Physics Department, School of Natural Sciences
National University of Sciences & Technology
So, even young Quaid-i-Azam University is turning 50. How time flies! It seems like just yesterday that it was born. Actually, I wasn’t there at the birth but working at the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory before going on to postgraduate studies in England. In those days it was called the University of Islamabad. I tried to join it when it was 3½ years old but it was already having problems. People were up in arms against the founder Vice Chancellor, Riziuddin Siddiqui, and the University was not functioning. As such, my application stayed idle. Charge was handed over to the Secretary of Education, Mr. Ali Khan but after a short while was handed back to Dr. Siddiqui. Then it went back to Ali Khan, much like a shuttlecock. Soon after I joined there was an enquiry held into the troubles and most people aired their grievances against the Vice Chancellor and his team of senior faculty, “Deans and Directors” of the various institutes constituting the University; and others against those who were protesting and striking. It has to be admitted that it did have a striking faculty. When I was called, of course, I did not have any grievances against anyone, having just arrived. Therefore, I was at liberty to try and analyze what was happening. My view, which I gave to the Enquiry Committee, was that there was a structural problem with the University: The Vice Chancellor as head of both academics and administration was expected by both to give precedence in importance to them. I argued that the purpose of the University being to provide education of the highest quality, the educators and educated were of prime importance and administration was there to facilitate them. I gather that this analysis was greatly appreciated (but I know that it was totally ignored). Due to Pakistan’s colonial heritage, there has been an acceptance on the part of the populace in general of the priority being given to administration. All our universities seem to regard administration as the primary goal. The faculty is there, in this view, so that there is something for them to administer. The students are there to justify the faculty. At that young age I had actually thought that I could change this view.
I had decided to join the University of Islamabad because there were three people there whose papers I had seen in the journals: Riazuddin, Fayyazuddin and Munir A. Rasheed. To me that was very exciting. Not that they were in my field, but a place with such exciting people was the place to be. It is a pity that the administration does not realise the importance of retaining such prominent faculty, not for the purpose of attracting students but for the purpose of attracting young faculty that can be raised to an excited state and maintained there, exciting others –– a sort of human laser in action. The first two were in the Institute of Physics and the third in the Institute of Mathematics, where I had been selected. People now may not realise the miracle that had been achieved by Riazuddin in setting up the Physics Department. I joined the University when it was 5 years old, being run in hired buildings in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi, and already it was internationally famous. Of course, he had the big advantage of the support of his PhD supervisor, Abdus Salam; of course the new International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste, Italy, provided an enormous benefit; and of course he had a big boost because of the presence of his twin brother, Fayyazuddin. With all those advantages, it was till a miracle that was achieved. No other Department came close to matching the Institute of Physics in those days. He ran the Institute in a way that encouraged the faculty there and gave them time to develop themselves as research workers. They were facilitated to go abroad for research visits. No other Institute did that. He ran it democratically. No other Institute did that. Because of his own standing in the field, he did not feel threatened by his faculty and because of his innate honesty, he never tried to take advantage of the younger faculty. Sad to say, practically no other Institute managed to do even that.
By the time I joined, East Pakistan was on the verge of becoming Bangladesh. I gather that there had been a superb Department of Economics in the Institute of Social sciences, which was practically entirely manned by Bengalis. As they left there was a vacuum. The only person of worth left was Dr. S.M. Naseem. Though he did manage to run his Institute on the same lines that Riazuddin was doing, there was precious little to run. Naseem got me involved with the Economics Department as I had already been reading the subject. Despite his openness in managing his Institute, he did not have the standing of Riazuddin to be able to attract the top young economists in Pakistan. For that matter, there were hardly any adequately qualified young economists in the country. Economics had been left to the Bengalis and had left with the Bengalis. Naseem had to search to find good people. While Riaz could afford to appoint only PhDs and take non-PhDs only to send for the PhD, Naseem had to manage for quite a while with many non-PhDs and PhDs who were pretty well “non”.
