A state government notification has been crafted in a way that it ends up perpetuating what it is supposed to stamp out — political interference in the appointment of university deans.
The gazette notification issued last week states that search committees would be formed to shortlist candidates for the key academic posts in state universities, a welcome break from the Left tradition of promoting sycophancy.
But in what comes as a sting in the tail, the notice requires the lists to be vetted by the higher education department before being sent to the vice-chancellor concerned for final selection.
Earlier, teachers of each faculty used to elect one of them as dean. A common grouse against the system was that the ruling party would ensure that teachers close to it got elected.
According to the notification, the search panels, to be packed with members close to the government, will have 15 days to draw a list of two names in order of preference and write “reasoned record of assessment” of each. If the higher education department is satisfied with the panels’ choice after reading the “records”, it will forward the list to the vice-chancellor within seven days.
“A search committee loses its independence the moment it is asked to describe reasons for its choice. The panels that had shortlisted candidates for the post of vice-chancellor at Calcutta, Jadavpur and Rabindra Bharati universities did not have to do so,” said a senior academician.
“What happens if the government is unhappy with the panel’s choice? The notification is silent on this but in all probability the higher education department will force the committee members to induct names of its choice.”
The Mamata Banerjee government, in an attempt to curb political influence on key academic appointments, had got the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill 2012 passed in the Assembly in the pre-Puja session.
The law — the bill has since received the governor’s consent — includes provisions for appointment of vice-chancellors and deans through search committees but has packed the committees with members who will toe the government line.
The search panel for deans will comprise a chancellor’s nominee (the vice-chancellor of a state-aided university other than the university concerned), a government nominee (a prominent academician not involved with the university concerned) and a nominee of the vice-chancellor of the university concerned (professor of any other state varsity).
“A search committee loaded with persons attached to state universities is bound to follow the government’s line, given the way the government has been dictating terms in the state universities. It’s an irony that the government can’t trust its own search committees,” said a teacher at Calcutta University.
Transparency in the vice-chancellor appointment, too, has been compromised with the law replacing the UGC’s nominee in the search panel with the government’s representative.
“The state should have a say in the selection of vice-chancellors,” higher education minister Bratya Basu had said after tabling the bill.
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