A government that had vowed to keep politics out of higher education on Thursday passed a bill to create a slot for a political nominee in the panel that selects vice-chancellors of state universities.
The government will name someone of its choice at the expense of a member representing the University Grants Commission. The other members of the search panel will be a nominee each of the chancellor and the university.
“The state government should have a say in the selection of vice-chancellors. We have brought an amendment to the act to include the government’s nominee in the search committee for vice-chancellors,” higher education minister Bratya Basu said, passing the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012.
The bill is not applicable to Presidency, which enjoys “special status”.
At Visva-Bharati, a central university, the search panel comprises two representatives of the university — one each named by the executive council and court — and another selected by the Union human resource ministry.
The new bill could ensure the government never has to compromise on its choice. “The university’s representative is sure to be someone who would do the government’s bidding. The addition of a political nominee means the government’s choice would prevail even if the chancellor’s representative were to take an independent decision,” a source said.
Academicians scoffed at Basu’s argument that the government should have a say in the appointment of vice-chancellors to the 13 state universities, saying it was contradictory to its promise that any such selection process would be free of political interference.
“The state government has apparently changed its mind about keeping politics out of higher education. Its intentions are clear from the amendment to the act,” a professor of Jadavpur University said.
The system of appointing vice-chancellors to state-aided institutions like Calcutta University and Jadavpur University through search committees comprising academicians was originally part of Trinamul’s strategy to depoliticise higher education. The government amended the relevant university acts to bring about this reform, only to take a step backward through Thursday’s bill.
Under Left 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.
After the amendment of the university acts, the chancellor’s word became final in picking the most suitable person from the shortlist prepared by the search panel.
“It is obvious that the university courts or the senate of CU would prefer supporting a pro-government candidate to make the government happy. How is it possible to maintain fairness in the selection process if no one in the panel enjoys the freedom to give an independent opinion?” demanded Prabodh Sinha of the CPM, contesting the bill.
Different search committees have picked three vice-chancellors — of Calcutta University, JU and Rabindra Bharati — since Mamata Banerjee became chief minister.
The search panel for Calcutta University had comprised sociologist Andre Beteille, scientist Anil Kakodkar and historian Mushirul Hasan.
The JU committee had Gobardhan Mehta, a former director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore; M. Anandakrishnan, a former VC of Madras University; and Srikumar Banerjee, a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.
In the Rabindra Bharati search panel were author-academician U.R. Ananthamurthy, historian Tapan Raychaudhuri and the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Najeeb Jung. The trio had named acting VC Chinmoy Guha as its first choice but it was Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, a political science professor at Rabindra Bharati, who got the chancellor’s nod.