The University was in the process of making an Academic Staff Association and wanted to draft a constitution for it. Since my father was a lawyer and had drafted the 1962 constitution of Pakistan, it was thought that I would, naturally, have inherited the capability. The person who had decided that I would be appropriate for the job was the head of the nascent Institute of Biological Sciences. How a biologist could believe that such a capability was heritable is beyond my comprehension. However, it may explain why that Institute was still in the nascent stage and why it never developed the way it should have. In any case, I joined Drs. C. Inayatullah (a Sociologist) and Mehboob Mohamed (a Chemist) and we produced a constitution that was regarded as good. The Association started off well but did not go on performing truly academically and democratically in the spirit (rather than the letter) of democracy. I would argue that it was not the fault of our constitution but of the faculty that did not run it right. However, I will be the first to admit that Riazuddin’s Institute of Physics managed to go on running well for a very long time, while the Academic Staff Association started floundering after some time. All said and done, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and my pudding had a bitter aftertaste. With all the excuses, it would be good not to have the bitter taste in my mouth.
The University had started with only a postgraduate degree, M. Phil. As such, it did not need a large faculty to manage the classes. When I joined Islamabad University in September 1972, the Social Sciences, Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences were largely empty. By then the M.Sc. had been started just the year before. The Mathematical Sciences had an extremely small faculty, which I shall elaborate on shortly. The Institute of Physics had a reasonable size faculty most of whom were extremely good. The Institute of Chemistry had an extremely large faculty few of whom were any good. Soon after my joining, with the change of the political Government in 1972, the structure of the University was altered, so that it consisted of two faculties: Natural Sciences; and Social Sciences; each with a number of departments. In 1976 when the centenary of Jinnah was celebrated, it was declared that the name of the University would be changed to Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU). I had been of the view, strongly expressed that changing the name was a bad idea. The University had acquired a reputation (largely because of the Department of Physics) and dropping the name meant losing the reputation. I proposed what I still think was a very good suggestion, to call it the “Quaid-i-Azam University of Islamabad”. But who would listen to a young newcomer?
The Mathematics faculty consisted of 3 PhDs in what used to be called “applied mathematics”, meaning “mathematical physics”, one MS from London in Real Analysis, one MS in Computer Science and one Systems Administrator. There was also one Hungarian in Algebra provided by UNDP. There had been a Pakistani in Mathematical Statistics, but he had been “encouraged to leave” by the Dean and Director (D&D) of the Institute, who believed that the faculty should be kept small, so as to be manageable. The D&D was one of the three, Muneer A. Rashid was the second and there was a third who had not published a single paper. While the first two were full professors the third was a Senior Research Fellow. The analyst was a Lecturer. The D&D used to send the Lecturer to buy his cigarettes and similar chores. At the faculty tea time he had decided to cut Muneer Rashid out of it. I was appointed on an ad hoc position as a Research Associate and had no publications either. He expected that I would take orders like the Lecturer did. I was not ready for that. Since I found the discrimination against the best faculty member intolerable, regardless of my ad hoc position, I openly flouted his diktat. He then incited the students to strike against me and tried to get rid of me. About then the Institute became a Department. By then there was more faculty and the faculty objected to the doings of the D&D. There was an enquiry into the problems of the Department, which found that the ex-D&D was responsible for it and should be removed and Muneer Rashid was appointed as the Chairman of the Department.
The Department immediately started improving and following the ways of the Department of Physics. There were regular seminars in the Physics Department and we started our series. Much more faculty was inducted and the place was humming with activity. Later on Muneer Rashid left and the Department shrank. Considerably later I was appointed as Chairman and tried to emulate Muneer Rashid. In this instance I did not suffer in comparison and the Department acquired an international reputation with people applying from abroad to come for the PhD there.
It would be worthwhile to have a more complete study of the ups and downs of QAU at 50.