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VCs oppose mentors, seek more powers

State university vice-chancellors opposed mentor groups and sought powers like their central university counterparts during a meeting with governor and chancellor M.K. Narayanan on Tuesday.

The majority of the 10 vice-chancellors who attended the meeting said they needed more powers so that they could execute decisions even if bodies like the syndicate and the executive council did not support them.

The chancellor sought the opinions of the vice-chancellors on the merits and demerits of having a mentor group in any university.

The recently appointed Presidency University vice-chancellor, Anuradha Lohia, was among those who attended the meeting.

According to sources, while Lohia explained both “merits and demerits” of having a mentor group, the others were opposed to the idea of such a group.

Lohia explained that a “mentor group” meant an assembly of eminent advisers who would counsel for the betterment of the university.

“But what if a recommendation made by a mentor group is not endorsed by the university council or the governing body, which is the highest decision-making body? This could cause a lot of embarrassment,” a source quoted Lohia as saying.

The university council — the highest decision-making body at Presidency at the moment — is packed with mentor group members. The governing board, which will eventually replace the council, is expected to have significant representation of the mentors.

Lohia could not be contacted for confirmation of her comments.

According to sources, the other vice-chancellors said they were against a mentor group on the grounds that such a body leads to “too many bosses in the chain of command”.

Calcutta University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das broached the topic of granting more powers to the state university vice-chancellors.

“We have urged the chancellor to see to it that the vice-chancellors are armed with more authority to run the office effectively,” said Das after the meeting.

He added: “It is generally said that the vice-chancellors of the central universities enjoy more power than those of the state universities. We have raised this point with the chancellor. ”

A vice-chancellor who attended Tuesday’s meeting said even a decision taken under the “emergency power vested with a VC” has to be ratified by the council or the syndicate.

He added: “At central university, even though there are bodies like the executive council, their decisions are not binding on the vice-chancellor.”

When asked about vice-chancellors demanding more powers from the authorities, chancellor Narayanan later said: “We would like to give them all the powers because the universities are autonomous — vice-chancellors should have all the powers they need. But what they need — not more than that.”

A vice-chancellor who declining to be named explained the kind of problems they have to face because of the existing “chain of command”.

If a vice-chancellor takes disciplinary action against a teacher or a student following complaints, that decision has to be endorsed at the next meeting of the syndicate or council, said the VC.

He cited the difference of opinion between the then JU vice-chancellor, Souvik Bhattacharyya, and the executive council at a council meeting last October over reducing the punishment of two students found guilty of ragging a junior.

Earlier that month, Bhattacharyya had expelled one of them for a year from the campus and suspended the other from class for six months following an internal inquiry. The council did not endorse Bhattacharyya’s decision and forced him to constitute a three-member committee to decide whether the punishment on the two final-year students could be reviewed.

Source said a section of the council members even demanded that the punishment should be reduced to a month’s suspension for both.

“The council’s move left Bhattacharyya in a precarious situation. On one hand he had the mandate of honouring zero-tolerance for ragging being advocated by the UGC. But the EC was blocking his move,” said the VC.

Bhattacharyya had resigned the following month amid speculation that the ragging stand-off had left him with little option.

Another VC who attended the meeting explained why the points on chain of command were being raised now.

He said as the statutes of the universities are being drafted afresh they thought it was the right time to bring the issue to the chancellor’s notice.

“We felt that the chancellor should take the initiative to insert clauses in the university acts enhancing the VC’s powers,” said a vice-chancellor.

The governor regularly meets vice-chancellors of the 17 state universities, though a meeting as large as Tuesday’s is rare.

The seven vice-chancellors who did not attend Tuesday’s interaction had met the governor in March.