Hasan. Second, the fact is that Ms. Vandal's position compromised the neutrality of that member while voting for removal of Prof. Hasan from the post of the principal. According to a source quoted in a news report, the vice-chairman of the BoG played a pivotal role in the well-orchestrated campaign against Prof. Hasan, to promote the interests of the rival candidate.
The backstage maneuvering and jockeying that apparently preceded the principal's removal, and the short-circuiting of the procedural parameters set for it, has rendered the BoG's action controversial. The government should initiate a thorough and transparent inquiry not only into Prof. Hasan's abrupt removal from office, but also into the controversial building contracts she intended to probe. The college's Post Graduate Deptt. is exempt from government audit, which must be done on a priority basis. The government should also explain why a Dean was allowed to be transferred when all transfers are banned. Now the same Dean is being brought back to KC - another rule is being broken.
Kinnaird is not just another college. The wrong doings that are surfacing must be addressed and set right. The role of the Association of Kinnaird College needs to be examined as it controls the Board of Governors which is dominated and influenced by 8 nominees of the Bishop / Chairman. The Government has been silent while its rules and regulations have been violated. These are serious issues and must be probed without fear, favor or prejudice. We owe this to Kinnaird and the spirit of this fine institution. It cannot be allowed to become another failure on our national scene. The truth must be unveiled.