The Open House: A Case for Accountability

By Rana Saadullah Khan and Zainab Mubashir

“I do not know how the D.C. committee deals with proceedings.”

The above is a word for word quote from the Vice-Chancellor of LUMS, a university which is named a university of “Management Sciences”, where the headman of the institution’s academic core claims to be unaware of the rules and policies that govern various offices — including but not limited to the Disciplinary Committee, the Registrar’s Office, and the Office of Student Affairs. Administrative mistrust has been rampant amidst the LUMS student body in recent times, and its full extent was witnessed – and, arguably, justified – during an Open House with the Vice-Chancellor this Monday.

The first Open House of the semester took place on 2nd October 2017, and was meant to deal with concerns raised by faculty members and students after the dubious circumstances surrounding the death of Ubaidullah Lodhi, a law student from the batch of 2018, became common knowledge. It is notable that the conversation around this particular incident gained momentum within two weeks of the most recent tragedy to have taken place on campus; on 18th September, the LUMS community lost Ayesha Zahid, from the batch of 2019, to an unfortunate medical emergency.

The student action leading up to this Open House must not be discredited. After a week’s worth of student mobilization on social media and on campus – including two separate student memorials arranged by select faculty members in coordination with  Hum-Aahang – the administration finally took note of the urgency of the matter; the VC was quick to respond to emails by the Executive Councils of the various student societies at LUMS on Monday. With prompt coordination put into effect by the Student Council, it was  soon announced that an Open-House with the VC and Dean of OSA was to take place the very same day.  However, some continue to question administerial intentions due to the choice of venue: the meeting took place in an average sized NIB auditorium, when better suited spaces were available in SDSB. Regardless, dozens of students remained standing from 6.30 to 9.30 pm in a packed auditorium, and did not let lack of space deter them from witnessing what soon resembled a public trial.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the Vice-Chancellor, or the Dean of Student Affairs, came well-prepared. For one, it is noteworthy that no faculty members which the Vice-Chancellor personally selected to head the committee investigating the death of Ubaidullah were present during the entire span of the 3-hour Open House session. This is with the exception of Dr. Kamran Asdar Ali, the new Dean of HSS, whose first formal introduction to students, interestingly, took place during the proceedings of the Open House, when the Vice-Chancellor invited him to answer direct questions about LUMS policies. This was perhaps a calculated move, as the VC failed on multiple occasions to effectively defend LUMS policies against the inevitable attacks made by students. Rather embarrassingly, both for Mr. Hashmi and the Vice-Chancellor, students and select faculty members openly challenged the authenticity of their claims about not only the silence behind Ubaidullah Lodhi’s death, but also cases of sexual harassment that Mr. Hashmi claimed to have no knowledge about – a claim that got him cornered by one student who went on to demand for the resignations of both.

It is imperative to record and remember the issues that have been raised and, more significantly, take note of how the Vice-Chancellor and Mr. Yasser Hashmi, Dean of Student Affairs, responded to the accounts of a number of students who shared their horrific experiences with the LUMS administration. To all of these anecdotes that were explicit in identifying an issue that went beyond any particular personalities – although Dr. Imran Rashid, Colonel Amer, and Mr. Yasser Hashmi himself featured prominently – the Vice-Chancellor had only one response: “I think the issue that all students have identified is of an attitude problem. The policies of LUMS are actually good.” Mr. Hashmi even went on to say that he wanted students to give policy solutions by themselves, leaving many to wonder how he defined his position’s duties.

Each anecdote in itself is worthy of an investigative piece that deserves close analysis, and it would not do justice to the students who have been humiliated to state every incident that was brought up as mere isolated events separated by commas in a paragraph. The apathy that students saw for themselves in the Open House must remain a vivid memory for those who have been distressed and affected by the events that transpired on Monday night; many saw the lacklustre nature of the administration’s response as one that reeked of unwarranted entitlement towards the student body – the very body that keeps all of this institution’s employees pockets heavy.

Students left a venue where not even a single promise was fully ratified, and the central issue – that of demanding an apology and some ownership from LUMS regarding the death of Ubaidullah Lodhi – was largely dismissed, with each and every story that weeping students shared categorized by the Vice-Chancellor as an isolated case, one that students should “complain” about through the same channels that this entire Open House very clearly problematized.

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Despite the general disillusionment amongst students with the administration following the session, some headway was made. Under student pressure, the LUMS administration – as represented by Dr. Naqvi and Mr. Hashmi – publicly acknowledged making efforts to meet the following demands:

  • Issuing an official condolence from the administration to Ubaidullah Lodhi’s family, as well as the LUMS general body
  • Officially announcing the formation of an Investigative Committee to look into details surrounding Ubaidullah’s case
  • Including 1 student-elected faculty member in the Committee
  • Including at least 2 student representatives in the Committee, one being a member of the Law Batch of 2018
  • Establishing a Medical Centre at LUMS, arranging an ambulance system, and having trained medical professionals available on campus at all times during the day
  • Improvement of Mental Health facilities at LUMS, with the possible increase in the number of Student Counsellors
  • Conducting a review of the workings of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA)
  • Making the Disciplinary Committeee (DC) proceedings more transparent, with the list of offenses and punishments available online

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Despite the promise of concessions, no immediate response was delivered by the administration following the Open House. On Wednesday, 4th Oct, an email titled “Condolence message” was issued by the Office of Student Affairs to the LUMS community. Signed by Mr. Hashmi himself, the message, according to many, hardly covered the bare minimum to compensate for the extended delay.

Another two days of administrative silence witnessed the slow fermentation of student agitation at LUMS.  Posts on social media, the placement of prominently displayed posters on campus, and the announcement of public demonstrations continued to keep the air politically charged.

On Friday, 6th October, a circular was issued from the Office of the Vice Chancellor formally announcing the formation of a Committee to Inquire into the Sad Demise of Ubaidullah Lodhi. The Committee consists of the following members, the first four of whom are VC-appointed:

  • Dr. Anwar Khurshid, Chair
  • Dr. S. Turab Hussain
  • Dr. Shaper Mirza
  • Dr. Tariq Jatoon, Speaker, Faculty Council
  • Dr. Hassan Karrar (Student-elected)
  • Mr. Ali Haider, President Student Council
  • Mr. Zulfiqar Ali, Representative of the Law Batch of 2018 on the Student Council
Circular issued by LUMS VC Office on 06-10-17

 

The same evening, an email by Col. Amer Khan Durrani, Director General Administration and Services, announced the placement of an ambulance within the LUMS premises.

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With a formal investigative Committee finally in place to look into all aspects of Ubaidullah Lodhi’s case, “including support mechanisms and the way forward”, the LUMS community now awaits results. The days following the Open House have seen the public projection of varying opinions on social media and other public forums. While a portion of the student body has emphasized on the role of collective concern and empathy by all tenets of the LUMS structure – including, quite critically, the student body itself – many continue to recognize the administrative role in cultivating an atmosphere where failures of this scale continue to occur. It is vital to acknowledge that systematic frameworks determine the nature of the social, political or academic climate an institution internalizes, and the push for institutional reform is key in advocating for change. The LUMS administration deserves credit for acting upon popular pressure to ensure that the institution’s policies measure up to the standard it professes to uphold, but ultimately it is active participation by all stake-holders, including students and faculty, that determines the direction of growth. Following the few initial steps towards reform, students now await further action from the institution to make amends for the losses sustained by the LUMS community.

Zainab Mubashir

Zainab Mubashir

Editor-in-Chief, LDS Publications 2017-18
Zainab Mubashir

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