Chancellors of vice, universities of corruption

Dateline

Chancellors of vice, universities of corruption

Two former vice-chancellors of Anna University and The Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University have been booked on serious graft charges in the past week, exposing yet again the rampant corruption in higher education institutions in Tamil Nadu.

The action by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) came within 45 days of the agency arresting the vice-chancellor of Coimbatore-based Bharathiar University, A Ganapathi, while accepting a bribe of Rs 30 lakh for regularising the job of an assistant professor.

Already, the former vice-chancellor of Anna University-Coimbatore, R Radhakrishnan, is cooling his heels in a prison after being awarded five years in jail by a special court for accepting a bribe of Rs 40,000 from a contractor for supplying furniture to the institution in 2008. Anna University, Chennai, is the premier engineering institute in Tamil Nadu that has the likes of Google, Microsoft and IBM on its campus recruiters list.

Besides, top officials of Madurai Kamaraj University, Salem-based Periyar University and Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli also face large-scale corruption charges. Higher education institutes in Tamil Nadu have been under a thick cloud of corruption charges, with senior academics and former vice-chancellors openly accusing successive governments of "selling" the top posts to the "highest bidder" without scrutinising their qualification and competence.

A majority of the irregularities that are being probed are related to appointment of teaching staff by the vice-chancellors during their tenures. DVAC sources say they have found evidence to show that many appointments have been made after receiving huge bribes from candidates, many of whom are "undeserving."

Though experts welcome the action of the DVAC, they feel "political interference" is the root cause of corruption and want ministers who handle the education portfolio to keep away from the appointment process. The renewed vigour shown by the DVAC in dusting up the cases of corruption against vice-chancellors and those holding top positions in the universities comes close on the heels of Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, in his capacity as Chancellor, showing keen interest in the affairs of higher education institutions and even appointing a dedicated undersecretary-level officer to handle universities.

"Corruption and financial irregularities in universities have attained gigantic proportions in the past 10 to 15 years in Tamil Nadu. Corruption is rampant in every sector these days, but corruption in education sector affects the society much deeper because it affects a whole generation of people. I think Tamil Nadu is the only state that has sent vice-chancellors to jail. This situation should change," M Ananthakrishnan, former chairman of IIT-Kanpur, told DH. A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said everyone knew about widespread corruption in universities, but the muck is coming out only now. "It is refreshing that the governor is leading the efforts. It is high time that institutions are restored to their past glory," he said.

Blessed by politicians

Another former Anna University vice-chancellor and ex-UPSC member E Balagurusamy feels "unnecessary interference" by politicians is the root cause of problems in universities. "If their interference is stopped, half the problem will be solved. If a competent and deserving person gets to be the vice-chancellor, he will concentrate only on improving the quality of education. The persons who come to these top positions through politicians devote all their energy only on how to mint money," Balagurusamy said. Expressing similar views, Ananthakrishnan says corruption in higher education institutions emanates from four major areas appointment of faculty, granting licence for study centres of distance education, construction of buildings and while dealing with affiliated colleges. "If the vice-chancellor is honest, his actions will be followed top-down, but if he is corrupt, it spreads deep down."

Experts blamed both the DMK and AIADMK that have ruled Tamil Nadu alternatively since 1967 for the mess that higher education institutions find themselves in. They also found fault with the governments for establishing branches of the premier Anna University in major towns and cities of Tamil Nadu, which spawned more vice-chancellor posts, resulting in "too much corruption."

Balagurusamy said that even in a premier institution like Anna University, corruption takes place in the admission process and alleged that the single-window system has been reduced to a sham. "Vice-chancellors admit students beyond the admissible limits using their powers and it is needless to point out that all these additional seats are sold in the market like cinema tickets. These actions have the blessings of their political bosses," he charged.

While Ananthakrishnan acknowledges the efforts taken by Governor Purohit to infuse transparency and openness in appointment of vice-chancellors and ensuring their accountability, he is apprehensive whether such steps alone would help restore these institutions of great repute to their lost glory.

"It is a welcome step, but I am not sure whether it will help. It has been four to five years since former Anna University vice-chancellor Radhakrishnan was arrested and sent to jail. But nothing has changed on the ground, with many more such cases coming out in the open," he said. Experts agree that "rigorous norms" should be set for appointing search committees that recommend names for top posts.

"The governor and the Tamil Nadu government should ensure that at least one member of the search committee comes from another state. If that happens, it becomes a little difficult to influence the person. No influence should be exerted on any of the members so that they carry out their duties honestly," Ananthakrishnan said.

N Pasupathy, vice-president of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), says he is not sure whether the cases that are being pursued now will be taken to their logical conclusion. "Our happiness knows no bounds with the recent actions of the DVAC that are aimed at eradicating corruption in institutions of higher learning. But, we want the investigations to gain pace and the guilty to be punished. The DVAC should not lose the steam midstream," Pasupathy said.

It is in these circumstances that former IIT-Ropar director and metallurgist MK Surappa has been appointed vice-chancellor of Anna University, Chennai, a post that had been lying vacant since 2016.

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