When Dr Rajan Welukar was appointed the vice chancellor of the University of Mumbai in July 2010, few had given him an outside chance of blazing a trail in his new and prestigious assignment. The reservation in many quarters of this city – academics, intellectuals, researchers et al – stemmed from two sets of factors. One was the stupendous pile of issues and challenges confronting India’s second oldest university, established in July 1857. The other was Welukar’s track record of twenty-odd years that left few stalwarts in the university as impressed as the search committee that chose him over more worthy candidates.
Three academic years spanning 33 months later, as the university lurches from one chaos to another, Welukar appears to have lived out the worst fears of his critics. The uncertainty and mismanagement of the practical exams of the third year Bachelor of Science students this year is but one manifestation of the mess that prevails. To be sure, the rot started in the mid to late 90s; it has only accelerated in the last few years.
The third year science practical exams touch the lives of nearly 15,000 students of the university. By the university’s own estimates, barely half of its exam centres were able to conduct the practical exams in the appropriate manner. For ten days now, we have only heard of the university making alternative arrangements for students who could not write the exam, for no fault of theirs. Teachers unions, agitating for complete implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, among other demands, put the university on notice weeks earlier about their intended strike.
As students trooped into exam centres from March 4, teachers either boycotted their supervision duties or failed to turn up as external examiners. They have issues with the state government but the university – and its vice chancellor Welukar – cannot simply wring hands in helplessness. Faced with a recalcitrant teaching staff, the university could have – should have, some say – decided to reschedule the exams, brought pressure on the teachers as well as government to resolve pending issues, and communicated its strategy to anxious students and their parents. Welukar should have led from the front.
This is the third successive year that the university is facing problems with its exams and exam schedules; last two academic year-ends were about gaffes in hall tickets and question papers, disputes over code recognition of papers and so on. Good administrative management is only half of Welukar’s job, advancing the university’s academic excellence is the other vital part. He does not seem to have got even the first part all right yet.
Indeed, administration appears to have become an end in itself given that the university now has over 600 colleges with seven lakh students affiliated to it. Universities move beyond mundane administrative matters to become recognised for their academic distinctions, path-breaking research and the intellectual leadership. Sadly, the university faculty themselves snigger at the idea of Welukar-led University of Mumbai leading thought and deliberation on any subject. Welukar and at least two of his predecessors have not been able to convince the government to allow them to fill up the 200 vacant posts.
The University of Mumbai was, till the turn of the century, ranked among the 500 best in the world. Among its first graduates were formidable nationalists, historians and lawyers MG Ranade, R G Bhandarkar, Pherozeshah Mehta, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and BR Ambedkar. It helps to remember that men of such intellectual stature once walked the portals in the university campus.
Does anyone out there have a revival plan for my university?