The chief minister of West Bengal moves in mysterious ways. In the first half of 2007, the government of West Bengal, at the behest of the chief minister, appointed a committee of experts to look into the question of granting autonomy to Presidency College. The experts recommended that the college should not be granted autonomy, and should remain under the aegis of the Calcutta University. Now the chief minister has welcomed a proposal put forward by the governing body of Presidency College to make it a university and steps are being initiated to implement this proposal. The logical question is: what has happened in the last two-and-a-half years for this dramatic reversal of views? There is no answer forthcoming from the government. Within the college very little has changed between 2007 and now. Thus the shift in the governments position remains something of a mystery. Unless the chief minister wants to see the granting of university status to Presidency College as his departing gift to his alma mater.
The matter of making Presidency College into a university has been in the air since 1972. The argument then was that the college was a centre for academic excellence and had been so for some time. Its dependence on Calcutta University had become a hindrance to the pursuit of excellence for a number of reasons and therefore it should be freed from this shackle and made into an autonomous institution, if not a university. From 1972, this proposal has had no takers and the situation in the college, thanks to the policies of the Left Front government, has gone from bad to worse. The Left Front government has destroyed Presidency College as a centre for academic excellence. The present proposal, welcomed by the chief minister, is an attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. In principle, the proposal to make the college a university is welcome. But in practical terms, if the college is to retrieve its position as a centre for excellence, it has to be rebuilt de nuovo, especially in the spheres of recruitment of faculty and mode of teaching. The faculty should be selected by independent experts and should be qualified to teach honours and MA classes; classroom lectures should be backed by a tutorial system as it once was in Presidency College. The mere granting of university status will do nothing to restore the lost reputation of Presidency College.