The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wise men & autonomy beast
Great Presidency panel sham: only two members had academic experience

autonomy: n –es (Gk autonomia, fr. autonomos + -ia –y) 1: the quality or state of being independent, free and self-directing…. 4 biol: independence from the organism as a whole in the capacity of a part for growth…. — Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

autonomy: n (Bengal model) 1: the quality or state of being dependent, shackled and dictated to; 2 edu: no independence from mother university (or state government) for a centre of excellence to chart its growth — Bengal government’s interpretation of the seven-member expert committee’s report

The experts committee that denied Presidency College real autonomy had just two members with long enough experience in academia.

Many Calcutta University teachers and administrators, past and present, have cited this to suggest that the seven-member panel, taken as a whole, lacked the competence to decide the matter.

These critics, some of them associated with the management of Presidency, say that although all the seven experts are renowned in their own fields, only Bhabatosh Dutta and P.N. Ghosh had administered a university or taught in one for any length of time.

The committee has recommended that Presidency be given more control over its money and the management of PG courses but denied the right to decide syllabuses or recruit teachers.

“The seven experts are all eminent in their own fields, but do all of them have the experience or the competence to decide the future of Presidency College'” asked Shyamapada Pal, a member of the CU syndicate and the state higher education council.

The critics have also questioned the panel’s reasoning.

The committee report cites two principal grounds for the decision. One, it says, “retaining the age-old tie between the college and Calcutta University would be beneficial for both the institutions. After all, the college flourished and attained its glory under the umbrella of the university…. Together, they have made the brand name.”

Two, “a student of Presidency College coming out at the top of the examinations conducted by Calcutta University finds ready recognition. This may not (hold) true if the degree is awarded by Presidency College”.

“I think it’s the other way round. It’s Presidency that has brought CU the brand name,” said Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency.

“Presidency will not be able to excel without absolute autonomy. The expert committee does not know what it’s talking about. I found the recommendations strange and disappointing.”

The president of Presidency’s governing body, former Union education minister Pratap Chandra Chandra, echoed him. “I am not denying the role of CU in shaping Presidency, but the college cannot become a centre of excellence without autonomy,” he said.

“The expert committee should have interacted with people connected with the college, but they hardly seem to have done so. No one got in touch with me.”

Many are puzzled by the committee’s decision to frame its own definition of autonomy. “The UGC has laid down the criteria for autonomy. The committee should have spelt out why it felt the need for a new concept,” said Dhrubojyoti Chattopadhyay, dean (science) of Calcutta University and a member of Presidency’s governing body.

Some critics point to the panel members’ age. A younger set would have been “more in touch with what is happening elsewhere in the world”, a teacher at Presidency argued. “Why would anyone choose such a committee'”

“There’s certainly no politics involved; we haven’t been influenced by any political considerations,” said Barun De, a panel member.

Subimal Sen, the panel’s member secretary, added: “Our only concern was to ensure the betterment of the college. Nowhere does our report say that our recommendations are final. There is enough scope for improvement.”

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