I was planning on starting a write up involving ASP.NET, EF4, Spark, MSpec etc. when Zinat came over to tell me that BUET halls were again vacant. Slightly surprised, I went through facebook comments of ex-Buetians, blog posts, somewherein; and thought I'd write about this instead. And yes, I chose the words "slightly surprised" very carefully.
Let's first go back four years to the last World Cup. I was a student of BUET back then. And our exams fell during the event. Well, it's pretty much an open secret that BUET exams usually get delayed by a week or two. And football is big in BUET. A large number of BUET students follow the English Premiere League vehemently. They stay up into the early hours of the morning to watch the UEFA Champions League. Someone who is not one of them will never understand it – it'll seem stupid, a waste of time and what not. But to those that do, adore football. And there's a large number of them in BUET. I know. I was one of them. Anyway, since the exams were falling during the WC, many students gathered together and did peaceful rallies. The authorities made a surprisingly good decision and showed their flexibility by shifting the exams by a month. I say surprisingly good for two reasons. Firstly, had they not, there would probably have been an ugly conflict because most of the students had kind of committed to the WC at that time. They could hardly go for the exams at that stage. Secondly, they did not vacate the halls. The latter was quite important. A major appeal of football in BUET halls is watching matches together, with friends, as members of various factions –ManUs, Chelseas, Barcas, Reals, Gunners, Reds and so on. Watching it alone at home is nothing compared to that. Had the halls been vacated, it would have hurt every football fan in the halls. There is, nor has there ever been, a true football fan in the BUET halls who would want the halls vacated during a WC. It simply isn't possible for such a football fan to exist. The hall TV rooms are to them what pubs are to English footy fans on Saturday waiting for Manu v Arsenal to kick off. Anyway, a large number of students in the halls did want the exams to go back, and I was one of them. Many teachers or "now teachers" would say that's wasting a month and prolonging my student life. My simple answer is so what? We stayed at BUET through floods, curfews, elections, state of emergencies – we finished our four year course in just shy of five years. How much time would we have saved had the exams not been moved back a month? 30 days? If we can get delayed by whether Hasina or Khaleda or the Army can fight with words, guns or "boithas" by months, I think we can tolerate 30 days for something a lot of the students care about – and something that most would experience only once in their BUET lives. Given the option, I'd pick that 30 day delay again. Heck, you wait for Visas for longer than that.
Hang on, but there was a revolt, clashes with the police and BUET was closed for much longer, wasn't it? Yes, it was. And this is the funny thing really. Well maybe not funny but sad. After the world cup was over, a few seniors (yes, it started in the 4-2 batch – quite surprising as that was the batch that did anty-rallies for the WC delays) started another agenda wanting one further week. And this was what the authorities got wrong. And it was an easy one to get wrong. This extension was not wanted by a majority of the students, but those very few (less than 30) – who were also involved with a political party. They somehow managed to give it momentum, which resulted in the police clashes and subsequent notice to vacate the halls. There was a major "investigation" and many students were suspended, fined etc. I myself was fined Tk. 20,000.00 and stripped off my board scholarships. I have no idea how these "investigations" were conducted, because the act that I was accused of took place on a day I wasn't even in BUET. (I was at the office, I was working part time at Code 71, then Asha-Technologies LLC, the whole day.) Yes, I supported the WC agenda, the one afterwards I did not. Yet the latter was the one that I was punished for. And on top of that, the really really interesting thing was that the less than 30 guys that started the thing – they didn't incur anything. Quite interesting that a guy sitting in an office in Dhanmondi and having nothing to do with the revolt gets fined whereas the initiators go free having affiliations with a political party. The majority of students didn't want the one week extension. Nobody asked for the halls to be vacated. Are BUET students aggressive? Is that why they broke cars and windows? Or did those few have a larger agenda? Did they want to be seen as "heroes" ahead of the general elections? Pretty weird how teachers seem to blame it on the students and not those few politicians. Strange how they get off dirt free, and are never even mentioned.
That was then. This is now.
And again, reading the blogs and comments, I see a few alarming words coming up - "neta", "leader", "rajnoitik neta", "politician". These are words that shouldn't exist in the context of BUET. I thought we had no centralised politics. How come there are "league" and "dol" and "moitri" and what not? Yes, we need bodies to protect students from rising of fees, unexpected discrepancies, preventing privatisation of BUET etc. – but shouldn't those bodies be geared towards the students? How come they seem to cater to national political parties? While I was still at BUET, a known "political leader" in BUET of our batch actually "beat up" a senior guy after being ordered by the "central" party of which the leader was a member. How come BUET students are caring more about political parties than their fellow students?
