LUMS and the Hoodbhoy hoopla

Published: October 25, 2012
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The quixotic nature of the idea itself; the idea that an elite establishment is creating a new breed of conservative intelligentsia ready to send us to the Zia era ASAP.

The Pakistani cyberspace has been galvanised once again with news that the contract of eminent physicist and outspoken social critic, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy will not be renewed for another term by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) administration.

Although Professor Hoodbhoy is still waiting on an explanation, most of the speculation seems to be circling around the idea that the Professor was let go because of his course on an idea that did not sit too well with the religious elite running Jamia Islamia LUMS, or so the little blue birdie sings.

Naturally, an idea such as the one above does not merit serious thought, especially if one happens to be familiar with the way the faculty, administration and student body at LUMS works. Unfortunately, with the advent of Twitter and the impulse to gain intellectual release in 140 characters or less, reason seems to have disappeared like passed gas on a windy day.

Consequently, we now have people throwing tantrums online for something that might not have happened in the first place. Of course, no amount of reason or common sense seems to be doing the job of convincing them otherwise. Therefore, in a masochistic attempt to do just the same, I will attempt to clarify why the idea of Professor Hoodbhoy being at the receiving end of a Salafi/Deobandi boot is not a good one.

First off, the premise that Professor Hoodbhoy was somehow going to become Galileo on account of his ground-breaking ‘Science and Religion’ course is frankly quite ludicrous. He is not the first, and probably will not be the last instructor to broach the topic of religion and science. Dr Adnan Khan, a professor of mathematics, has been offering this course for quite some time now and, as evidenced by the syllabus of his course, it is anything but the curriculum of a religious mindset afraid of a little turbulence.

Also, the fact that LUMS has courses within the fields of biology, anthropology, philosophy and psychology means that topics like secularism, morality and criticism of religion are frequently up for debate. Human evolution ─ perhaps the most contentious of all bones of contention ─  comes up in almost every second class taught at LUMS. This means that when you visit one of the computer labs, chances are you will come across someone hunched over a Richard Dawkins video, or ruminating on a paper on evolutionary biology. The fact that students from these programmes are being picked up by places like Harvard on fully funded PhD programmes means that they are not swinging gandassas (sticks) at the first whiff of the word ‘evolution’.

Why, then, does the idea persist that LUMS is somehow going super-conservative?

Honestly, I’ve no clue. Perhaps it is the sight of boys on campus sporting lush sunnati manes that horrify some. For others, it might be the sight of a hijabi girl hastening into the academic block clutching her “Anthropology of Violence” course-pack. Whatever the case, this new religious garb of LUMS seems to have a lot to do with these kids whose presence, ironically, is less than the amount of people you’re likely to encounter in a mosque at Fajr.

But what of the faculty and administration then? What if they have an over-representation of the right? It seems plausible, but with only four or five professors having the right bent and only one among these, to the best of my knowledge, being interested in tableegh (Islamic preaching), I doubt they have the clout necessary for turning LUMS into a religious institution.

This leaves us with only argument that promises some semblance of sense: The quixotic nature of the idea itself; the idea that an elite establishment is creating a new breed of conservative intelligentsia ready to send us to the Zia era ASAP.

While I can see why many in Pakistan are losing their sleep over this, the fact remains that at the end of the day, the idea that LUMS makes its decisions based on some singular religious mission is something which belongs to someone wanting to write a sequel to 1984. It has nothing to do with the truth and should be left as such.

As for the fact that Professor Hoodbhoy was never provided with a sound reason for not being given a new contract, I anticipate LUMS to provide it. I expect it, not because my university is liable to do so, but because quite frankly it isn’t. I expect LUMS to provide a reason because it is the honourable thing to do.

Since Professor Hoodbhoy felt the need to go public with his point of view, it is all the more necessary for LUMS to give him the explanation he desires and be done with this inanity once and for all.

Do you think LUMS was right in their decision to let go of Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy?

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Sharaf Zia

Sharaf Zia

An economics graduate from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Sharaf aims to pursue a career in psychology.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.