A government that had promised to keep politics out of higher education on Thursday passed a bill to ensure that every nominee to a search panel formed to pick a vice-chancellor is a person of its choice.
Under the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, the chancellor would need to select his nominee to the search panel in consultation with the education minister.
A search panel comprises the chancellor’s nominee, who automatically becomes the chairperson of the team, the state government’s nominee and a person chosen by the university court or, in Calcutta University’s case, the syndicate.
The policy-making bodies of universities such as the executive council and the court, syndicate and senate of Calcutta University are currently packed with people known to be close to the ruling party. The choice of nominee to the search panel is, therefore, invariably a person the ruling party approves of.
“The university would anyway want to make the state government happy by nominating a representative who would not oppose its policies. The government’s nominee has to be someone who would obviously follow its policies. With the new bill, the government’s choice will prevail in picking the chancellor’s nominee as well,” a teacher at Calcutta University said.
The bill also applies to Presidency University, which had been granted “special status” by the state government so that it could become a world-class institution.
In Presidency University’s case, the panel will comprise the chancellor’s nominee, the chairperson of the panel, a state government nominee and a nominee of the university’s governing board.
“Yes we want to ensure that the government has enough say in the selection of vice-chancellors,” education minister Partha Chatterjee said after the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, was passed in the Assembly.
According to the minister, the amendment had been brought not with the intention to exercise more control on the search panel but to speed up the process.
“The chancellor is free to pick a nominee of his choice. We want the chancellor to select his nominee in consultation with the education minister so that the government can start correspondence with the nominated person immediately. This will enable us to expedite the VC selection process,” Chatterjee said.
Many academicians dismissed the argument. “The intention is clear. The government wants to establish more control on the chancellor’s choice so that his representative is not able to shortlist a person who the government wouldn’t like to be at the helm of a university,” a professor of Jadavpur University said.
The system of appointing vice-chancellors of state-aided institutions like Calcutta University and Jadavpur University through search committees comprising academicians was originally part of Trinamul’s professed strategy to depoliticise higher education.
Trinamul had amended the bill a year after coming to power.
The first amendment in 2011 was to incorporate the clause on selecting VCs through search panels. The composition of the search panels was to be the chancellor’s nominee, a nominee of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and a representative of the university court or senate in Calcutta University’s case.
Barely a year later, the government amended the act again and passed a bill replacing the UGC nominee with a state government nominee.
“It is surprising that the government has amended the university act thrice in the span of two-and-a-half years. If the government really wanted to stand by its promise of depoliticising higher education, it should have continued with the system of having a chancellor’s nominee, a UGC nominee and a university nominee,” a teacher said.
The bill passed on Thursday defines the status of the chancellor’s nominee. The chancellor's nominee shall be an “academician not below the rank of the vice-chancellor of a central or state-aided university or the director of a national institute of higher learning”.