Everyone seems to be comparing 2010 with 2006. One thing they're forgetting is that the hall vacant of 2006 happened after the world cup was over. It was for a different issue with a political agenda of keeping the senior leaders on campus till the elections. The 2006 WC was watched peacefully by a LOT of BUET students in their halls – cheering and shouting together. That is not what's happened this time. The halls are vacant during the WC. The only thing in common seems to be the word "neta".
Everyone slamming the students seem to be teachers. Everyone slamming the authorities are students. I'm neither – while at BUET I was not with any student body, group, clique or gang. I'm as far from "atel" as you can go – I got no grades, I was more enthused in .NET than in Knuth and erm… (can't remember any other authors I hated or I found them irrelevant – seriously, come on, Pressman's book for Software Engineering? Anybody heard of Fowler, Evans or "Uncle Bob" Martin? It's not 1995 you know.) I was doing part time gigs at Code 71 or freelancing projects to clients worldwide (built a piece of software being used at Burj-al-Arab). And during classes, I was either a) sleeping, b) working on my laptop or c) reading "relevant" books ;) I'm not one of the teachers, and not one of those students who try to close down BUET for personal political ambitions. And here's how I see it:
1. The authority needs to smarten up. They need to know which battles they can win. Shutting down BUET is not a win for them. It's a major loss. In terms of backlog, in terms of reputation and most importantly, in terms of the future of the students. Sometimes sacrificing a week or a month to prevent a delay of six months in necessary. Yes, that would be a defeat for their egos. But it would be a win in the long run. The 2006 administration showed a lot of flexibility with the WC. The demand for the extra week afterwards was uncalled for. Even asking it was a travesty. Yet, when asked, the administration took a strong hand. And BUET was closed for months for one measly week (at the end of an already done month long delay). Hardly anybody could have predicted what would eventually happen. But it's not the job of "anybody" to make those decisions. That's what the authority is there for. Seniors in our hall (hi Rahat bhai – who was even against the WC delay) predicted that if the one week wasn't given "those few" seniors (Rahat bhai obviously not among them) would start a riot and the halls would be vacated. If a Civil Engineering student can accurately predict that, how incompetent / egoistic was the authority to neglect the severity of the situation?
2. Students need to smarten up. Pick your battles too. You want to watch the WC? Go ahead. I believe you were given the opportunity. But know the limits. In 2006, asking for that one week after the world cup – even if manipulated by a select few – was either disgusting or stupid. Don't be pawns of political games. If you really do love politics, wait till you graduate. Being a "patineta" in BUET is worthless – central parties will never make you a Hasina or Khaleda. And don't follow those "Patinetas".
3. It's been said a million times and I'll say it again. The system needs to change. We have 70% of a course riding on a 3 hour exam. It's absurd. It's arrogant. It's lazy. Sure it's easier for teachers, but get over it. Having only 20% on class tests with barely any assignments (the other 10% is for attendance) is ridiculous. BUET is not a "Bangla" university. It's an engineering university. I can confidently say that hardly any student actually learns any of the subjects in her four years. They cram before the exams and forget everything afterwards. That is why our CSE graduates cannot answer these questions during a job screening:
a) Name three design patterns (most couldn't write three).
b) Give an example of xml data (most left it blank).
c) Show an example of polymorphism (most gave an example of inheritance).
d) What is http and https? (some got http right)
And it was not a few that failed these questions – most did. These are basic questions…are BUET students stupid? Are they really that crap? No…the reason that they failed is entirely the system's fault. The syllabuses are too big and on top of that, everything rides on one 3 hour exam. Is there anyone who would not fear that exam? Maybe one or two wouldn't, but the vast majority would be easily manipulated by politicians into joining any effort to delay the exams and gain extra prep time. This is one area that really does need to change. Till then, teachers will keep blaming the students, students will keep blaming the administration and those dirty politicians will keep manipulating students into doing vile acts. Or perhaps the teachers really do want to keep BUET closed. After all, that gives them free time to do projects, write papers or some plain and simple R&R.
4. Politics in BUET is at best nothing and at worst a shadow of DU. These "patinetas" shouldn't exist and are harming BUET and her students every term. What good do they do? Seriously? Even if some are involved with charities and student rights, do we need them? If there's a just humanitarian cause (Hridoy) or a genuine protest (evening shifts), students would do so themselves. They don't need DU leaders "blessing" them to do so.
5. If you're going to do investigations, do them properly. Don't interview 500 people and then accuse someone of something they couldn't have done and let the kingpins go free.
Will this change in 2014? I do believe classes / exams will be delayed during the WC month in 2014. And in a 4-5 year context, I'd think that's acceptable. What I wouldn't want to see is another "hall vacant" and BUET being closed for 6 months.