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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

An Open Letter to Mumbai University VC: how not to be an intellectual leader

Dear Dr Rajan Welukar, may I suggest that you consider going on a sabbatical soon, in fact sooner rather than later? There are many reasons to make the suggestion; here are a few.

columns Updated: Jan 22, 2014 17:38 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times

Dear Dr Rajan Welukar,

Being an academician of considerable repute, as you claim to be, you would know that the very onerous and demanding job calls for regular sabbaticals in which the worthy minds take a step back from the daily rigour to indulge in reflection, study or dabble in a new discipline. It’s known to endow deeply stressed academic minds with fresh perspectives and new insights. May I suggest that you consider going on a sabbatical soon, in fact sooner rather than later? There are many reasons to make the suggestion; here are a few.

On the morning of January 20, the Mumbai university of which you have been the vice-chancellor for nearly four years, issued a statement that Dr Neeraj Hatekar’s suspension was being revoked and Hatekar would have to face a departmental inquiry. It meant that the suspension order of January 4 that you had issued using your emergency powers was bad in letter. Hatekar should never have been suspended, but your yes-persons in the management council who recommended it wanted to please you.

The statement told us that the 16 issues of mismanagement and abuse of power that Hatekar had raised – first internally and only then to the media – had no basis. This means they do not merit attention and inquiry. You seem to have completely missed the point, Vice-Chancellor. You would know that, in the immediate days after Hatekar’s suspension, enraged students initiated a survey on the campus. It confirmed what we knew anecdotally: more than 70% were not satisfied with the facilities and nearly 50% believed the university is not in a good condition.

You must know, Vice-Chancellor, for they submitted a list of 30 demands to you. Allow me to reiterate a few: set up a competitive exam academy with adequate resources and faculty, provide notes in Marathi, Hindi and beef up study material in Braille, give access to the reading room to all students for 24 hours of the day, provide lighting in some places across the campus and improve it in others, make canteen facilities better so that students can use it, take security measures in women’s hostel, provide each department with basic must-haves such as drinking water, benches, lecture hall, waste bins, common room and hygienic toilets.

Isn’t it a matter of shame that students must draw up such laundry lists for you? In a place of higher learning and academic freedom, students have continued their agitation for the second week and are threatening a chain hunger-strike and fast-unto-death. This, in the university that figured in the world’s top 500 till the turn of the century and counts such men as Justice MG Ranade, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, RG Bhandarkar, Pherozeshah Mehta and BR Ambedkar among its alumni.

You, Vice-Chancellor, would know that a young man called Aditya Thackeray went to Hatekar’s home to express his support. Hatekar was not particularly engaging with the young Thackeray. How could he, for this young man had prevailed upon you not long ago to discontinue teaching Rohinton Mistry’s “Such A Long Journey” in the English course – and you had happily obliged. Hatekar was offered support also by the Aam Aadmi Party; he politely refused.

It’s not that academicians cannot be political. The last year had examples of deans in foreign universities who took strong and unpopular political positions – on the side of academic freedom and freedom of expression. You must know that. The issue is whether proficient and self-respecting academicians allow themselves to become political puppets and turn a university into a large sub-standard mall with degrees on its shelves. Hatekar tellingly refused to become such a puppet – either yours or that of any other person.

You, on the other hand, had to be spoken to by the Chancellor. The vice-chancellor ought to be our intellectual leader. Even your students, let alone the rest of the city, do not see you as one. A sabbatical may be in order, sir.

First Published: Jan 22, 2014 17:34 IST

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