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Panel peeve on VC choice

A distinguished author and academician chosen to lead an independent search for Rabindra Bharati University’s new vice-chancellor has felt “humiliated” at the panel’s first choice being overlooked after it was specifically asked to give names in order of preference.

U.R. Ananthamurthy said on Wednesday that he was “pained” and “embarrassed” to learn that the last name in the list of three submitted to governor and chancellor M.K. Narayanan had been appointed vice-chancellor.

The panel’s first choice was acting vice-chancellor Chinmoy Guha but Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati, got the chancellor’s nod.

The chancellor is within his rights to pick the person he thinks is the most suitable candidate in the shortlist, but Ananthamurthy’s argument is that the panel shouldn’t have been asked to state its order of preference in that case.

“I don’t know any of the three candidates in the shortlist personally. The panel had been asked to submit three names in order of preference, so I worked hard to ensure the utmost fairness. I feel humiliated at the way my choice has been rejected,” the Jnanpith Award winner told Metro.

Ananthamurthy’s colleagues in the panel were historian Tapan Raychaudhuri and the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Najeeb Jung. The higher education department had formed the search team in June.

There were 10 applicants for the post and the process of narrowing down the search to three was an “exhaustive” one, Ananthamurthy said.

The system of appointing vice-chancellors of state-aided universities like Rabindra Bharati through search committees comprising eminent academicians was introduced by the Mamata Banerjee government as part of its stated objective of depoliticising higher education. The government had to amend university acts to bring about this change.

Under Left Front rule, the practice established by the former CPM state secretary Anil Biswas was for the courts of the respective universities — the senate in Calcutta University’s case — to do the search panel’s job. It was common for a court to recommend only one name, invariably of a person close to Alimuddin Street.

Under the amended rules, the chancellor’s word is final. There is also no mention in the relevant act that he needs to go by who the search committee things should be chosen.

“Technically, the chancellor is not wrong,” said a Calcutta University professor. “ He can take a decision in consultation with the higher education department. But by rejecting the first choice of the search team, the purpose of introducing the new procedure of has been defeated.”

Ananthamurthy has written to the governor about his disappointment and said he would not accept any request in future to be a part of such selection procedures.

“I have no objection to him (Narayanan) taking the decision,” he clarified.

What has irked Ananthamurthy is that the chancellor’s office “has not been respectful” towards him.

The panel should have been asked to give a shortlist of names in alphabetical order instead of by preference, the writer-academician said.

“We had initially put the names in alphabetical order, a system that is practised almost everywhere. But the chancellor’s office insisted that we give names in order of preference. I would like to know what prompted them not to follow the procedure that they themselves suggested,” he demanded.

Teachers at Rabindra Bharati said the state government should clarify why the search panel had been asked to state its order of preference if it wasn’t going to go by that.