Home Editorial Editorial: Scandal at Aitchison

Editorial: Scandal at Aitchison

The general public is unlikely to forgive or forget the heavy-handed tactics used by the Punjab governor to facilitate a federal minister

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In a classic case of bureaucratic overreach, Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman issued orders directing Aitchison College to waive the fees, for up to three years, of any students seeking an extended leave of absence from the institution. The apparent primary beneficiary of this new policy was Economic Affairs and Establishment Minister Ahad Cheema, whose wife had earlier sought a fee exemption for their sons after shifting to Islamabad. There is no justifying this move to benefit a federal minister; any layman knows that such “concessions” have no precedent, as an enrolled student—whether or not they attend classes—must pay their fees if they wish to remain on the rolls. Consequently, slamming “undue interference,” Principal Michael A. Thomson tendered his resignation.

“I did not intend to leave Aitcheson College but now I have no other choice,” reads Thomson’s resignation letter. “Throughout my time as principal, I have done my very best to protect the school’s reputation while extending compassion to those in need. However, there is a crucial difference between this pursuit and blatant policy manufacturing to accommodate certain individuals because such people simply insist on preferential treatment,” he added. The scandal grew in fervor as it was linked to the resignation of businessman and philanthropist Syed Babar Ali from Aitchison’s Board of Governors. Though Ali resigned early in February, citing “health and advanced age,” he made clear he supported Thomson and urged the government to support him and his initiatives. “I can affirm that Principal Michael Thompson has done more for the College that any other principal in the past 90 years,” he said. “He has not only been able to raise funds for three new boarding houses but has also brought a new life on the campus by increasing the boarding-house population from under 150 to 500,” he added.

As the controversy went public, the parents of Aitchisonians protested outside Governor’s House in Lahore, demanding that Thomson’s services be retained. Throughout, Cheema tried—and failed—to defend himself, maintaining the new policy applied to all, and he was merely “one” beneficiary. Meanwhile, the Punjab government backed away from the controversy, noting the governor was appointed by the federation, the minister in question was part of the federal cabinet, and the provincial authorities had no role in any of the developments. In a last ditch effort to dampen the scandal, Cheema—whose sons have already been struck from the records—announced he would not avail the new policy, but urged the governor to retain it for other “deserving” students. This is likely too little, too late; the damage has been done and the federal government’s inability to offer any reasonable explanation will likely haunt it for the rest of its tenure.

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