Debate triggered on appointment of vice chancellor by governor or state government

The appointment of vice-chancellors in universities has long been the subject of various controversies. Quite often, whispers circulate that these are held under political influence, certain considerations, contempt for excellence, questioned integrity, etc. land surveys, disproportionate wealth, etc. conclude that all is not well.

Perhaps, due to the lack of fairness and transparency in the fixing of these positions, independent voices have been raised in many southern states for political parties vying for assembly elections to commit to carry out a high-level investigation into irregularities in appointments in universities and colleges, as well as to include reforms. for higher education in their electoral manifesto.

There are many cases of unrest around the appointment of vice-chancellor in universities that have surfaced lately in the form of dissension between state governments and centrally appointed governors, especially in ruled states. by political parties other than the centre. To name a few, Kerala has seen its Governor write to the Chief Minister about his intention to leave the post of Chancellor of Universities due to political interference. There have been reports of the governor of West Bengal claiming that the appointment of vice chancellors in universities by the state government is illegal.

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu has proclaimed that a resolution should be brought to remove the power from the governor to appoint vice-chancellors of state universities. The Maharashtra state legislature recently passed the Public Universities of Maharashtra (Third Amendment) Act 2021 limiting the powers of the governor in universities. It should be noted that in Gujarat, the state government appoints the vice chancellor, nevertheless, the state governor happens to be the chancellor of the universities for many decades.

The ongoing dispute between a few state governments and the respective governors over the appointment of vice chancellors might be nucleated from some errors in these appointments despite the fact that the University Grants Commission has categorically defined the criteria and procedure for these appointments which are often ignored on various grounds. Thus, in many cases, the University leadership selection process is in the middle of a crossfire. At first glance, this proves controversial in states ruled by the political party other than the central party.

Sometimes the allegations and counter-allegations about the University leadership pushing political party ideology and showing partisanship in performing their duties are alleged in a few universities which is totally unbecoming of any institution of education. Philosophically, universities must exercise rationality, neutrality and cardinal virtues in all processes so that innocent students enjoy an absolutely free environment for fearless reflection and expression for the greater benefit of society.

In a democracy, the ruling administration of the state has the heavy responsibility of managing higher education institutions to provide the best quality of education. Therefore, the state government is held responsible for the deterioration and the relevant political party in power in the state must pay the price in the ensuing elections.

However, the constitutional office of governor is ostensibly free from political influence, but complicity in the selection of individuals for the highest academic positions is often sniffed out. Also, before long, governors wield more power over universities as chancellors.

Notably, the authority of the Governor to act as Chancellor of the State Universities is conferred by the Acts of the respective Universities enacted by the State and not by the constitution of India. Thus, the state has the power to change the university law through the legislature and retain the power of appointment of the vice-chancellor in universities with the state government. Thereupon, the doctrine underlying the chancellor’s assignment to the post of supposedly neutral governor seems disputed. Introspecting the past, one finds the report of the Kothari commission demanding the appointment of a scholar or academician as chancellor of universities, which amply underlines the fact that understanding of the educational system and the required academic prudence are essentially required of the person acting as chancellor.

Looking at the ongoing moves to give state government the power to appoint university leaders in a few states, it is pertinent to consider the implications visible in light of the fact that all in-state appointments are made by state governments, so what difference will it make if the vice chancellor of the university is also appointed in the same way.

Arguments in favor of the state government appointing the top in universities include,

– the lack of responsibility of the Chancellor for the functioning of the University

– people appointed as vice-chancellors by the chancellor have often failed the University’s tests of integrity, commitment and improvement

– the vice-chancellor postpones the directives of the chancellor

– state funding and executive support for universities

– in any case, the chancellor(s) may not have a rich academic background and sensitivity to the core values ​​of education, which can lead to ineffective decision-making

– administrative measures are taken by the State with regard to educational establishments

– the State is responsible for the debts and the discharge of the Universities

– states are empowered to make a decision on education for its improvement

Simultaneously, there are also counter-arguments in favor of Governors appointing the Vice-Chancellor as Chancellor of Universities, seeing them as apolitical. One school of thought assumes that the appointment of the vice-chancellor by the state government can lead to corruption and allow political parties in power to advance their agenda. However, keeping other things aside, the premise of vulnerability of the Vice Chancellor appointment to corruption if done by state governments seems untenable as neither government can be a supporter of corruption. Moreover, the fact that the governors are apolitical seems utopian.

With the debate about the appointing authority of Vice-Chancellors ignited, it is time to reflect on the reasons for the prevailing perception of the value of such appointments by Chancellors. Open and open discussions are needed within the academic community and higher education regulators across the country to examine what is wrong with Indian universities? Why are they not able to do well in the world rankings? in the state or center, if so, then how?, while analyzing whether state governments are exaggerating the issue or whether it is the need of the hour?



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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