- Tell us something about yourself that we don’t generally get to hear or didn’t get to know in the year.
People have an idea of the glamorous side of my tenure as the President of the Student Council, but very few people know about the tough routine that this entailed due to the Council’s affairs.
I would sleep very little because of the pressing needs of the office. I would be up till 5 in the morning, sleep for only 4 hours and then get ready again for meetings with the various departmental heads of LUMS at 9 AM. Because of this, I had to skip a few classes and even go unprepared in the majority of my classes, and these were Case classes. So, there was a huge backlog of academics developing and, in the end, I had to get help from my undergraduate peers and my MBA friends to save me from the mess lest my graduation gets delayed, but I tried hard and got it covered.
On a lighter note, a lot of my friends might also not know that I love Chatkhara’s Daal Chana Fry. I have a thing for desi snacks. (Chuckles)
- What do you think is the role of the Student Council (in LUMS) and, in your opinion, to what extent is the Council successful is achieving those ideals?
Before I answer this question, I would like to state a fact: LUMS is the only institute in Pakistan which has a functional Student Council, so this not only makes my Council and I proud but should also make all the LUMS family happy and proud as well.
The role of the Council is to ensure that LUMS has an ecosystem which supports the interests of all the individuals who are part of the student body. Our Council strongly believes and promotes a culture of freedom for everyone. We feel that nobody should be limited by anything if she/he isn’t harming her/himself or other fellow individuals. If X wants to practice religion, so X should have all the liberties to do so. If Y wants to follow music or dance, then there should be nothing which should stop her/him from doing so.
I think we were quite successful in enabling these liberties, as we tried to give ownership back to the students by organizing various awareness campaigns and activities. We introduced various policies which reduced policing in the hostels. To have peer to peer support groups, we also made an external committee working on improving the hostel life. At the same time, to make the environment of LUMS more comforting for the student body, we undertook a lot of infrastructural work that is there for all to see.
- There have been some concerns from the student body when the Student Council was not adequately on their side and rather inclined towards the admin’s point of view. I am sure such instances where the temptation to ‘pick a side’ would be a routine matter. How did you generally deal with such issues and how would you address these concerns within the students?
I believe there weren’t many except for a few instances in which we felt it was better to stay silent for a while and let the emotions settle. I can understand that this might have been perceived as “retreating to the admin’s demands,” but we just wanted the anger to vent out and emotions to settle so that we could objectively analyze the situation and then make a proposal. Another reason for the delay in taking action was the time that research took. Council is a responsible institute and we never wanted to publish unsubstantiated information.
As for as picking sides is concerned, we always chose the side of the students but at the same time we also kept in mind the wellness and sustainability of LUMS and focused on the long-term effects of each issue.
- When you swore in as the President, what was the primary problem/challenge that you faced and how effectively you managed it?
In the very beginning, I came to realize that people would not be happy no matter what you do. People want ownership of the campus and less spoon-feeding by the admin but when it is time for students to take up the role and take initiative themselves, they would not. As a result, the administration naturally filled in the void. Then, the students would be unhappy that we are being policed and we are not being empowered. I guess this is leadership – a thankless job in which if you lose, people criticize you and if you win, people think it was a very ordinary task which could have been done by anyone.
As a solution, I tried to intensify the advertising of the “initiatives in the pipeline,” in the hopes that more marketed and frequent events might lead to a greater uptake by the student body. At the same time, I also tried to make the events more entertaining and fun so that more people would show up. For example, we added the “Snakes & Ladder” game in our second ownership drive and the footprint of the students in the event substantially increased compared to the first.
- How would you compare your performance with those of the past years?
Well, this is a tricky one. (Smiles). Every Council has taken initiatives in their tenure and has tried to work to the best of their capabilities.
Our Council has achieved a lot in terms of developmental work including the Medical Center, Barber Shop, Demarcation of the parking, vending machines, Daewoo ticketing machines etc — the list is long. I believe we achieved a little less on the policy front because it is a long-term and iterative process, but I think it is still better than the past Councils’ work because at least no policy-change was allowed to happen without the consent of our Council. We also introduced the hostel room inspection policy in which no housing/vigilance officer could enter the room of the student without the presence of a Senior Council member. We pushed a lot for the faculty handbook which is in its final stages and shall be ready in the next Council’s tenure. Same is the case with the formulation of the University Council.
Truth be told, I never saw our tenure in isolation because I firmly believe that in the lives of institutes like LUMS, Student Council’s performance over one, two or three years is meaningless. I would be more interested in the performance of the Council over a decade at least. And for the same reason, I would want the next Council to achieve more than our Council did because it makes the institute better and better.
- In view of the recent re-election of the Sophomore batch, we are aware that many people are doubtful of electorally elected Council. How would you comment on the electoral procedures and what are the ways in which the procedure can be made more rigorous to avoid such an instance in future?
