How important is it for a university to have a head? Not very, going by the fact that 12 out of 40 Central universities (Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Kashmir, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, North-East Hill University, Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya and Dr Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya) have been functioning without vice chancellors (VCs) for almost a year now.
The IITs in Ropar, Bhubaneswar and Patna were also without directors since June 2014 (the new directors were appointed last week ) and the IIMs in Lucknow, Kozhikode and Ranchi are being run by officiating directors since 2013.
“Officiating directors just hold posts and ensure that administration and academic matters on a day-to-day basis don’t suffer. No long-term decisions can be taken.
Anything with long-term perspective like selection of faculty members, setting up of centres of excellence, decisions on academic programmes are typically taken by a permanent official. Having an official director at the helm for five years helps in the smooth functioning of the institutes, ensures better performance and does not affect the students,” says Pradipta Banerji, director, IIT Roorkee.
However, after talking to some of the students at these IITs, it was clear that missing directors affected short-term decisions too. “Many faculty members do not take classes on time. We tried complaining to the director’s office but no one was willing to respond to us as there was no director-in-charge raising questions,” says a student, who did not want to be named. Another student complained about the poor quality of food, adding, “We are waiting for the new director to come in, as the mess in-charge has not been listening to us and this is primarily because he is not answerable to a senior authority.”
“In case of IIMs, the directors-in-charge usually travel to the campuses they manage for a few days during the week. This makes it difficult to handle the paperwork. A full-time director is constantly present on campus and can spend more time discussing issues with students and administrative staff. The situation gets worse if it is an older IIM, where, unlike the new IIMs, there is a lot of paperwork to be handled. The older institutes also have more students and faculty compared to the newer ones,” says an IIM official.
One can expect top faculty shortage in the newer IITs and IIMs which have been proposed in the Budget. “The acting directors can take most decisions, but without regular directors, the decision-making process gets delayed by a few months. Except the IIMs, that are yet to get an official bill, the statutory powers as per the Act of Parliament can be used only by regular directors. For instance, any disciplinary action against a faculty member or staff can be taken only by the director,” says an MHRD official on conditions of anonymity.
Absence of VCs means that Central universities are holding back major decisions related to appointment of permanent faculty members, curriculum planning, endorsement of research activities and decisions on enhancement of infrastructure. Amidst severe faculty crunch being faced by most institutes, the Central universities have not been able to fill up vacant posts of permanent faculty members because of lack of a permanent VC. “About 150 posts of permanent faculty members are lying vacant in our university as we don’t have an official VC,” says Professor S P Singh, the acting VC of Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya.
The acting VCs cannot hire permanent faculty members, thus denying students access to professors when needed. However, acting VCs can recruit faculty on contract.
“The challenge in such contractual recruitments is that it is tough to get good quality qualified teachers. Most well-qualified teachers would prefer to go for regular positions instead of working on contract,” says Darlando Khathing, former vice chancellor, Central University of Jharkhand. Research activity at the institute is affected too as these contractual professors can’t take up research as they have a short stint. As a result no new research labs are built and the entire lab facility for teaching suffers, he adds.
“VCs are also the chief executives of the institute. We need a chief executive for any organisation. How else do you run it? Just as any other organisation is run by a chief executive and accountability and responsibility lies with that person, VCs too play the same role,” says Professor R Govinda, vice chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi.
Many Central universities also do not have a separate department for taking calls on infrastructural upgrade. “We are fighting a massive shortage of departmental buildings of some crucial subjects like mathematics, law, political science, economics and journalism. We run classes for nearly 15 departments in just two buildings comprising 22 rooms in total,” says Professor SP Singh. The university is running in two shifts to avoid clash of class timings.
“If the officiating person doesn’t want to work, he or she makes excuses to not do anything. The tenures of most of these heads got over during the government change and it is a political issue. Therefore, we had to appoint officiating heads as a stopgap arrangement,” the MHRD official said.
How students suffer
# Lack of permanent faculty reduces scope of faculty-student interactions
# Dearth of quality teachers on-campus as faculty recruitments are mostly on contract
# Lack of dedicated buildings for each department rules out healthy peer interactions out of the classroom
# No one to monitor class schedules, lab timings and faculty as there is no official to enforce discipline and hold departmental heads ­accountable
# No one to take disciplinary action against any faculty member if required
# Absence of a director makes it easy for the administration to ignore students’ concerns
# Hostel students suffer as mess authorities don’t check the quality of meals being served as there is no top official present to take action against them