February 2013: Chancellor M.K. Narayanan ignores three names sent by the Bengal government for interim vice-chancellor of Bengal Engineering and Science University and grants an extension to the incumbent.
October 2013: Chancellor M.K. Narayanan accepts the lone name proposed by the state government for interim vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University.
The chancellor, who is also the governor of Bengal, is not the only common factor in the two selections separated by eight months. In Besu, as in JU, the government’s first choice for interim VC was Abhijit Chakrabarti.
The selection of Chakrabarti has raised eyebrows as an independent search panel that had shortlisted three names for the Jadavpur VC’s post had rejected his application. Among the three names on the list that reached the chancellor then was Souvik Bhattacharyya, who was appointed VC.
However, Chakrabarti, who did not make the cut initially, has now been asked to stand in for Bhattacharyya who has resigned. Chakrabarti, a Besu professor, was an interim VC at Jadavpur but that was before his application to be full-time VC drew a blank.
Even sections of the administration said they were surprised by the readiness with which the chancellor gave the nod to the selection of the interim VC who is considered a government loyalist. Especially since Narayanan had earlier exercised his powers and made his own choices.
“There was no pressure on me,” the governor said this evening in response to a question on Chakrabarti’s nomination.
Asked why more than one VC had quit (the Gaur Banga University VC had resigned earlier), Narayanan said: “Obviously they could not handle the pressure. There was nothing political about it. They have a job to do… and they have to handle the pressure.”
Once a vacancy arises, the chancellor needs only to “consult” the government while naming an interim VC.
The Jadavpur University Act, 1981, says in Clause 5 Subsection b: “When a vacancy occurs in the office of vice-chancellor by reason of death, resignation or expiry of the term of his office or otherwise, then, pending the appointment of the vice-chancellor, the chancellor in consultation with the minister may appoint any person to exercise the powers and perform the duties of the vice-chancellor for any period not exceeding six months.”
It does not say that the governor is bound to follow the government’s advice. “We had proposed Chakrabarti’s name as interim VC of Jadavpur. The chancellor accepted our suggestion,” education minister Bratya Basu said.
Many in academic circles wondered whether it was proper on the part of the chancellor to appoint someone whose application for a full-time vice-chancellor’s job had been rejected earlier.
Besides, earlier this year, the chancellor had not found the same Chakrabarti fit to be Besu’s interim VC.
Narayanan, who has more than once articulated views that were not in consonance with those of the government on affairs of state, had taken his own decisions on varsity appointments, too.
At Presidency University, Narayanan had foiled an attempt by then state higher education council chairman Sugata Marjit to oust vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar barely seven days before the university’s first convocation.
After he intervened, the government granted Sarkar an extension but added the clause: six months or till the appointment of a successor, “whichever is earlier”. Narayanan clarified publicly that Sarkar would continue till February 2014.
However, on the interim arrangement in Jadavpur, the governor has accepted the first name proposed by the government, which is in variance with convention.
In central universities, the convention is to give an extension to the incumbent vice-chancellor until the appointment of a full-time successor.
If that is not possible, former Union higher education secretary R.P. Agrawal said, the ministry appoints the senior-most pro-vice chancellor or the senior-most dean or senior-most director or senior-most teacher, as the case may be. The seniority is calculated by the years spent in the university.
Chakrabarti is neither. His most recent association with Jadavpur was limited to being the government’s nominee to the executive council.
When Indira Gandhi National Open University vice-chancellor Rajashekharan Pillai retired recently, senior-most director M. Aslam, not any government nominee, became the acting vice-chancellor.
That is the convention even Narayanan had followed at Besu when he rejected three names chosen by the Bengal government and asked the higher education department to extend incumbent Ajoy Kumar Ray’s tenure by six months.
Besu did not have a pro (deputy) vice-chancellor. In universities like Calcutta and Jadavpur, which have pro vice-chancellors, veteran academic administrators said the acceptable solution would be to give them charge in the absence of the vice-chancellor.
The Left had perfected the art of establishing party control on institutes of higher education. Many heard a familiar echo when the government recommended Chakrabarti for Besu’s interim VC.
Narayanan had surprised the higher education department then by not accepting that proposal. Last evening, when many did not expect Narayanan to approve Chakrabarti’s name, he did.
Chakrabarti had been JU’s interim vice-chancellor from mid-April to July 2012. But the search panel had not found him fit to be on the shortlist of three for full-term vice-chancellor. So dismayed was the government then that it sat on Bhattacharyya’s name despite a final seal from the governor.
Some academics said the governor should have rejected the government’s proposal because Chakrabarti had earlier been found unfit for the job. “It is in bad taste,” said a Besu professor.
“How can it be that someone who was earlier found incapable of running the institute is suddenly capable of the same job?” a Presidency University professor said.
“We feel let down by what has unfolded at Jadavpur University over the past two days,” said a former JU vice-chancellor. “It is all too familiar. Mount pressure on someone to the extent that the person is compelled to quit and then get someone of your choice for the job.”
Some academics expressed the fear that the Jadavpur incident could be a pointer to things to come. “At JU, the executive council, its highest decision-making body, is packed with followers of the Trinamul government. They frustrated Souvik Bhattacharyya’s moves, leaving him with no option but to quit. Now similar tactics will be applied elsewhere to ensure that the party’s writ runs everywhere,” said an academic.
The first decision that Chakrabarti announced after he received his joining order on Wednesday was: “I intend to reinvestigate and review the punishment slapped on the two students held guilty of ragging.”