Happy Birthday Dhaka University
Professor Abdul Mannan
July 1, 2007 is the eighty-sixth birthday of my university, our university, Dhaka University. My daughter has just graduated from Dhaka University. She feels proud that she graduated not only from the university her father attended but also the university that has become an integral part of the history of the nation. Not many universities in the world enjoy the laurel of becoming part of national history.
Established in 1921 Dhaka University is the first university of East Bengal (later East Pakistan, now Bangladesh). Dhaka University was considered an imperial concession made to conciliate the hurt feelings of the Muslim middle class of East Bengal consequent upon the annulment of the Partition of Bengal in 1911. So it would be not out of context to say that the creation of Dhaka University had a political dimension to some extent.
Dhaka University opened its doors for the learners on 1st. July 1921with 3 Faculties, 12 Departments, 60 teachers (many of them joining from Colleges and some from Calcutta University) and 877 students. Today Dhaka University has ten faculties, fifty one departments with nine institutes along with eighteen research centers. Eighteen residential halls and two hostels house a part of the 30,000 strong student population who are taught by almost 1300 teachers.
In the initial years the Governor of Bengal was the Chancellor of our premium university, the Dhaka University. He would be the Head and Chief Officer of the University and President of its court and would be responsible for the appointment of the first Vice-chancellor. This was done under the Dacca University Act of 1920. The first appointed Vice-chancellor Mr. P J Hartog CIE., was the Academic Registrar of the University of London. He served the University of Dhaka from December 1, 1920 to December 31, 1925. When Dhaka University was growing up the Indian sub-continent was going through a historical transformation. Movement for the independence of India was gaining momentum and the students of Dhaka University could not keep themselves away from the changing course of history. Though students took part in such movement as in the 'non cooperation' movement, the university's academic atmosphere was always protected. Dhaka University never shied away from its historic responsibilities. This is what makes its alumni proud.
A University's image is greatly dependent upon the scholars it is able to attract and retain. Some universities are known because of its learned faculty members and some faculty members identify themselves with the university they belong to. When the newly established Dhaka University wanted Dr. J C Ghosh to join its newly created Chemistry department he asked for a huge sum of money from the University to pay off his debt to the Calcutta University. The executive council (present day syndicate) granted him this money and resolved: 'That Rs 10,700/- be paid to Dr. J C Ghosh to pay off his debt to the Calcutta University and that this sum be debited to the annual capital expenditure of the University provided that Dr. Ghosh gives an undertaking that he remain in service of the university for a period of five years, and his scale of salary remain unaffected.' Such was the attempt by the university authorities to recruit good and experienced teachers. There was a time when eminent scholars like R C Majumdar (History), Satyan Bose (Physics, of Bose-Einstein Theory fame), Mohit Lal Majumder (Bengali), Kazi Motahar Hossain (Statistics), J C Ghosh (Chemistry), S N Bose (Physics), Mahmood Hasan (English), Muhammad Shaidullah (Bengali), S G Panandikar (Economics and Politics), P B Junnarkar (Commerce), Haraprasad Sastri (Sanskrit and Bengali), G C Dev (Philosophy) and Munir Chowdhury illuminated the corridors of Dhaka University. The ascendance of Dhaka University as a center of excellence began with the help of such academic personalities of national and international repute. As mentioned in its early years it was realized in Dhaka University that foundation of a good university is only possible if it is able to recruit good scholars as faculty members and bright students. Universities should never be a place for a mediocre. A mediocre can only breed mediocrity. This realization of attracting the best of the best has evaporated to a great extent practically in all universities of Bangladesh.
When my generation entered Dhaka University in the mid sixties by then Dhaka University became an elite university of entire Pakistan. It had the largest and the richest library. Its scholars brought fame for the country and the university. Its students were in the forefront of changing the history of Pakistan. No one thought Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the usurper of Pakistan's state power who ruled Pakistan for ten long years using the boot and bayonet culture could be shaken from his citadel. History never sided with political villains like Ayub Khan. The mass upsurge of 1969 against the dictator Ayub Khan, led by the students of Dhaka University made history. The self styled Field Marshal was booted out paving for return of democracy in Pakistan. The People's power was again the winner. The students of Dhaka University began playing their historic pro-people role in 1948 with the language movement and completed the circle in 1971 when most of them went to the War of Liberation. These are all past glories which my generation loves to talk about. Unfortunately the present day Dhaka University students often do not have much to talk about excepting getting a first class or extortion and tender bazi in the name of student politics. It was in a summer night of 1967 when for the first time I happened to meet Rashed Khan Menon, then a student leader of 'Purba Pakistan Chatra Union,' in a printing press in old Dhaka. He gave fifty paisa to a boy and asked him to get a small loaf of bread and a cup of 'sheera' (melted sugar where jilabis are fried) from a local tea stall. That was his dinner. He pulled out a wooden plank from under a pile of rubbish, rolled some paper as a pillow and went to sleep. His printing job will take time. This was the profile of a student leader in our time. For contesting in the recently scrapped national election a 'student leader' of Dhaka University went to submit his nomination paper in a cavalcade of Jeeps and motor cycles. He was sitting in his own Nissan Patrol Jeep. This was my daughter's days 'student leader.' However amidst seemingly such a dismal picture we also see the growing number of girls coming to Dhaka University for higher studies along side the boys. When Chowdhury Shamima Sultana entered Dhaka University to study B.Com (Hons) with us in 1967 she instantly became a celebrity. She was the first girl to come to Dhaka University to study Business. These days most of the classes are evenly divided between boys and girls. Time has changed.
On its eighty-sixth birthday of Dhaka University my generation can only pray that it's fading glory returns and finds its place in the community of excellent universities of the region. We need to feel proud afresh. Warm wishes to the Dhaka University fraternity.
Professor Abdul Mannan, East West University, Dhaka. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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