He sits in his office among books about nature and environment. This man got pavements along the campus broken to grow grass and go green. He offered his students bicycles in exchange for their cars parked in the university’s parking lot.
He has criticised on-campus politicking and supported the rule of law. He has never accepted a single appeal during his two years in office. He has always believed in moderation, and wants people in Pakistan to smile more often.
Known for being accessible and easy to talk to, this academic’s tweets are laden with Munir Niazi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He jokes about Twitter being especially created for Urdu poetry. “What else can you fit in 14- characters?”
This is Dr Adil Najam, the Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). As he gears up to step down this June, there is a stack of books that he has been meaning to read waiting for him. And he cannot wait to resume teaching.
The building of the Razia and Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law – the fourth school at the university— has been designed already. The campus covered space has been increased by 30 per cent since 2011 and the energy cost and consumption reduced by nearly 10 per cent. A new agreement to increase funding under the LUMS National Outreach Programme is to be signed soon. In the year 2012, Rs358 million was given as aid under the same programme. Najam is a VC satisfied with what he has achieved.
Najam, who has formerly taught at the Tufts University and the Boston University, has been director of Boston University’s Frederick S Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. What brought him back to Pakistan after 20 years in the US was that “this opportunity gave me a chance to connect with my country closely. But what made me say yes, mainly, was the LUMS National Outreach Programme for the under-privileged students.”
When he moved back with his wife and children, he didn’t know for how long. “I never plan. Why should we? My two-year plan for a degree in the US took me 20 years to return.”
While he has no definite future plans for now, he is open to offers in and outside Pakistan.
Asked about a recent debate on local students’ online forums suggesting that Imran Khan should offer him the VC’s post at the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Najam responds with good humour. “Public universities are a much bigger responsibility than private, but I will certainly not refuse Imran’s call; not the phone call at least.”
How important is popularity among students to the VC of LUMS? “This is not a popularity contest and I am not a candidate,” he said, adding that he’d rather be remembered as a VC who was fair and honest.
Najam shared his thoughts that there is a lack of patience and trust in Pakistani society as he briefly touched the controversial issues of the alleged paper leak and resignation of Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, a former faculty member, who is also mentioned in Najam’s next book scheduled for release in July.
Supportive of evolution and change, Najam sees a social threat in those who have strong and blind certitude in their belief, and have extremist tendencies. Dr Najam sees the Pakistani youth as a “much more interesting generation than his”. He is hopeful because “people want to send their children to school. They have realised that the ticket to success is education.”
For him, youth are one of the five things in Pakistan that are going in the right direction. Music, media, resilience and responsibility are the other four.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2013.