Posts Tagged ‘LUMS’

Meeting Oneself in Pakistan

January 20, 2015

By Vipul Rikhi

Cropped

Towards the end of September 2014, the Kabir Project team went to Lahore to take part in the Kabir Festival organised by Aahang, a student body in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Our visas hadn’t come through till the last minute and we hadn’t been sure of being able to go at all. But we finally made it. When we crossed the border at Wagah, we found bright, young students from LUMS waiting to receive us.

It was a wonderful one week that we spent there. We were overwhelmed by the love and warmth with which we were taken care of by the student volunteers. The air in Pakistan felt very alive with political and religious churning (Imran Khan was leading a massive protest rally against Nawaz Sharif while we were still there). We set up a photo and video exhibit of our work at the intersection of mystic poetry and folk music, showed films, participated in some classes, and sang the Kabir and Bhakti songs that we’ve learnt during the course of our own journeys.

The moment I wish to describe is the last evening of the festival, on October 2, when Dr Anjum Altaf, Dean of Humanities, took to the mike to thank us for our visit. He described in beautiful words how our relationship took shape. He said that we arrived as guests, became friends by the next day, and partners by the day after that, and now, by the last day, they were us and we were them. Truly, in that moment, as through the whole duration of our visit, all differences seemed artificial and arbitrary. We mingled together to form one stream. It felt appropriate that a Hindu bhajnik mandali from the Cholistan desert in Pakistan was invited to sing with us on that final evening. As Kabir says, “Ham sab maahin, sab ham maahin / Ham hain bahuri akela” (I’m in all, all are in me / I am many and alone).

Vipul Rikhi is a member of the celebrated Kabir Project in Bangalore. This comment was published in Aalaap magazine in Chennai and is reproduced with permission of the author.

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Four Talks and a Funeral

November 9, 2014

By Anjum Altaf

In September I was in the US for a month for a series of lectures and presentations. Three of them were recorded and are available for public viewing. I am linking them here for those who might be interested in any of the topics which are very varied.

Most of the talks are on YouTube so a proxy would be needed for viewing them in Pakistan because of the continuing ban on YouTube. I am presuming readers are technologically adept enough to navigate their way to a solution.

University of Michigan, Center for South Asian Studies

April 5, 2013

POVERTY AS A HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERN

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrmP5B5b_tY

University of California at Berkeley, Institute for South Asia Studies

September 8, 2014

HOW TO (REALLY) FIX PAKISTAN’S EDUCATION SYSTEM

Cornell University, College of Art, Architecture and Planning

September 16, 2014

PERSPECTIVES ON SMALL CITIES IN PAKISTAN

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7ZB_Lc1361BRjF5dTBFVUNaX28/view?usp=sharing

(More easily viewed here in two parts):

Part 1 – https://vimeo.com/113369496
Part 2 – https://vimeo.com/113369495

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC

September 24, 2014

PAKISTAN’S LONG MARCH: REFLECTIONS ON THE ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS IN ISLAMABAD

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/pakistan%E2%80%99s-long-march-reflections-the-anti-government-protests-islamabad

There was one earlier presentation I made to the incoming freshmen class at LUMS during Orientation Week on August 28, 2014. The theme was that effective training requires a solid foundation of general education. It is much more sensible to educate first and train later rather than to train first and (try to) educate later. The latter strategy almost always fails leaving behind unidimensional professionals.

LUMS, Orientation Week

August 28, 2014

BUNYAAD KUCH TO HO

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxvHekn5mLxeOS1raFZReTdwSEU/view?usp=sharing

The objective of these talks is to start public conversations. No change is possible unless there are ideas in circulation about which people engage each other converging through discussions to understandings that can energize political action. It is not enough to be passive readers. I would like you to use the space for comments to air your views and especially your disagreements.

Now to the funeral:

All these presentations were made when I was the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS. Soon after my return from the US I died in that role and was reborn as provost of Habib University in Karachi. Incidentally, Habib University has the kind of foundational education that was the theme of the lecture at LUMS. For details see the description of the liberal core at Habib.

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Questions for Ourselves

August 7, 2014

By Anjum Altaf

— Does God love everybody?

— Yes.

— Are you sure?

— Of course.

— Then why do YOU hate so many? Are you bigger that God (NB)? Has God (NB) created some just so you can indulge your passion for hating? Has God (NB) told you there are some you can hate even though He loves them? Is your God (NB) the head of a political party?

I haven’t come up with this. It’s how I read Mr. Bloom in the chapter identified as Cyclops in Ulysses.

