The governor of West Bengal is also ex officio the chancellor of all the state universities. There is no logic behind this. It is a tradition that has continued since the days of the British raj, and it has struck no one that the chancellor of a university need not be the head of the state. The post of a governor is largely a ceremonial one; so is the post of the chancellor. The governor should confine himself to reading out the oaths of office, reading a speech to the legislative assembly at the behest of the government and cutting ribbons at various functions. He can advise the government but only in camera, never in public. Similarly, the chancellor of a university should preside over the convocation and other functions of the university to which he is invited by the vice-chancellor. This model of behaviour is at times violated by a governor-chancellor who has an exaggerated notion of himself and his role. In his role as the chancellor of Presidency University, the governor has somewhat queered the copybook by interfering in the running of the new university.
It is clear that as the chancellor, the governor played an enthusiastic part in finding and appointing the new vice-chancellor. Such was his unseemly hurry that he cut short the outgoing vice-chancellor’s term by 11 days and did not extend to her the common courtesy of a formal farewell. Good grace, an integral part of the governor’s functions, was honoured in the breach in this case. It should also be recalled that the name of the scholar who was the first in the search committee’s list was announced even before he had given his formal consent. He withdrew his name. This embarrassment could easily have been avoided. Observers can claim with some justification that the governor, for reasons best known only to him, appeared to be too eager to end the term of the outgoing vice-chancellor. There is another equally important point to be noted. The appointment of the new vice-chancellor and her assumption of office made it evident that events were directed not from the education department (as they should be) but from Raj Bhavan. This sets a very bad precedent and it is difficult to believe that an experienced administrator like the present governor can be unaware of this. A governor holds a position that carries a unique remit: the less he does, the better. This is true even when he wears his chancellor’s gown and mortar board.