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Let universities choose their vice-chancellor

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The Asian Age | | Faizan Mustafa |

“We need good leaders to lead the universities and it really doesn’t matter from which field… If Oxford University can appoint John Hood, a businessman, as its vice-chancellor, why should Indian universities restrict their choice to only academicians?”

Under the new regulations of the University Grants Commission, even Albert Einstein cannot become a vice-chancellor of an Indian university. These days, vice-chancellors — the heads of the universities and the most visible symbol of the university system — are appointed not because they are distinguished academicians and reputed scholars, but because of their political connections in the ministry of human resources and development or appropriate political or caste affiliation. Also, in many cases, they are alleged to have paid huge amounts of money. In some states, rates vary from Rs 20-50 lakh.

Not surprisingly, expediency rather than merit decides the choice. Even associate professors and, in some cases, even assistant professors who have worked in private colleges and not universities, have been appointed vice-chancellors. Accordingly number of appointments in the recent past have been quashed by the judiciary due to the appointment of ineligible candidates, absence of consultation by the governor with the state government, defect in the composition of search committee etc. The latest move by the government of Telangana to follow the procedure of Central universities in the appointment of vice-chancellors gives us an opportunity to revisit the issue. While the decision to appoint experts as chancellors in place of governor is appreciable, “out of box” thinking is required while appointing vice-chancellors.

Who should be appointed as vice-chancellor? What should the process of appointment be? Should the government have any say in the appointment of vice-chancellors? Is there a need to have a re-look at the UGC regulations are some of the pertinent questions that must be publicly debated in Telangana. The qualifications for a vice-chancellor were laid down for the first time by the UGC in 2010. As per UGC Regulations of September 18, 2010, a vice-chancellor should be a distinguished academician with 10 years’ of experience as professor. He should be a man of impeccable integrity and morals. There has been a near unanimity that a vice-chancellor should be an academician. No bureaucrat, judge, diplomat or an Army officer should be appointed vice-chancellor. But India has seen some prominent civil servants and judges leading their universities from the front. P.N. Thapar, a civil servant, was first and most successful vice-chancellor of the Punjab Agriculture University. G. Parthasarathi, a diplomat, was a successful vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. So was K.R. Narayanan, who went on to become the President of India. Current vice-president Hamid Ansari, too, was a hugely successful vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Similarly, Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar was appointed as vice-chancellor of Bombay University after retirement as Chief Justice of India. Justice F.D. Oldfield was the vice-chancellor of Madras University.

We should get good leaders to lead the universities and it really does not matter from which field they come. A vice-chancellor is considered the “principal academic and executive officer of the university”. Thus, it is not necessary to confine the post of vice-chancellor to only professors. We need to look at the leadership qualities of the person under consideration. His/her ability to streamline university administration and raise funds should be primary considerations. If Oxford University can appoint John Hood, a businessman, why should Indian universities restrict their choice only to academicians? Unfortunately, governments continue to play crucial role in the appointment of vice-chancellor while the autonomy of a university is given scant regard. There are different levels of governmental role i.e. Central universities’ vice-chancellors are appointed by the President of India, who is ex-officio visitor of all Central universities and he generally acts on the advice of the human resources and development minister.

In state universities, appointments are made by the governor, either on his own or in consultation with the state government. In the West, universities have been given freedom to choose their vice-chancellors. Each university has its distinctive identity and peculiar problems. Therefore, ideally, universities should be free to elect their own vice-chancellors, who, in the opinion of the university, are best suited to lead them at a particular point of time. Lately, it has been observed that as a result of the new UGC regulations, most appointments are made through search committees after proper advertisement in the newspapers. While an advertisement looks like a step forward towards bringing transparency, it also attracts humongous response since hundreds of applications are received from all and sundry, making the task of search committee very difficult. More than 300 applications were received recently for the vice-chancellorship of the Central University of Hyderabad and more than 120 for Maulana Azad National Urdu University.

Moreover, many a times, politics is at play in nomination/election to search committees. The position of vice-chancellor is too high and thus should always be offered to someone after inviting nominations from fellow vice-chancellors and other eminent people. People who lobby for it or enthusiastically apply on their own or pursue their candidature should never be appointed. Most vice-chancellors in India are academicians. Yet, not a single university finds a place in top 100 universities of the world. This shows that our so-called distinguished professors are unable to improve the academic environment of our universities. We need to expand our net and make distinguished people of all fields eligible to become vice-chancellors. Let universities themselves choose a vice-chancellor who should be the true conductor of orchestra and not a tank commander. Let Telangana become the first state in the country to take this revolutionary step. – The writer is vice-chancellor, Nalsar University of Law. Courtesy


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