Look at it yourself (lines 1480-1520 here) if you don’t believe me:

“God loves everybody” and aren’t we told to “love your neighbours”? And if I listened to God and loved my neighbour and my neighbour loved his/her neighbour wouldn’t we end with “universal love” which is “the opposite of hatred,” of “insult and hatred” which is “not life for men and women”?

— So, tell me, why are you going around disobeying God spreading insult and hatred?

“What about sanctimonious Cromwell and his ironsides that put the women and children of Drogheda to the sword with the bible text God is love pasted round the mouth of his cannon?”

There is your God loving everybody and telling you to love your neighbour and there you are asking around about your neighbour’s zaat and going into paroxysms of hate if it turns out different from yours.

— Did God (NB) tell you to ask your neighbour’s zaat when He told you to love your neighbour? Or God didn’t tell you that but you know better what He (NB) really wanted to tell you?

— Is this line of argument making any sense to you?

Fastforward from Bloomsday (June 16, 1904 – the one day on which all the action in Ulysses takes place in Dublin) to LUMSday (anyoneday, 2014, in Lahore).

What do I find?

Students going about their business. What’s going on inside their hearts who’s to say — wallahu’alam bissawab. I don’t see them hating anyone overtly but they are not loving anybody either. They are not acting on the commandment love thy neighbour. No one is reading Bulleh Shah. There is no circle of love or even of understanding spreading outwards.

At best they are indifferent to each other within the campus. I suppose that is the most one can expect in Lahore in 2014.

But they are also indifferent to the hatred seething outside the campus that is threatening to bring down the protective walls within which they carry on being indifferent.

There is no wave of love pushing outwards. There is a wave of hatred pushing inwards meeting little resistance.

How long can the walls hold?

Anjum Altaf is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

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In Search of Diwali in Lahore

November 9, 2013

Diwali was on our minds. We were tossing around ideas on how to celebrate the first ever festival of lights on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. For some, it was too radical a proposition, for others something that just had to be done. It was in that context that a participant produced a newspaper clipping claiming there were only about 50 Hindus in Lahore and that some of them had celebrated Diwali at a private location for fear of being attacked.

“That’s just not true,” said a member of the team indignantly adjusting her hijab. Then and there, it was decided to locate a public celebration of Diwali in the city and to go ahead with our own event. The evening light was fading; the timing was right for lamps to be lit if they were going to be lit anywhere. A few phone calls identified three mandirs that might offer what we were looking for – in Model Town, on Ravi Road, and at Neela Gumbad, the latter two in some proximity to each other. We decided to head in their direction to maximize our chances.

Our guide suggested we take a rickshaw to the Ghazi Station on the Metrobus and ride it to Bhati Gate in the old city. There we were to ask for directions to either one of the two mandirs. We did as told and were informed with much confidence that there was a mandir close by and another some distance further off. Delighted, we boarded a rickshaw for the nearer one and were soon dropped off at the entrance to the lane headed towards the Badshahi mosque with a gesture that our destination was in the general direction. Having been there a number of times before, we all concluded simultaneously that the rickshaw driver had mistaken a gurdwara for a mandir.

Disappointed but undeterred, we engaged another rickshaw with instructions to take us to the other location that was now even further away. Much turning and twisting later, we were asked to disembark in front of a mandir that was in fact a church – the signboard said so quite plainly. We realized that the popular culture had erased the distinctions between mandirs, gurdwaras and girjas in Lahore.

Nonetheless, we were at Neela Gumbud and if there were a mandir there, we were determined to find it. Our best bet appeared to be a sleepy policeman with gun across his lap guarding the entrance to a narrow street. Sure enough he knew the location to a mandir and pointed us deeper into the lane while eyeing us with some suspicion.

The policeman, whose specific duty must have been to guard places of worship, turned out to be right. We found ourselves in front of a nondescript red gate which announced the entrance to the mandir. Another policeman frisked us and without much more hassle, we were past the gate.

Inside, Diwali was in full swing. Our protracted search had made us miss the puja but we were in time for the fireworks, the prasad and the music. There were certainly many more than 50 people in the compound and none of them looked afraid. Ominous, gun-toting policemen were stationed on adjacent roofs but that did not appear to cast any kind of shadow on the festivities.

It was Diwali alright, but, when all was said and done, it was Diwali in an alien soil. Half-way through the proceedings everything came to a halt and a prolonged round of speeches ensued. Muslims of various stripes came on stage to profess love for all religions and, for some odd reason, insisted the participants join them in full-throated renditions of Pakistan Zindabad. For many, the response was not good enough and the audience was exhorted to be more vociferous. The celebration of Diwali had turned into a test of loyalty, something that would be no part of a ceremony unencumbered with the need to prove anything to anyone.

