LUMS prides itself for ranking the best in Pakistan as per the QS Asia Rankings of 2016. It’s National Outreach Programme has benefited 798 students by providing them full financial assistance. In a country where freedom of speech is a misnomer, dissenters are quietly whisked away into an abyss, rioters and racketeers are locked up, curricula are closely monitored by the state and safe-spaces for discussing alternative points of view are close to non-existent, LUMS stands out as a glaring contradiction.
We agree, running this university is no easy job. And keeping the varied – and often, diametrically opposing – interests of key stakeholders into account whilst allowing the university to function smoothly is an uphill struggle.
But it is precisely here that our first contention arises: How can the views of stakeholders be taken into account when the stakeholders themselves, are not aware of the rights they – constitutionally – possess?
Students at LUMS are not aware of the fact that this university runs on the principle of ‘shared governance’. As the name implies, ‘shared’ means that everyone has a role: No one person, by definition, is arbitrarily making important decisions without the advice of key stakeholders. And neither is decision making simply enacted in the form of a group vote. Various stakeholders are expected to participate in the process of decision making.
Ideally, shared governance should establish a strong partnership amongst the members of the administration, and its key stakeholders: the faculty, the staff and students. It should allow faculty and staff members to participate in the important decisions regarding the operation of the university. And it, preferably, should be based upon consultation amongst staff members and students whenever policy or personnel decisions are likely to affect them, and whenever policy or personnel documents do not explicitly exclude them.
We dug through the LUMS Governance and Structure to find evidence to support the University’s claims at implementing the ‘shared governance’ model and found ourselves unearthing a behemoth. The LUMS Governance and Structure encompasses four bodies: the Board of Trustees, the Administration, the University Council and the Faculty Council. The Board has the power to lay down university policy and has a managing committee (known henceforth as the MC) that takes care of most matters. The MC includes the Pro-Chancellor, Rector, Vice Chancellor, the VC of another University in Lahore, 4 persons nominated by National Management Foundation, a judge from the Lahore High Court, the Chairman of the HEC and three prominent persons well versed in the field of management sciences.
The document establishes the Vice Chancellor as the chief academic and administrative official: he implements Board decisions and executes programmes of the university in accordance to the Board’s policies.
The University Council (known henceforth as the UC) and the Faculty Council (known henceforth as the FC) are both advisory bodies. The FC, in an ideal scenario, is responsible for reviewing policies and documents that affect the faculty and making recommendations with regards to these policies. Similarly, the UC – comprising of members of the faculty, staff and students – shoulders the responsibility of eliciting and representing the opinions, suggestions and recommendations of all stakeholders.
Looks like the perfect embodiment of a democratic system, doesn’t it?
As of now, the MC has no female representatives. In addition, the UC is, largely, an inoperative body. In 2014, members of the LUMS Student Council were told that the UC would convene ‘soon’. And being a democratic body comprising of representatives from the faculty, the staff, as well as the students, the soon-convening UC was to be the answer to most grievances held by students. If operative, the UC would have been able to bridge the gap between the student body and the administration, voicing the concerns of key constituents and stakeholders. And when policies which breed dissent within the student body, deliberately otherize specific groups and violate the spirit of the University are introduced, students are left helpless. In an ideal situation, these decisions would have been tabled and debated at length in the UC before being implemented.
This top-down governance model, which places the MC and the VC at the helm of all decision making – advised only by the Dean’s Council, comprising of the Deans of the four schools at LUMS, the Dean of Student Affairs and the Registrar – effectively alienates the students, the faculty and the staff from the decision making process. The domination of the Dean’s Council in the decision making process also, effectively, renders the FC ineffectual, and reduces it to nothing more than a mere talking shop. Interestingly, nowhere in the LUMS Governance and Structure has the Dean’s Council been explicitly mentioned.
This brings several questions to mind: the first being, is it really ‘shared governance’ if both advisory bodies stated in the LUMS Governance and Structure have been relegated to the periphery? In addition, why are students – and the Student Council, in particular – not being consulted when it comes to decisions and policies that directly affect them? Most members of the Student Council are not aware of the existence of the UC: when asked, they thought they were being asked about the Disciplinary Council, a University Standing Committee expected to perform a consultative and advisory role. Thirdly, where must students go in order to file an appeal against a policy that they find detrimental and against the spirit of the University? And most importantly, why has the UC been relegated to an inoperative body? Does the relegation of the FC and the UC in favour of the Dean’s Council imply that the interests of key stakeholders – faculty, students and staff – are not being taken into account by the MC?
On an immediate basis, we strongly advocate that the system of ‘shared governance’, that the University – with great pride – claims to follow, be upheld according to its principles. While we agree that bringing all stakeholders to the table in order to discuss and deliberate over issues is a slow – and often exhausting – process, we believe every effort should be made to share information with all involved parties. And although it is understandable that the MC, the staff, students and faculty will not always have one, unanimous voice on matters of policy and practice, we believe opinions of all stakeholders should be taken into account when making decisions that affect the LUMS and its occupants.
We approached the Dean’s Office and the Office of Student Affairs for comments regarding our findings in this article: they were of the opinion that LUMS is a relatively young institution – a fact we corroborate wholeheartedly. Bearing this in mind, they believe that the institution is currently in an ‘experimental stage’; meaning that it’s policies are in transition and that a large decision making body will slow down processes. Whilst the comments put forward by the Dean’s Office and the Office of Student Affairs bear relevance, we believe the LUMS Governance and Structure – publicly available for students to access, last updated in 2009 – should reflect these statements. We also believe that students should be aware of the existence of these policies; the price of not-knowing has allowed the student body to relegate themselves to a sphere where they believe that their opinions don’t matter, or that they don’t hold weight in the grander scheme of things. It has resulted in numerous inefficiencies, granted a colossal degree of power to a body that does not exist in the official Governance and Structure and has rendered two advisory bodies ineffectual. And as we rattle off our University’s successes and the numerous opportunities it has to offer us, are we – by not knowing the rights we are entitled to, and by not advocating for them once we know that they exist – any better than the blind leading the blind?