A year in office and three vice-chancellor appointments later, the Mamata Banerjee government is convinced it can’t have an “independent” panel to pick a university head and dictate terms to it.
Be it Jadavpur University or Rabindra Bharati, the government allegedly had a candidate in mind for the vice-chancellor’s job even as it assigned the task of choosing one to a search committee each.
What the Trinamul regime may not have accounted for was that the eminent academicians in these committees and their chosen vice-chancellors could be loath to toe its line. The result: a reverse paribartan (change).
The government passed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012, on Thursday to create a slot for a person of its choice in the panel that selects a vice-chancellor. The other two will be nominated by the university and the chancellor.
This obsession with maintaining a vice-like grip had driven Trinamul’s arch-rival CPM to monopolise various committees, robbing higher education in Bengal of its sheen. One of Trinamul’s first moves after replacing the Left Front in power last year had been to amend the university acts to introduce independence in decision-making.
“That the same government has decided to replace the University Grants Commission’s nominee in each search committee with someone of its choice says how Bengal has taken two steps backward after one step forward,” said a retired teacher of Calcutta University.
The government’s insecurity has apparently been stoked by a newly appointed vice-chancellor ignoring instructions from Writers’ Buildings. “This vice-chancellor feels that he needs to be his own man for the good of the institution,” a source said.
The government had asked the vice-chancellor to submit “a detailed report” on alleged irregularities in the appointment of some non-teaching and other staff during Left rule. He is yet to respond.
“Vice-chancellors cannot ignore the government. He is behaving like this as he does not understand how a state varsity functions. We can’t let this happen,” said an official in the higher education department.
The government also thinks the vice-chancellor has been favouring teachers with Left leanings.
“Associations of teachers and other staff in this university are still controlled by the CPM and the VC is getting influenced,” the official said. “If every VC starts acting on his own, it will spell trouble for the government.”
Apart from the choice of vice-chancellors, the amendment bill passed on Thursday gives the government control of the appointment of deans. The three-member dean selection team will have a government representative, a nominee of the chancellor who must be a sitting vice-chancellor of a state university and a nominee of the vice-chancellor who should be a professor of any other university.
“Such a set-up guarantees the government complete control,” the official said.
Under Left rule, state universities like Calcutta University, JU and Rabindra Bharati had become CPM bastions with the party establishing control at all levels — the student unions, teachers’ associations and organisations of non-teaching employees. The CPM’s dominance of unions continues in most of the 13 state universities.
Under the amended system, there is little possibility of someone not being in line with the government helming a university.
For Jadavpur University, the government’s choice of vice-chancellor was acting VC Abhijit Chakraborty. The search panel had him at number three in its shortlist and named IIT Kharagpur teacher Souvik Bhattacharya as its first choice for the post. The government was overruled.
The tables were turned in the next round, when the panel’s choice was overruled at Rabindra Bharati. Acting VC Chinmoy Guha was not selected despite the search panel’s recommendation. The reason, some say, was Guha’s insistence on expelling a group of pro-Trinamul student leaders who had ransacked his office over online admissions.
Suranjan Das’s appointment as vice-chancellor of Calcutta University for a second term is so far the only instance where the search panel’s choice matched that of the government.