KARACHI: Prof Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan was appointed the 17th vice-chancellor (VC) of the University of Karachi (KU) for four years on Monday through a notification issued by Governor House. Dr Khan is the founding director of the Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation (ISHU).
The post of VC fell vacant when Prof Dr Muhammad Qaiser completed his tenure on February 9, 2016. He was asked to continue by the government as the acting VC until a new appointment could be made. The procedure of appointing the VC faced delays for about a year despite an advertisement for the post being published on January 27, 2016. Interviews of the shortlisted candidates were held in August, 2016 but, due to a controversy in the marking in the interviews and change of the chief minister, governor and the universities and boards' secretary, the appointment of the VC came to a halt.
The government sped up the process when, on December 29, 2016, the Sindh High Court's Hyderabad circuit bench issued an order to appoint the VC's of KU, the University of Sindh and Dow University of Health Sciences within a month.
Soon after the order, CM Murad Ali Shah called the top candidates for interviews but the marking controversy delayed the appointment.
Following the controversy of markings by the search committee, Governor House requested that all the clarifications and detailed records of the advertisement, interviews and markings be presented before any notification was issued. Deceased governor Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui had planned to meet the top candidate the day before he passed away.
Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association general secretary and president of the Karachi University Teachers Society, Dr Shakeel Farooqi said that Dr Khan will be facing a number of challenges because the varsity is not in the best state.
"The university needs sensible decisions to cope with urgent matters, such as financial crisis and selection boards for appointments and promotions on merit," he explained, assuring the VC support from the teacher's society.
The university also needs proper rules and regulations and special emphasis on research, academic activities and cleanliness at the campus.
The newly appointed VC has spent 40 years in teaching and research. He completed his BSc (Hons) in botany from KU in 1973 and MSc in 1974. He was awarded a PhD in botany and ecology in 1985 by Ohio University in the United States and DSc in botany in 2010 by KU.
He is serving as a visiting professor at several US and European universities and has also been awarded the Pride of Performance award on August 14, 2001 and Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2007 in recognition of his scientific contribution.
Pakistan Academy of Sciences elected Dr Khan as its fellow in 2001, while The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) elected him as a fellow in 2004. Dr Khan was elected as a fellow of the Islamic Academy of Sciences (IAS) and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) conferred upon him the title of Distinguished National Professor in 2005.
The Pakistan Academy of Sciences also presented its highest award of Distinguished Professor of the Year in 2008 to the newly appointed VC.
Dr Khan has also served KU from 1975 till his retirement in 2012 as a tenured track meritorious professor, after which he joined Qatar University as Qatar Shell Professorial Chair in Sustainable Development and coordinator of food security programme at the Centre for Sustainable Development.
ISHU was funded by the HEC and KU with Dr Khan as the founder and director. It provides state-of-the-art facilities for research on developing non-conventional crops for saline areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2017.