The memory still lingers in the mind of AKM Masud of the first time he entered Ahsanullah Hall of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) as a residential student.
Coming from Cumilla, he had no idea of what the culture of a prominent university of the country at the centre of the capital could be in the political turmoil of the late eighties.
But on an ordinary day in 1987, all his uncertainties became resolved when some seniors welcomed him at the gate of the hall and gave him two books as a gift.
The incident changed the course of his life permanently. He found a cultural practice mingled with love, knowledge and morality on the Buet campus.
"It was a very exciting moment for me. The seniors changed my attitude in a way that I could never imagine. From the very first day of my hall life, I learned to respect my seniors and teachers. I also learnt how love dominates people's minds," said AKM Masud who is now the president of the Buet Teachers' Association and a professor in the Industrial and Production Engineering Department.
Professor Masud said the Buet campus was like a big family in those days. "The seniors and teachers always helped us. No one ordered us to do anything immoral. I considered the people on campus to be my family. I have never come across such a loving atmosphere anywhere else," he said.
Such was the culture of Buet since its establishment in 1962.
Student politics was very fresh, the distribution of seats was just, and teachers were not involved in any politics. Overall, there was a friendly and academic environment. As a result, it gained a reputation across the sub-continent.
Professor Ainun Nishat, a water resource and climate change specialist, joined the university as a student in 1969. He became a teacher of the institution later. He said he never faced any misconduct from seniors, student leaders and teachers.
"There were some political conflicts on campus before the liberation war, but no general student was affected by the conflicts," he said.
"We had a rich culture. It was our pride. But from 2012 it started to deteriorate. Chhatra League leaders occupied the seats of every hall and started dominating the place," Professor Ainun Nishat added.
The overall atmosphere started changing after 2000 when student politics became violent and teachers started to maintain political connections.
Sabequn Nahar Sony, a student of the university, was caught in crossfire between two factions of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) on June 8 in 2002.
Arif Rayhan Dweep, a third-year student of Mechanical Engineering, was killed by a militant group on campus on July 2, 2013.
Abrar Fahad, a second-year student, is the latest victim of the deteriorating political culture at Buet. Abrar was killed by leaders of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) at Sher-E Bangla Hall on October 6 this year.
Several torture cells have been found in different halls where many general students were tortured by BCL leaders.
But the provosts and incumbent administration did not take any action against the BCL men.
There are allegations that some teachers maintain the politics of the Bangladesh Awami League and shelter Chhatra League leaders and activists.
The BCL leaders also established a safe haven for the selling of drugs on campus.
The Buet Ordinance 1962 prohibits student and teacher politics related to political parties on campus. Only halls and the central student's union can hold activities on campus.
The first time Buet imposed a ban on student politics on the campus was in 2002, following the murder of Sabequn Nahar Sony, a second-year student of chemical engineering.
Sony was killed during a factional clash of Chhatra Dal, the student wing of the BNP.
The ban stayed in place till 2009.
After that, politics made a comeback. This time it was fostered by the university administration.
At the same time, the role of the Buet Central Students' Union has declined.
The last elections of the Buet Central Students' Union and Hall Union were held in 2001. In the last 57 years, Buet has only held 21 elections.
Buet VC Professor Saiful Islam told The Business Standard that the administration is always ready to hold student union elections.
Munir Uddin Ahmed, a former general secretary of the Buet Central Students Union during the seventies, told The Business Standard about the political culture of his time.
He said student union leaders were always trying to serve the students in order to get their support in the election.
"There were clashes between student organisations on most campuses in this war-torn country after independence, but there were no clashes on the Buet campus. It was a land of peace. Our culture did not support it. We never thought about hitting anyone on the Buet campus. It was our place of pride," he said.
Munir Uddin Ahmed said that the teachers played a key role in maintaining the culture of peace.
"When I was the general secretary of the Buet Central Students Union, my teacher made me stand on a table for half an hour for a mistake. Can you imagine that happening now?" he said.
The managing director of BBS Cables, Engineer Abu Noman Howlader, a former vice-president of Suhrawardy Hall Students Union, said, "Buet had an excellent culture which helped in turning students into qualified and good engineers. But the image of the university has been tarnished in recent days."
Students organisations dominated Buet
Chhatra Union dominated the Buet campus from 1962 to 1971, Bangladesh Chhatra League (Jasod) dominated it from 1972 to 1980, Bangladesh Chhatra League (Jasod), Chhatra Union and Bangladesh Chhatra League from 1981-1990, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal from 1991-1996, Bangladesh Chhatra League from 1996-2001, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal from 2001-2006, Bangladesh Chhatra League from 2009-2019.
"Strict rules needed"
A former VC of Buet, Professor Abdul Matin Patwari, told The Business Standard that there was an unpleasant situation during his tenure (1983-87), but he tackled it by strictly implemented the rules and regulation of the university.
"It was not easy to run the university during the Ershad period. But all teachers were in consensus about not permitting any evil practices on campus," he said.
"Buet had a good reputation, and every VC tried to maintain it. But the incumbent administration was defeated by the student organisations. Interestingly the present VC does not live on campus. That is very unusual," he added.