Contributors: Awaid Yasin, Rana Saadullah Khan, Musharfa Shah
On 1st June, an email concerning the upcoming Convocation Ceremony for the batch of 2017 was circulated by the LUMS administration to the entire student body. This email, serving to reiterate adherence to security protocol, cited the likelihood of the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain – by virtue of his position as Chancellor of LUMS – attending the ceremony as reason for stringent security measures.
According to the email,
“LUMS has been advised by the President’s Secretariat and the bureaus responsible for coordinating all aspects of the President’s visit, to communicate specific names and details of the two guests who are to attend along with you.”
This announcement has been met with numerous strong responses by the student body, particularly graduating seniors, with displeasure the most prominent. Following this announcement, the student body has been attempting to negotiate with the administration, via the Student Council, about issuing flexibility in the security protocol so as not to encroach upon the students’ right to celebrate their graduation with ease.
Many feel that, despite the President’s office being legally apolitical, the President’s presence at the ceremony is at odds with previously held conventions.
Further criticisms arise from the assumption – yet unconfirmed – that the President is likely to be the Key-Note speaker at the ceremony. In an email sent out in November 2016, the Office of Student Affairs requested recommendations for a key-note speaker that must be, amongst other things, “essentially non-partisan and currently apolitical in nature.” Many feel that, despite the President’s office being legally apolitical, the President’s presence at the ceremony is at odds with previously held conventions.
Currently, multiple concerns have been raised over LUMS Discussion Forum (LDF) – a Facebook group housing over a 6000 LUMS students and alumni – about the implications of this controversial administrative decision. LUMS Daily Student approached a number of graduating seniors, members of the Student Council, as well as several alumni to share their thoughts on the issue.
Mr. Jaffer Ahmed, a graduating senior who is at the vanguard of the protest over LDF, refuses to receive his degree from the President, who he believes to be part of a “feudal-industrial matrix which is responsible for perpetuating a systematic process and mechanism for exploitation of citizens.” This idea is one that resonates amongst many students on the forum, as witnessed by multiple instances of skeptical responses recorded amongst Facebook comment threads.
This rule also makes it nearly impossible for graduating seniors to bring their families inside the campus premises to capture personal memories, as done conventionally in the past.
On the other hand, it must be noted that the bulk of dissent is arising not due to the political implications of the President’s presence, but the ensuing security protocol. As specified in the email, each student attending the Convocation ceremony is expected to strictly adhere the “two guests per student” policy. Every year graduating seniors exchange convocation passes according to the number of the guests they wish to accommodate owing to the traditionally lax security procedures. However, due to the newly implemented stringent security measures, those exchanged passes are now rendered useless; the President’s security personnel will only allow entry after confirming information in the guest database forwarded by LUMS. This rule also makes it nearly impossible for graduating seniors to bring their families inside the campus premises to capture personal memories, as done conventionally in the past.
The issue has especially affected students who assumed that, as usual, details previously filled for one guest on the online Zambeel database would not necessitate details for the second guest; a pass has traditionally accommodated two guests. However, when the administration – without warning, according to all students responses – declared on the 1st of June that the President’s presence would demand stricter policy implementation, it was made clear that no guest whose details had not been filled online prior would be accommodated. Z*, a graduating Sociology and Anthropology student, resents the fact that the administration gave no warning to indicate that the usual, significantly more relaxed procedure would not be followed. Z*, who only filled her mother’s details on Zambeel, assumed that would be enough to grant her father entry, who in the current circumstances cannot experience his own daughter receiving her degree in person. Her story is one of many students who will no longer have a parent, a sibling, or someone they would have wanted to witness one of the most important days of their lives because of the President’s attendance.
The prestige of the LUMS degree comes at a great financial cost, and most students have called out the consequences of hosting a President on campus as degrading for the parents that have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees on the education of their children.
The administration’s current unwillingness to accommodate such concerns by allowing a refilling of guest forms, or requesting the drafting of a new guest list to be sent to the President’s security personnel, has resulted in the building up of student protest. Many students have regarded the administrations display of indifference to the student body’s inconvenience as reflective of a general lack of regard the administration has for its students. The prestige of the LUMS degree comes at a great financial cost, and most students have called out the consequences of hosting a President on campus as degrading for the parents that have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees on the education of their children.
Fatima Anwar, a graduating Law student, points towards how the convocation ceremony itself is quite literally paid for by parents too: instead of returning the security deposit that families give at the start, as convention requires, the administration instead charges an amount termed as charges for the convocation, and then deducts it automatically from the security deposit. This reflects the sentiment that even when families, besides paying for the degree, are forced to pay for the ceremony itself, they are not being given the priority they deserve.
The origin of this unprecedented debacle lies in the tightened security protocol of His Excellency, Mr. Mamnoon Hussain. Convocations in the past, customarily, did not entail serious assessments and security clearances. Graduating seniors usually brought in their families into the campus at the day. For them, the event holds immense significance since, as stated by Mr. Jaffer Ahmed, the “convocation is the end product of all [the] work and [the] four years of sweat and tears.” Moreover, the administration also insinuated the fact that this policy shall be followed in letter and spirit since the campus security shall be taken over by President’s security personnel. At this juncture, many protest that the graduating batch shall be deprived of the liberties that past batches have enjoyed up until now.
Nevertheless, on the same issue, a significant part of the student body argues that, legally speaking, administration has not violated any policy. Students were required to submit the guests’ information in stipulated time which were, according to the policy, not alterable henceforth. On LUMS Discussion Forum, some have even drawn parallels to the GIKI convocation in the previous month in which parents were allowed to enter the campus even though the President presided the event. Amidst varying responses and objections, the administration hasn’t yet come up with any official statement pertaining the controversy. Presently, a meeting has been scheduled between the Student Council and the administration for Friday, 9th June, where possible concessions may be discussed.
Until then, any speculations attributed to the administration at the moment shall be unsubstantiated; however, further delaying the matter would only exacerbate the conditions. As Niccolo Machiavelli, the renowned political philosopher, in The Prince exhorts us, “it is important to deal with developing political problems early, rather than wait until it is too late.”
*name withheld for confidentiality purposes