kamal ahmad

How I Turned My Life Upside Down to Move to Bangladesh and Became Embroiled in an International Fiasco

Update 3/1/13: A former colleague who still teaches at the Asian University for Women reports that the new Vice Chancellor “has put AUW back on the path” that it was on when I enthusiastically joined the faculty. This is wonderful news. Kamal Ahmad is no longer involved in the daily running of the school, and Ashok Keshari is no longer employed by the university. These factors, along with the Vice Chancellor’s very secure position of leadership, lead me to believe that AUW is now able to fulfill its promise of becoming a leading liberal arts university for women in Asia. I have the highest hopes for the future of its students and faculty.

It was definitely an adventure.

This is what I tell people when I don’t have the inner resources necessary to describe what really happened in Bangladesh. Or when I don’t have the time.

Sometimes, I elaborate slightly on the experience of leaving everything behind to teach writing seminars at a small college called The Asian University for Women, with plans to stay at least two years, maybe more, working with some of the brightest students (from 12 different countries) whom I have ever encountered — only to be so emotionally ravaged by the (in my mind, illegitimate) administration of Kamal Ahmad and Ashok Keshari that I left after only one semester (though it felt like much longer), unable to cope with the stress-induced hair loss and the nightly crying jags, knowing that every minute I spent in the classroom was vitally worthwhile but also knowing I would crack if I stayed any longer. I might elaborate like this:

A week after I arrived in Bangladesh, before I’d even recovered from jetlag, my boss, the provost, an academic of international repute who made the school the great place it was, was terminated and barred from re-entering the country. New faculty orientation was cancelled because her replacement, Ashok Keshari, could not be bothered to return to campus early. Two weeks later, the founder, Kamal Ahmad, who had carried out the coup against her, offered me a 20% raise and promotion to a position above the eminently worthy faculty member who interviewed and recruited me (including an incredible Bengali cooking lesson) and became a fast friend, and who was not offered the promotion even though she already was responsible for half of the job description. Clearly, the offer to me was based not on merit, but on Kamal Ahmad’s suspicion that he could manipulate me because I was new and unversed, and, possibly, that he could set me up to take the fall for something. So I declined, against the urging of colleagues who thought I could stand up to Kamal Ahmad from that position. At around the same time, I along with several other faculty members had to take it upon ourselves to organize class registration because every administrator with enough institutional knowledge to do so had resigned in protest.

But no matter how much I elaborate, never have I really felt able to convey what is happening at the Asian University for Women under Kamal Ahmad and Ashok Keshari.

For there is a violence within words, one that can only be felt and absorbed, that narratives can’t expose. One that facts and documents carefully skirt.

Yet I will keep trying, probably forever. With that in mind, I provide below two emails. Before you laugh at the awkward phrasing of the first, remember that Ashok Keshari is in a position of real authority over approximately five hundred young women. What might seem silly in its idiomatic bizarreness seems less so when you consider that Ashok Keshari’s decisions have actual consequences for actual, wonderful people.


Random / 8 Comments
February 13th, 2012 / 5:50 pm