Let a collegium do it

Appointment of vice chancellors

A golden shower tree in full blossom in the Karnatak University campus in Dharwad, enchanting the visitors. DH Photo/B M Kedarnath

Talking about the role of universities in the promotion of ideas and human values, Jawaharlal Nehru in a convocation address to the Allahabad University in December 1947 said: “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for adventure of ideas. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people. But, if the temple of learning itself becomes a home of narrow bigotry and petty objectives, how then will the nation prosper or people grow in stature”. Nehru’s words are highly relevant today.

Indian universities, by and large, enjoyed independence in their functioning and were led by highly knowledgeable persons known for their vision and commitment. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was the first vice chancellor of Banaras Hindu University and steered it with distinction. The University of Mysore, which was established in the pre-independence period, had towering personalities as vice chancellors like Brajendranath Seal and E P F Metcoffe before 1947 and K M Panikkar and K L Shrimali, not to forget K V Puttappa (Kuvempu) during whose time the Manasagangotri campus came into existence. Likewise, D C Pavate played a key role in the development of Karnatak University during his long stint as VC.

Those were the times when eminent scholars from across the country were invited and appointed vice chancellors to ensure that universities had visionary leaders at the helm who recruited academicians of repute from outside the state, too. It is a pity that now only ’locals’ are being appointed as VCs, often from within the same university.

Against this background, let us try and understand the phenomenon of appointment of VCs in Karnataka. Appointment of VCs is guided by the Karnataka State Universities Act. The 1976 Act, which had conferred on the universities a certain amount of functional autonomy, was replaced by the KSU Act 2000, which heralded the beginnings of greater control over the universities in the state.

As per the Act, the power to appoint VCs was conferred on the state government and the governor as the chancellor of universities on the recommendation of a search committee consisting of a representative each of the government and the chancellor, one member nominated by the university concerned and one nominee of the UGC.

The search committee scrutinises the applications and recommends a shortlist of three names keeping in mind, among other things, considerations of social justice. The chancellor appointments the vice chancellor in consultation with the state government. This practice has gone on since 2000.

The system, however, is devoid of transparency as the committees have over the years recommended names which were allegedly suggested by the powers that be in the first place. A lot has been written and spoken about how VC aspirants lobby for their names to be shortlisted on grounds of caste/community. Reportedly, other extraneous considerations, too, play a significant role.

The previous Congress government passed a Bill bringing about an amendment to the KSU Act, 2000. As regards the appointment of VCs, the Bill, which is yet to be approved by the governor, seeks to tighten the grip of the state government on the process by making provision for two government nominees in the search committee, with one of them being its chairperson. The intent is to dilute the role of the chancellor in the appointment of VCs.

The manner in which search committees have been constituted leaves much to be desired. The government has in recent years resorted to the practice of appointing serving VCs as members/chairpersons of the search committees, which is a violation of the established convention.

In the interests of maintaining impartiality and restoring public confidence in the appointment of VCs, it is better if the role of the government and the chancellor is taken away and appointments are made by a collegium created for this purpose. Such a collegium should consist of five members, one of whom should be a senior retired vice chancellor of proven integrity and impartiality and who would serve as the chairperson.

The other members should consist of a nominee of the university duly forwarded by its Syndicate, one retired civil servant with experience of handling university matters, one representing the UGC and a retired judge of the state high court. The collegium’s decision should be unanimous. Alternatively, if the government cannot establish a collegium, it should bring in a retired high court judge as a member of the search committee and make him/her its chairperson to suggest a panel of three names in order of merit to the governor who, as chancellor of the universities, should appoint the senior-most person in the panel as VC.

The recommendations of the committee should be unanimous. More importantly, the process of selection of names by the search committee should be done in an objective manner, by giving weightage of 20 marks each to experience/seniority of the candidate, contribution to teaching and research, administrative experience, capacity for resource mobilisation from UGC and other funding agencies and, finally, for performance in the interview/interaction of the candidate with the search committee. Ranking of candidates could be done in the order of marks obtained by the candidates. Such a method would ensure transparency and objectivity.

Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, who recently spoke of the need to ensure quality in the appointment of vice chancellors, should bite the bullet by withdrawing the KSU amendment Bill from the governor and coming up with a fresh bill that would accommodate the suggestions above. As a new year begins, let’s hope Kumaraswamy will herald a new beginning in 2019 in the appointment of vice chancellors.

(The writer is a former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University, and Senior Fellow, ICSSR)

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