Prof Ranbir Chander Sobti, whose six-year action-packed stint as the vice-chancellor of Panjab University comes to an end on July 22, would for long be remembered not only for his exemplary managerial skills but also for his attempts at hogging the limelight.
Prof Sobti had a perfect start when he took over the reins of the university from Prof KN Pathak in July 2006. In the initial years of his first term, he toiled hard to bail the university out of a financial crunch. His efforts bore fruit and ensured stability to the varsity, as a result if which teachers, non-teaching staff and students were benefited.
During that period, he appeared to be a man with a purpose and enjoyed complete support of the faculty and senate members. Prof Sobti initiated several steps to make the campus green and also participated in cleaning up the campus. He, however, gave up all such endeavours soon after being awarded the Padam Shri in 2009, which critics later dubbed as a gimmick to secure the prestigious award.
The honeymoon did not last long and he appeared to lose focus as his first term neared end. The split between senate members Ashok Goyal and Gopal Krishan Chatrath in 2010 changed the equation of PU politics. Instead of keeping away from politics, Prof Sobti got headlong involved in the syndicate and senate politics and in the process, ended up losing focus from other fronts, including academics.
He devoted too much time on new buildings, but compromised with human resource. Presently, the varsity is grappling with shortage of both teaching and non-teaching staff because both appointment and recruitment wasn't given any attention. Prof Sobti also attracted criticism for adopting a pick-and-choose policy and promoting people with little credentials.
Sobti also failed to check student violence on campus and the interference of student leaders in varsity functioning.
More of "ME", less of "WE"
Prof Sobti, who is known for his temperament, also evoked criticism from the opposition lobby for using his position for 'self glorification'. He was reportedly 'generous' in gifting mementos and shawls and doled out a record 19 honoris causa doctorate degrees to various dignitaries, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 2007 to 2011. Besides, he appointed influential academicians as visiting professors purportedly to build his links.
He also appeared in a tearing hurry to make premature announcements, thus inviting flak. Sample this: Despite knowing that Panjab University would not attain the central status, Prof Sobti kept making such claims for three years. Another criticism that he earned was that he was quick at taking credit for good deeds and throwing criticism onto other officials. His style of functioning in having centralised powers in his office failed to promote teamwork, his critics point out.
Convocation a mere "appeasing" exercise
Convocations were used as events to appease dignitaries at the cost of students. The event was divided into two parts, majority of which was devoted to honouring dignitaries. In the latter part, the students were literally made to run to and fro to get their degrees and medals. He was also criticised for conferring DLitt degree to known litterateur Khushwant Singh in a special ceremony at latter's residence in Delhi.
In the last few years of his term, Prof Sobti lost the faith of senate members and was repeatedly accused of tampering with the minutes of the meetings. In the history of the varsity, videography of the syndicate and senate meetings was started for the first time last year to ensure that the minutes of the meetings were not tampered with.