Ordinary people, however, expressed a curiosity quite at odds with the certainties of the community leaders. My neighbor, sitting on the floor, was quite clearly a Muslim who took me for a Hindu and had questions about the similarities and differences between the two faiths. I answered as best I could and the conversation extended to the relationship of Sikhism to both and whether some Sikhs revered Muslim saints. It occurred to me how badly we needed to teach comparative religion in our schools.

Our mission accomplished, we strolled leisurely down the Mall treating ourselves to a congratulatory stop at Bundu Khan’s in the block where the rounded façade of E. Plomer and Sons still exists at the intersection across from Fane Road. At the Alhamra, we took a rickshaw and headed home.

Back on campus, we plunged into the Diwali preparations with renewed vigor. The student response was incredible. Within a day, Diwali was celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor. There were no speeches, no talk of erasing differences, no tests of loyalty. It was an occasion for festivity and everyone went about the business of feeling good and enjoying themselves. We sensed at the end that some of the spirit of Diwali had been restored – there was hope that light could triumph over darkness if we set our minds to it.

 Diwali at LUMS

http://lums.edu.pk/news-detail/aahang-celebrates-diwali-at-lums-2132

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A Dean’s Summer Reading List

May 18, 2012

By Anjum Altaf

Dear Students,

One of your colleagues sent me the following message:

Respected Sir… I would like to request that you please send out a list of books that you think are crucial for 21st century students like us to read. The reason I am asking so, is that during the holidays I would like to do something beneficial and constructive. While there are many books available on the internet and at bookshops (like Readings or Ferozsons, etc.), I wouldn’t exactly know which books are best for me. So could you please send out such a list of books as I believe that a person of your experience and knowledge would be a better judge on which books students should read. I would like to also suggest that while deciding on the books, give us books on a variety of issues, like let’s say some on religion, some on history, some autobiographies and so on.

You have no one to blame but yourselves! (more…)

A Letter from the Dean

April 4, 2012

Dear Students,

With this letter I would like to formally introduce myself to you as the incoming Dean of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law (SHSSL) at LUMS. I see my mandate as one of supporting the mission of the university – to make your stay here a life-changing experience. I am taking this opportunity to share my views on the role of SHSSL in the fulfillment of this objective.

Think about this. Our lives are characterized by a series of choices. But how do we know if we have made a good choice in any particular situation? The alternatives can appear to be different depending on whether we evaluate the choice in an economic, political, sociological, legal or ethical perspective. Should we care more about efficiency or fairness, trust emotions more or reason, value more the present or the future, put more store on reputation or on wealth, assign more importance to ends or to means? (more…)

LUMS and Learning: Reflections on a Discussion

October 28, 2010

The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) is an institution of learning so it is entirely appropriate to try and learn from the discussion that has ensued following publication of the observations of an outsider (Professor Howard Schweber from the University of Wisconsin at Madison) who taught political theory at LUMS this past summer.

The discussion (accessible on this blog following Professor Schweber’s article, What are Pakistani College Students All About?) is largely defensive in character and critical of the author who is labeled, among other things, as ethnocentric and arrogant and accused of generalizing from a very small sample. The tenor of the response itself provides an entry into some aspects of the learning process that I wish to elaborate in this post. (more…)

What Are Pakistani College Students All About?

October 21, 2010

By Howard Schweber

After spending a summer teaching political theory to Pakistani college students, I can confidently make two assertions:  they are just like all the other college students I have known, and they are not at all like the other college students I have known.  Beyond that, I found puzzles and mysteries.

My first impression of Pakistani students was that they are … well, just college students.  How utterly, disappointingly unexotic.  Grade-conscious careerists, canny manipulators of the system, highly competitive … future engineers and finance majors.

But there are some differences, after all.  That word “elite” comes into play, here. In the U.S., no college student would describe him or herself as “elite” – that word is primarily reserved for use as a political insult.  Americans, notoriously, valorize the idea of belonging to “the middle class,” sometimes to a ludicrous degree.  Pakistani students have no such compunctions, and are quite pleased to describe themselves and their family backgrounds by saying “we are the elites” and other words to that effect.  Partly this tendency reflects an inherited colonialist culture, partly it reflects the reality of a deep economic divisions reflected in the ubiquitous servant culture that every American I spoke with privately described as jarring.  American college students at top schools tend to have a sense of entitlement … but nothing that compares with the “elite” classes of Pakistani society.

