A few days back, LUMS trended on Twitter again, for reasons that are not good. A number of news outlets picked the story from Twitter and claimed that a student was expelled for providing tuitions. However, there is a lot more to the story.
It started when students came forward on LUMS Discussion Forum with a case where two students were expelled because of their involvement in cheating in an exam. The main point of contention is the administrative flaws and attitude of the Disciplinary Committee (DC) towards students. In the DC hearings, the students accepted their mistake. In that situation, they should have been just given an F in the component or at max in the course, and that would have solved the matter. But not only they expelled them in their senior years, there were various other administrative flaws.
Before coming to the case that they made to expel them, one of the main administrative flaws was that the LUMS Student Council, which was supposed to be in the hearings to help students navigate the process of the DC, was not there in three out of four hearings. In fact, a student council member who advised them to confess their crime was DC-ed on the grounds that they disclosed policies. Moreover, the professors who sit in the academic DC committee are notorious for their strict and punitive attitude. Recently they DC-ed a student who shared her class notes on LUMS Discussion Forum on the grounds that the notes were shared so other students can cheat – which is totally senseless, for it is difficult to imagine as to anyone would make that move on a public platform. Another administrative failure was that the appeal committee, which was supposed to listen to students’ appeals after the DC’s decision, didn’t listen to their concerns. For example, one basis upon which the decision of the DC can be challenged is that the committee was biased. Now what the appeals committee does is to send the request to the DC with a question that if they think they were biased. If the DC itself says that they weren’t biased, the appeals committee would simply reject the appeal. Now, it is obvious that the DC would say they were not biased. That’s exactly what happened in my case with the DC, where they put my semester on freeze for a minor offense.
What the administration resorted to was the same strategy that any authoritarian regime adopts, i.e. rule by fear
The real crisis due to which LUMS is expelling students is something related to wider administrative failure. Over the last couple of years, the size of a LUMS batch has tripled; from around 500 students in 2014 to 1,500 in 2020. At the same time, more and more of its star faculty has left: some by choice, some by internal conflicts and some who were tired of its changing campus climate. Above all, due to the pandemic, for two years, plagiarism and academic dishonesty had become quite common. Apparently, there was a 30% rise in the number of students ending in the Dean’s Honour List, given to students who demonstrate excellent academic progress. However, during this time, LUMS didn’t take any measures to improve academic quality. For example, they could have introduced new components to measure academic progress instead of traditional methods like take-home exams, etc. where cheating was much easier during online semesters. All these factors were significant in deteriorating the quality of LUMS education.
To counter this issue, what the administration resorted to was the same strategy that any authoritarian regime adopts, i.e. rule by fear. It started giving out expulsions, semester freezes, fines, course fails, etc. on offenses like helping students, sharing notes, low level of plagiarism, etc.
The recent expulsion of two students is also a similar case, because the administration believes that by expelling these students, a precedent will be set and students will avoid cheating and plagiarism in future. However, this is the most flawed reasoning based on a punitive approach. The administration should instead hold itself responsible for putting in place appropriate structures such that students wouldn’t need to seek methods like plagiarism and cheating. When classes will comprise of 80-100 students, even in an online semester, it is obvious that the quality of education will decrease and students will resort to underhanded methods to increase grades.
The recent outcry on Twitter was not just for the students who were recently expelled, but also because in 2016, Ubaidullah Lodhi, a student on financial aid, committed suicide because he was expelled when a plagiarism of 2% was found in one of his essays (a straight plot from the famous movie 3 Idiots) There was a committee formed afterwards, but the required reforms were not made. The student body is worried in case the recent expulsion cases might turn into something similar.
Unfortunately, no one is paying any attention. Even if the students are reinstated, reforms in the DC will remain more important.
Among the measures that are most urgently needed are these: that students should be given proper legal protection and their rights be read to them before hearings. Moreover, an internal student council member should be assigned who should defend the student by default.
Unless such measures are placed, there will be a risk of another tragedy like that of Ubaidullah.
The author is a senior year student at LUMS