What’s Making Brac University 2.0?
Vice-Chancellor and President, Brac University
Class 2020 Orientation
January 17, 2020
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was an extraordinary human being and a giant of humanity. We are grateful for his life. We are thankful that he founded this university. And we are fortunate to be part of his legacy.
Good morning. Welcome to Sir Fazle Abed’s university – Brac University 2.0.
In a late summer day last year in 2019, Sir Abed told me, “This is the first time I feel Brac University is moving towards the right direction.” “Yes, it is,” I replied, “and I consider it Brac University 2.0.”
So, this year, 2020, marks the beginning of the first full year of Brac University 2.0.
But then what is Brac University 2.0? What’s making it? Simply put, BU 2.0 is an aspiration and a commitment.
BU 2.0 is an aspiration.
An aspiration that this university will ultimately become a “Proud, International Institution from Bangladesh.” Note it is “from” Bangladesh, not “for” Bangladesh, not “by” Bangladesh, and not “of” Bangladesh, though they may be all true too. And in the short run during my tenure as the vice-chancellor, we aim to become “Bangladesh’s International University.”
You may ask why bother. We have been #1 (or #2) private university in Bangladesh already.
Although Brac University is top-ranked and well-known in Bangladesh, we are unknown internationally. Times Higher Education ranked 1,400 global universities last year and we were not one of them. We were not even qualified for its global ranking, not yet. So, we are literally off the map of global higher education. It is a fact that the entire Bangladesh’s higher education is lagging behind the international standards. Such a reality shall not continue. And I intend to change it, starting from Brac University.
I intend to get BU noticed, to get on the map of international higher education. We, all of you and I, shall work together. Let’s put Brac University on the map of international higher education in the next fewest possible years.
BU 2.0 is also a commitment.
A commitment that Brac University will become “Bangladesh’s Student-Centric University.” We all know that there is no such notion as “student experience” in current Bangladesh’s higher education or in your parents’ generation. BU 2.0 will be the first to be committed to fostering rewarding student experiences.
Let me give you a quick inventory:
- We have established a dedicated student life capability. This is the first in Bangladesh.
- We have offered affordable student transport services. Such services are never about money. They are all about student experiences.
- We are overhauling our General Education liberal arts curriculum, which benchmarks against Harvard’s and Yale’s.
- We will be moving to the new campus in Merul Badda as early as summer next year in 2021.
- And we are exploring an even newer campus, which is 10 times as big as our new campus.
And the list goes on.
BU 2.0 is committed to rewarding student experiences
What Student Experience?
We all know a university is a place for pursuing academic achievements. Academic achievements are important. Since I came to Brac University nearly a year ago, I have given many speeches both on and off campus. I asked my assistant that how many times I have talked about the importance of CGPA or grades. She told me, “Zero.” Not even once.
The fact that I have never talked about the importance of CGPA is not because it is not important, but because everyone has known that it is important. So, I prefer to talk about something which may be equally important, or even more important.
What’s that something that may be more important? A university can be the best place to find one’s position – position in life, in the society and in the world. And Brac University 2.0 will help you in such a finding and discovering journey.
Be True to Yourself
First, finding your position in life – be true to yourself.
I want you learn to be true to yourself, finding your interest, your calling, and something that makes your heart tick. This is important, particularly in this ever-changing economy. I can assure you that every one of you in Class 2020 will very likely change your jobs multiple times in your life time. Coding and accounting can be learned even after you graduate. But finding your interest can be a gradual, winding journey. But once you know your interest, it will help you navigate your career forward in this fast-changing, unpredictable economy.
I once met a Shakespeare scholar. I asked him how Shakespeare made it to the core of humanity since he left school at 14 and never traveled except to London. The scholar taught me something. Shakespeare always wrote and spoke to himself first before he did to others. And he was honest to his soul and heart. He was true to humanity.
This is what I have learned: Shakespeare is humanity and so are you. If you are true to yourself, perhaps you too can be a Shakespeare.
When I talk about “be true to yourself,” you may be thinking that “I want to be passionate about what I do,” “I want to become a leader,” or “I want to be successful.” Yes, they are all part of “be true to yourself.”
But in BU 2.0, I want you to be TRUE “true to yourself.”
I want you to learn to be disciplined. Because passion without discipline simply cannot sustain.
Also, I want you to learn to be a follower. Because in order to be a good leader, you must be a good follower first, abiding by rules and promises and ethics and integrity. The fact that today you have become a university student does not make you a leader. Leadership is earned, not given. Leadership begins with followership.
Lastly, I want you to experience failures and frustration and learn to embrace them. Without failures, you can never have true success.
So, if you are true to yourself, then being disciplined will only enhance your passion. If you are true to yourself, then you shall earn your leadership through followership and fellowship. And if you are true to yourself, then failure shall not be final. True successes can be obtained only through failures.
I have talked about some of these in my last year’s convocation speech. I shall elaborate further and in more details in the future town hall meetings.
Be Kind to People
Second, finding your position in the society – be kind to people.
Why? Because life is unfair.
Most of you are from relatively well-off families. You may or may not be aware that some people at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum are struggling in their lives daily. They are struggling, not because they are lazy or not smart. They are struggling perhaps because they are lacking of opportunity or they are unfortunate.
Some people may be lacking of opportunities. They were born struggling because they “chose” the wrong parents. They were born with very few opportunities.
Some people may get unlucky (or lucky). Something bad (or good) may unexpectedly happen. In economics, we call it “systematic risk”, which is something out of our control. Philosophically, this is perhaps what “Inshallah” means.
This is life. It’s never fair.
So, in BU 2.0 we have made the BRAC NGO immersion program mandatory. Every one of you, before you graduate, must spend two weeks working in a BRAC facility so you can understand the other end of spectrum. This can be a life-transformational experience.
Be Curious About the World
Third, finding your position in the world – be curious about the world.
Why? Because the world is big and our life is short.
Our life is short. Carl Sagan said that human beings are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it’s forever. He was so right. Compared with the universe’s, our life begins and ends in a day.
The world is big. If I could command The Voyager that carries the Golden Record and is currently traveling away from our Solar System to look back at the Earth and take a picture of the Earth, I am almost sure that the Earth would be invisible in the picture. This is how small we are – invisible just from the edge of our own solar system. This shall give us a different perspective about life.
Some of you may know that I have studied quite a few different subjects and have received several advanced degrees. Some have asked me, “Prof. Chang, you seem to have known everything.” “No, that’s not true. Because the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.”
If you have worked with me, you will find that at my age, I am still getting more and more curious about the world every day.
BU 2.0 Experience
Ultimately, I hope BU 2.0 student experience will help you learn to be true, be kind and be curious. I also hope that four years later upon your graduation, you may find yourself truer to yourself than you are today, kinder to people than you are today, and more curious about the world than you are today.
I often give an example for my aspiration about what kind of student experience I’d like our students to have. I then tell a short story. In the battle of Waterloo, the British army defeated Napoleon’s. After the battle, Duke of Wellington, the commander of the British army said that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields at Eton. Eton was the school Duke of Wellington attended. He attributed his victory at Waterloo to his learning at Eton.
From now, 20 or 30 years later, when you reflect on your life’s journey, you may or may not attribute your achievements then to the four years of BU 2.0 experience. I hope you will. At least that’s what I’d like BU 2.0 experience to be.
This morning I woke up at 3 am because of jetlag. I then read some of Mary Oliver’s poems. Before I end my speech today, I’d like to quote a few lines from one of her poems.
“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
Let me paraphrase Mary Oliver’s lines and ask you:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With the precious four years ahead in your life?”
Welcome to Brac University 2.0.