Not all LUMS students come from backgrounds of privilege, however.  In my small, unscientific sample of about 40 students whom I met (out of 65 enrolled in my two courses), I encountered 10 or so who come from worlds very different from that of Lahore’s upper class.  These students tended to approach me quietly and privately to describe their backgrounds; students from small villages, not only in the Punjab but also from the areas around Karachi and Peshawar, the student who confided that he had grown up on streets similar to the ones we were walking through in the area around Lahore’s Walled City, the student (pointed out to me) who comes from FATA and cannot go home.

And there is yet another dissonant strain that clashes with the “elite” culture of graduates of Aitchison School, convent schools, and the like.  This different voice appears in the form of deeply religious students, referred to on my particular campus by faculty and fellow students alike as “the mullahs.” At first I thought I understood the significance of their presence on campus, but by the time I left I had concluded that the relationship between these religiously observant students, their fellows, and the administration is the great unsolved mystery that I take away from my visit.  It may be the great unsolved mystery of Pakistan, in fact, but I’ll come back to that.

Looking more closely at the students I met and taught reveals more mysteries.  Some had serious problems with English, particularly in their writing, but most were extremely well prepared as far as language skills are concerned.  It is when we look beyond language skills that puzzles begin to appear.

Here’s an example:  on the first examination that I administered I included a question that asked students to “compare and contrast” two texts.  I was not particularly proud of the question, since for American students this is considered the most banal, overused, pedantic imaginable form of exam problem, the sort of question they have been encountering since the fourth grade.  I was therefore nonplussed when several students asked what I meant by “comparing” different texts.  “We have never been asked a question like this,” said one, and a dozen others in the room expressed their agreement. I have often had students request extensions on assignments, but LUMS was the first place in which I encountered a request for an extension signed by five students – who, it turned out, were among the better students in the class! –  justified by the statement that “we have never been asked to write something like this before.”

In response to these inquiries, I tried to explain the idea of making comparisons in terms of taxonomy – you identify the salient characteristics and use them to classify objects in terms of their differences (“zebras have stripes, horses don’t.”)  Now apply the same idea to, say, theories of history.  “This writer views social arrangements as expressions of economic organization, this writer understands social arrangements as the performance of ideological claims … and here’s the explanation that makes more sense in modern Pakistan.”  I wasn’t necessarily expecting brilliant insights, but it was startling to realize that the question was, itself, startling.

That was only the beginning of a slowly dawning realization that LUMS students are palpably uncomfortable with abstract concepts and what people in Education Schools call “critical thinking skills.”  When I raised this point to faculty and alumni, every one without exception acknowledged the problem, and pointed to the system of secondary education as the culprit.  Undoubtedly the point is correct, but I think there is a deeper observation to be made here.  In addition to being uncomfortable with abstract concepts, these students and their families seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of knowledge that is not justified by an immediate practical application.  That discomfort extends to a reluctance to embrace basic scientific research as well as the humanities.  I heard from students who wanted to study physics but whose parents insisted that they become engineers, students who wanted to become historians but whose parents did not see the point to being an historian.  The same attitudes exist in other places, to be sure, but among LUMS students it seemed to be universal.  There is a classic saying about immigrants to America:  “the first generation are factory workers so the second generation can be lawyers so the third generation can be artists.”  I mentioned that saying to a student and he found it deeply puzzling.

Part of the reason for the discomfort with abstraction may have to do with a curiously limited range of background knowledge.  My students – many of whom, again, had graduated from the finest schools – knew almost literally nothing of non-Pakistani history and culture.  The reason is not that Pakistan is culturally isolated – far from it.  At one point I found myself confronted by a room full of students who had an exhaustive knowledge of the movies that were Oscar candidates last year but among whom the vast majority had never heard of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  In general, students had no idea – not even a wrong idea! – about the significance of the French Revolution or World War I, the history of nationalism and empires, the contents of the Book of Genesis, the Scientific Revolution or the Renaissance.  Again, when I pressed students, faculty members, and alumni, the answer was always the same: the fault lies with the secondary school curriculum, and particularly the fact that during Zia’s rule secondary school curricula were shifted to emphasize Pakistan studies and Islam at the expense of everything else.  Again, that can only be a very partial explanation.  But it is worth noting that this lack of cultural literacy helps feed the culture of conspiracy theories for which Pakistan is justly famous.

