The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has found gross irregularities in the appointment process of 235 faculty members of the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast) by its administration through the Selection Board-2021 and recommended that the whole process be scrapped.
However, despite its clear recommendation no such step has so far been taken and on Monday (today) a special meeting of the Senate is being held in Islamabad under the chairmanship of President Arif Alvi to decide an interim set-up, take action against those responsible for irregularities and other important issues.
The varsity had claimed to have interviewed 1,100 candidates to appoint 235 candidates including 89 lecturers, 109 assistant professors, 21 associate professors, 10 professors and six others through the Selection Board-2021, which was conducted by varsity’s acting Vice Chancellor Dr Rubina Mushtaq and then acting registrar Dr Muhammad Sarim.
The whole appointment process was marred by allegations of irregularities and favouritism. The current financial situation of the varsity has reached to the extent that it has no money to regularly pay complete salaries to its employees.
“This is a fit case of corruption for the National Accountability Bureau. An HEC probe is not sufficient…NAB should conduct an inquiry as this involves public exchequer,” said a senior official of Fuuast administration.
Documents available with Dawn showed that a meeting of the Fuuast Senate, chaired by President Arif Alvi, had tasked HEC chairman to validate the proceedings of the Selection Board-2021.
The HEC chairman had formed a five-member committee comprising Raja Akhtar Iqbal, the joint secretary at federal education ministry; Prof Dr Muhammad Tufail, Pro Vice Chancellor of the NED University; Shahzaib Abbas, the director-coordination of the HEC; Javed Memon, Karachi director of HEC; and Dr Arshad Bashir, consultant academics, HEC, for the task.
The report of the committee said that Fuuast had claimed that there would be no financial impact for the newly appointed faculty, but it was clear that the joining of 235 persons would lead to a financial impact of much more than Rs127 million.
The committee observed anomalies during the review including tampering with original documents, irregularities in appointments of professors and associate professors, irregularities in offering faculty positions, irregularities in conduct of the selection board, incomplete scrutiny of the documents, unequal opportunity to eligible candidates and inaccurate calculation of financial impact.
It noted that the acting registrar Dr Sarim, who was also the secretary of the selection board, remained unavailable to the committee.
The HEC report, a copy of which is available with Dawn, stated that a total of 235 candidates were selected from 1,100 candidates interviewed. Of the total 235 appointments, 89 were lecturers, 109 assistant
professors, 21 associate professors, 10 professors and six were undefined.
About tampering with the original record, the committee noted: “The Selection Board proceedings were recorded in a register, two-thirds of which were handwritten by Dr Muhammad Sarim (acting Registrar, FUUAST when the Selection Board 2021 was conducted). Some of the statements are overwritten where ‘one’ candidate has been changed to ‘none’ candidate, and the ‘recommended’ candidates became ‘not recommended’ and vice-versa. Page numbers on the register are not in sequence, tampered and even full-length papers have been pasted and rewritten on the original register.
“One of the recommended candidates Dr Zubair Khalid selected as Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering is not found in the list of applicants/interviewees.
“Important details such as the total number of applicants, short-listing criteria, marking scheme, and interview marks breakdown are missing in the Selection Board proceedings/Record,” the report of the committee said.
The committee also observed massive irregularities in the appointments of professor and associate professor as FUUAST officials failed to produce any record other than applications of the appointed professors and associate professors.
“Important records such as Referees’ Reports and vetting of publications were missing. Instead of complete dossiers of the applicants, only application forms were shared with the Committee. Scrutiny Committee reports were not shared with the Committee. As a result, the Committee is unable to determine the eligibility of the candidates. Secondly, a few potential candidates for the positions of Professor and Associate Professors were not considered for the interview,” the report stated.
“On insistence of the Committee to produce reports, both Acting VC and Acting Registrar mentioned that reports have been misplaced,” it added.
The committee mentioned that acting VC Dr Rubina Mushtaq inquired from Dr Sarim about the referees’ report and other selection board documents on Dec 10, 2021 and a reminder to this effect was also given on December 17, 2021.
“In the absence of any substantial documentary evidence, the Committee is unable to validate appointments of Professors and Associate Professors,” the report noted.
The committee raised questions regarding the number of vacant sanctioned positions against which the Selection Board-2021 was held, but the varsity representatives failed to provide any satisfactory answer.
Similarly, in the Department of International Relations, there were no sanctioned posts available, yet the board recommended Dr Syed Shahabuddin as assistant professor.
Moreover, in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Dr Usama Zafar who appeared in an interview for the position of lecturer was selected for assistant professor, which he never applied for.
In another case, some candidates applied for certain subjects and were appointed in a different subject/department in which they had never applied for.
According to the committee, the FUUAST has communicated in writing that partial Selection Boards against 2013 advertisements were conducted in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019, but it was of the firm opinion that Selection Board proceedings against a single advertisement could not be divided into multiple parts spanning over a period of eight years.
The committee also did not find endorsement of previously conducted selection boards in any of the minutes of the Senate meeting.
The committee observed that two eminent personalities nominated by the syndicate (should not be University Employees) were missing from the Selection Board. Moreover, the recommended panel of subject experts periodically approved by the syndicate was also not shared by FUUAST with the committee members.
The committee mentioned that scrutiny of the documents was not properly done and individuals with irrelevant degrees were allowed to appear in interviews of a different discipline.
The committee also opined that the candidates already working in the university were preferred, “as absence of other candidates on interview dates cannot be considered as mere coincidence”.
“It is highly possible that the Test letter/interview letters were not sent to other candidates,” it noted.
The committee highlighted that Acting Registrar/Secretary Selection Board 2021 Dr Muhammad Sarim was not available to meet the committee. “Despite several phone calls and emails, even visiting his office didn’t turn out useful. His attendance record reflected that he was on campus during the Committee’s visit, and intentionally avoided meeting with the Committee members.”
“His suspicious behaviour leads to an assumption that he didn’t want to disclose the information about the proceedings of the Selection Board 2021.
“The committee believes that Dr Muhammad Sarim manoeuvred the Selection Board proceedings by not only getting himself selected, being the only eligible candidate interviewed for the post of Professor, Computer Science (BPS-21), but also influenced the Selection Board proceedings to get several other candidates selected and rejected, considered as close to him or otherwise, respectively,” the committee observed.
“Keeping in view the record produced by Fuuast and four-day interaction with university officials in Karachi and Islamabad, It is not possible for the Committee to validate the proceedings of the Selection Board held in 2021.
“The process of appointment against the advertisement made by Fuuast in the year 2022 may also be scrapped.
“The university may publish fresh advertisement (as per prevailing HEC criteria) of all positions against which Selection Board proceedings were conducted in 2021 and complete the process within 90 days. All candidates who were selected previously may also apply,” it recommended.