Misappropriation in election has happened in the past, and the power to redo the elections used to be vested in the executive officers of the Council. So, a lot of potential used to exist to abuse the system if anybody wanted to do so. However, we made some changes. We brought in electronic systems for the first time which ensured that no discrepancy occurs and if it does occur, it is caught at that very instant. At the same time, we empowered all the Council members to raise questions if they felt that any wrong was being done. In the recent elections, a discrepancy of 2 to 3 votes occurred due to either technical issues or intentional fraud of the sophomore election table members, which was swiftly raised as a red flag. The election process was immediately stopped, and members of the table were changed. At the final count, the difference between the 3rd, 4th and 5th positions was of 3 votes, so we decided to hold a re-election as the effect could have given an undue advantage to any three of them.
While we can criticize the system for not being right at the first round of voting, we also need to appreciate the fact that there were systems in place which identified the problem instantaneously and then was corrected by re-election, since the decision-making power was structured in a way that it was transparent and empowered even the junior-most members of the Council to rectify any wrongdoing.
- There has been a great concern regarding the treatment of janitorial staff. Many promises have been made from the incoming batch representatives as well. What did your Council about that and what can be done?
MBM staff is an outsourced resource which, in its totality, does not come under the ambit of Student Council. However, the Council should ensure that MBM staff is paid minimum wages as per the constitution of the country and when we checked with the MBM management, they are paid that wage. Our welfare committee also helped a few MBM staff members in need (I would not like to share their details for confidentiality reasons). When an incident involving an MBM staff came into the limelight due to a video that was made by a faculty member, we approached the MBM staff, his brother and the MBM supervisor and did thorough research in the matter. Only then did we send out an email to the student body.
- Where do you see the Student Council in the next few years in terms of its ability to get tasks done, to put up new tasks on the agenda, to materialize the set goals, and its status as a true reflection of students’ voice?
Student Council, in the absence of a University Council, works on the basis of relationships with various offices. So, a Council having good relationships with the heads of LUMS’ administrative and support departments would have a greater chance of achieving more in comparison to a Council which for whatever reason could not build those comfortable relationships. Relationships are built by spending time in the Council, with the heads of the departments and students and being proactive. So, a Council which will do these will achieve much more and strengthen the institute in turn.
We tried our best to give strength to the institute and spent a lot of time in the Council affairs. Our positive role and the good work done by past Councils will substantiate the fact that the Council is a mandatory and worthwhile body of LUMS.
- What is the significance of this overall experience for you? What it means to you? In what ways did it add to your personality?
Well, this question is close to my heart because I reflect on this a lot. (Smiles)
I think it is the most significant part of my LUMS education and I would happily trade my three years of learning prior to joining the council for one year spent at the Council. I was able to make new friends and got exposure to new experiences. I learnt that adversity and failure teach you more than success can. I learnt how to conduct business and how to articulate my arguments in a responsible and mature way. It made me adaptable and empathetic. I could understand the pain and grief of the individuals without being in their position. It made me more down to earth.
I will share a frank comment here. During my Junior year, I was unable to qualify for any internship interview and soon, I stopped applying to the internship opportunities altogether. However, after coming to the Council and spending a year full of action, I learnt and cleared all my interviews and reached the final stages of the all the recruitment drives that I had applied for. So, the experience at the Council means the world to me.
- Presumably, leading the Student Council would be a difficult task. How did you happen to manage your academics, recruitment drives, and other accompanying duties? We are curious to know!
I forced my friend to do my assignments. (Kidding, smiles)
I think if you spend time in the Council, you are constantly learning to deal with people and difficult scenarios, so you are always learning subconsciously, which then helps in your other academic areas as well. I will give you an example: I faced daily challenges in the Council and I was able to use that experience in my case classes and the same became my examples of showing empathy in my recruitment drive interviews. I also had friends in my MBA batch who would help me broaden my horizon and mentor me on the courses.
- What is that one lesson, the maxim that you learnt throughout your tenure?
There are so many, but I will share a few:
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Anger ruins everything so keep your cool.
- Be pragmatic, because all the ideas regarding change have to be executed as well.
- Communication, Communication & Communication.
- If you were given a chance to address the incoming Council, what would you say?
I would tell them that when you win the election and formally take charge, your individual capacities are gone, so you are no more Mr. X or Ms. Y, rather you are Council members and student representatives. So, put aside your biases and grievances and work for the betterment of all. Don’t settle personal scores and look at the bigger picture. Treat LUMS as your true home. I consider LUMS to be more than home. It really is our alma mater in the true sense of the word. In the end, we are here because of LUMS and we shall all work towards making it the best institute in the world. InshaAllah.
In the end, I would like to thank LUMS Daily/LDS for giving me time and publishing my two cents.
(Ali Haider Khan)
President Student Council 2017-2018