But what happens once these students get to college?  I saw and heard about fine courses in Shakespeare and Islamic Jurisprudence, but when it comes to the social sciences it appears that the students who learn anything about these subjects at all (that is, those who choose to take courses outside of Accounting and Finance) are fed a steady diet of snippets of readings and excerpts from trendy current theories.  Many students could and were eager to could talk fluently about Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and (rather weirdly) Nazi Germany, but Locke and Rousseau, Machiavelli and Madison, Cromwell and Marx were all equally unknown territory. Undoubtedly, at this point I will be accused of Western ethnocentrism; how many American college students know the names of the first four Moghul Emperors?  It’s a fair point, to be sure.  But it’s a big world out there, and a dangerous place at home.  Colleges don’t just train engineers, they train citizens and future leaders.  Pakistan might do well to train some future leaders in the history and the philosophies that have shaped the world around them.

The point is not that the instructors at these colleges are bad teachers, far from it; the instructors I met were qualified, dedicated teachers.  The point is that establishing the historical and philosophical context out of which modern ways of thinking emerge does not seem to be part of the curriculum.  Nor, for that matter, does reading whole books seem to be an expected element of the college experience.  I had a student in my office who complained, with no apparent sense of irony, that I had asked a question on a take-home exam to which he was unable to find an answer on Wikipedia.  (To repeat an earlier observation, Pakistani college students seem to be almost entirely unencumbered by any sense of irony.  I find this incomprehensible, given the Dadaist absurdity of much of Pakistani politics.)

Which brings me back to the “mullahs.”  Over and over I was warned, by faculty members and students alike, to beware of these students.  When I mentioned some of the texts that I was teaching, a senior colleague was first horrified, then said “well, you are probably all right because it is the summer.”  All of this fed into a rather well settled narrative of universities as bastions of secular knowledge (and a fair amount of partying in the men’s dorm, I hear), besieged by the forces of religious extremism.

But then I got to know a few students who are, themselves, religiously observant.  They tell a different story.  Their claim is that the so-called “mullahs” are two groups of students.  One group, led by an instructor, follow a Sufi order called Naqshbandi, while the other is associated with “Tableeghi Jamaat.”  Neither group, according to these students, has any interest in confrontation.  The same students insist that there have never been any incidents of religious students harassing secular students or faculty or disrupting classes, and that the college Disciplinary Committee would make short work of any student who tried to do so.  By contrast, the same students complain of a pervasive anti-religious bias.  In an e-mail, a student wrote:  “I remember that in one particular class a student with beard came late to class, which is a normal practice, and instructor said to him sarcastically, ‘Oh go back and offer prayer etc. because these things (courses) are not important…’”

So there are two narratives at work here.  Which one is right, is one more right than the other, are both simultaneously operative?  Which narrative captures more of the experience at the University of Punjab, which captures more of what goes on at LUMS?  I have no idea – I only know that no one disrupted my classes or threatened me, but that many people seemed to feel compelled to call my attention to the possibility of such events.

The more I think about it, this last mystery about Pakistan’s universities is a mystery about Pakistan.  I have no clear idea about the relationships among different approaches to Islam and secularism among Pakistan’s elites.  Traditionally, Pakistanis have been “the kind of Muslims who go to shrines,” but the nation has a death penalty for blasphemy and just a few months ago “Death to Qadianis” banners used to festoon the boulevards of Lahore.  And one Pakistani student, in front of other students, told me “as a good Muslim I would never say a’salaam back if an Ahmedi said a’salaam to me.”  The other students said nothing, in a class devoted to examining theories of democracy and multiculturalism.  As I walked around the campus, I observed the students lounging on the stairs, men and women together, but then a sociologist tells me that among the very people I am observing more than 85% will enter arranged marriages and that more than 90% of those marriages do not permit the wife to file for divorce.

So maybe these aren’t “just college students” after all.  But what are they, this next generation of the nation’s elite?  Individually I can tell you that they are bright, thoughtful, witty, principled, socially and intellectually attractive young adults with widely varying worldviews, limited only by a lack of education and culturally imposed limitations, especially the women.  But as a group?  If you ask me “what are Pakistani college students all about?” I can only answer that I find it a mystery.

This article appeared first in The Friday Times, Lahore, and is being reproduced here with permission of the author. Howard Schweber is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he teaches political theory and constitutional law. He taught this summer at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

A follow-up to this post is now available: LUMS and Learning: Reflections on a Discussion.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008 he taught a three-week course to a co-ed class at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. His observations of his experience provide another data point for consideration in this discussion.

A more general discussion of issues related to education in Pakistan is available here and a summary is available here.

For an assessment of liberal arts education at one of India’s most well-known institutions, St. Stephens College, see here.

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