Pakistani university discontinues Pervez Hoodbhoy's contract
The activist physicist regularly challenges what he sees as harmful orthodoxy.
November 1, 2012Published: November 1, 2012
By Steven T. Corneliussen
In Pakistan, Lahore University of Management Sciences is ending the faculty contract of Pervez Hoodbhoy, the polymath physicist and public intellectual known worldwide for promoting the civic necessity of scientific rationality. Pakistan's Express Tribune, affiliated with the International Herald Tribune, reports that Hoodbhoy "alleges ideological differences" as the cause, "something which the university denies."
Hoodbhoy formerly headed the physics department at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. He earned the American Physical Society's 2010 Joseph A. Burton Forum Award, which honors "outstanding contributions to the public understanding or resolution of issues involving the interface of physics and society." An APS summary describes his scientific career and some of his public efforts concerning nuclear weapons, education, science awareness, and the topic of science and religion.
Hoodbhoy is completing his fourth semester at Lahore. Besides standard physics courses, he offered "Science and Contemporary World Affairs." He has described that course's "three principal aims: to bridge the divide between science and non-science students by introducing major concepts in science using simple language; to create an understanding about issues simultaneously involving science, society, and politics; and to create an appreciation of the fundamental role of science in defining a modern universal culture."
Public discussion has focused recurringly on what Hoodbhoy, in a public letter, called the university's "ever shifting set of reasons" for the contract discontinuation. A skeptical Express Tribune blog posting asserted that the "premise that Professor Hoodbhoy was somehow going to become Galileo on account of his ground-breaking 'Science and Religion' course is frankly quite ludicrous."
Other voices, however, portray things differently. A commentary in a blog created four years ago "in support of a progressive, inclusive and democratic Pakistan" calls the university "dominated by Punjabi-Muhajir Islamists" serving "the wider interests of Pakistan's ruling classes, particularly those of [the] military establishment." The posting declares that Hoodbhoy's "bold opposition to right-wing and pseudo-liberal toadies of [the] Pakistani establishment, the visible and closet Taliban, have earned him the wrath of apologists of the Taliban."
Another observer says Hoodbhoy "has over the past 40 years countered the false notions of the orthodoxy.... Incredibly, he almost relishes the noise and the thrill of knocking out irrational ideas on talk shows fronted by mostly inane anchor-persons."
And a commentary in Pakistan's Friday Times observes that Hoodbhoy "has taken on the military and nuclear establishments on the one hand and debunks religious obscurantism on the other, while putting his personal interests and life in danger." It asserts that the "reason behind the public outcry at what is being called a procedural matter is that Pervez Hoodbhoy is known for his outstanding service to promote rational thought, enlightenment and peace and has been an unremitting fighter."
Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.