Quite often than not we see conflicts arising from educational institutions in Pakistan. Although, an essential part of the framework of any organization, conflicts can sometimes become a reason for violence, unending debates and in severe cases strikes and protests all of which could have been avoided otherwise. In any institute’s ‘Campus community’ it is quite common to have diverse viewpoints on any matter generating disagreements between individuals or groups of people involved. However, the “not agreeing to disagree” attitude of the groups involved in a conflict has often led to unproductive and destructive consequences on campuses in Pakistan.
The western world since the 1970s has a solution towards such conflicts i.e. training their academia towards conflict resolution and making their students study conflict studies as part of the curriculum or elective programs. Unfortunately for Pakistan, where academics on conflict resolution could make a huge difference in perceptions, only a hand full of institutes offer degrees in the subject. Moreover, trainings of academia personal on conflict resolution and related subjects are also very rarely seen that too only in some high-ranking private universities.
Academic intellectuals (researchers, educationists, professors, trainers etc.) are considered responsible citizens of a society and with that they carry a responsibility to not only work but also participate in sustainability of their fields. Academia of any institution with their experience in their fields and their long-standing affiliation to their institute can play a vital role in resolving conflicts that occur within campuses be it between students or between the students and the management in any context. According to researchers in the field of social sciences, there are various ways of managing campus conflicts and in most of these methods the academic staff on campus can play a significant role to create an atmosphere where the conflict can be resolved creatively and effectively.
One of the best methods is mediation of the conflict by a mediator. In the context of a campus conflict, any academic personal can be the best mediator with their expertise in their field, their experience within the campus community and their knowledge about the policies and socio-political scenarios of their region. In cases where there is an uprising against the administration of the institute, academicians as mediator/s can effectively and productively bring both the parties to a negotiation and eventually bring the parties together for the improvement of the policies of the institute in the future.
Another aspect that academicians can assist in towards peace building on campus is by preaching the message of peace whenever they have the chance too. In our educational system, most of the knowledge is taught in a “lecture format” of delivering knowledge which in this case can prove to be a very convenient manner of communicating positive messages to masses within any campus community. Moreover, workshops and trainings of students towards conflict management must be specially delivered by academia in susceptible institutions.
There can be many factors taken into consideration as to why academia is usually not there in any scenario of a conflict unless either the damage has been done or authorities outside the institutions take notice of the issue and direct campus authorities to “look into their matters.” Seeing it in the big picture, one can easily say that that campuses within Pakistan always carry a very wide communication gap between students and the academia. A lot of times an uprising between students or between students and management goes unnoticed by academia who could have otherwise helped reduce the stress by the use of their expertise. However, it is also true to mention that academic personals hesitate to become part of any matters related to a dispute due to strong political backgrounds of any of the parties involved that could become a personal threat to them or their career, as we have often seen in campuses in the country.
It is also significant to mention here some fresh events where academic personnel had been seen playing a negative role instead of helping the masses to reduce the sparks such as during recent conflicts in public sector universities in Balochistan and Punjab. The anti-harassment protest at University of Balochistan was seen being ignited further by certain members of Pakistani academia from outside the institute on social media. While again at the recent country wide protests under the banner of Students’ Solidarity March, we saw student protestants being rusticated from their institutes for being part of these protests. Alternatively, the academia could have initiated talks with the protestants and allowed for discussion to settle the issues once and for all, but all we saw was increased agitation among the protesting students who are on protest since November 2019 to date. Academia must realize how they can propagate agitation and hence ponder upon their participation or support towards any party involved in the conflict be it physical or virtual participation in this era of social media.
Nonetheless, to create an environment of tolerance and peace within the campus, the administration must take strict measures in all intuitions at verge of conflicts. A Dispute resolution committee or forums must be made part of the administrative framework that is specifically designated to promote peace building and to resolve conflicts whenever they happen. Such forums must have members of academia within an institute along with other expertise on the matters involved. Examples of such forums have previously been seen in some institutions in Pakistan however their effectiveness still remains a question. It is recommended by researchers that promotion of peace and tolerance in campuses must be emphasized either within the academic syllabi, via elective programs, seminars, workshops or by any other methods of effective communication.