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Dr Sanjay Deshmukh’s inglorious exit as Mumbai University’s vice-chancellor

Though Mumbai University claimed to have declared all results, some students still await their mark sheets in October

mumbai Updated: Oct 26, 2017 00:33 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai University,Sanjay Deshmukh,Ch Vidyasagar Rao
The chancellor, governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, showing Dr Deshmukh the door has been hailed as a good or bold move. It is neither.(HT File)

To say that the University of Mumbai, India’s second oldest university, has recently seen some of the darkest days in its 161 years would be an understatement. Dr Sanjay Deshmukh’s dismissal from the post of vice chancellor earlier this week, barely two years into his tenure, is a pointer to the utterly hopeless and abysmal situation there. He will be remembered as the first vice chancellor to be sacked.

The chancellor, governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, showing Dr Deshmukh the door has been hailed as a good or bold move. It is neither. He was left with no choice. Given the staggering scale of Dr Deshmukh’s mismanagement, which left lakhs of students stranded without their graduation degrees and mark sheets up to six months after their exams, he had to go. It was a question of when – not if – he would be sacked.

A colossal mass of nearly 4.7 lakh undergraduates wrote their final semester exams between March and April this year. The results of more than 90% of the 475 exams conducted this summer were delayed well beyond the six weeks stipulated in law. Though the University claimed to have declared all results, some students still await their mark sheets in October. To top it off, some 28,000 answer papers went missing; nearly 3,000 are still untraceable.

This unprecedented chaos resulted from Dr Deshmukh’s insistence on introducing the on-screen marking system for all exams at one go, at short notice, without sufficient preparatory work or streamlining related processes. This came on the heels of his fanciful projects, which could not even take off.

By the time the chancellor took note of the chaos in July, it was too late. He forced Dr Deshmukh to go on leave in August and appointed an acting vice chancellor and pro vice chancellor. A committee was instituted to examine the situation; its report was, as expected, not favourable to Dr Deshmukh. This should have been a signal for him to put in his papers, but he did not. Instead, he and his well-wishers were making concerted efforts to reinstate him.

However, given the sheer scale of the mess, the indefensibility of his decisions, his stunning lack of judgement, and his two-year track record in which the University went from bad to worse, the chancellor would have deeply hurt the prestige of his own office had he allowed Dr Deshmukh to resume duty. Besides, the law clearly called for his dismissal.

The chancellor could have done more in the past year or so. Teachers’ unions, students’ associations, and other stakeholder groups had conveyed their misgivings about Dr Deshmukh’s far-fetched plans and whimsical working style. Why did the chancellor not heed these? Did Dr Deshmukh enjoy immunity thanks to the political and ideological support or kinship with those in power?

Further, the mess was of Dr Deshmukh’s making, but other senior officers of the University were also clearly found wanting in their discharge of duties. What action will be taken against them, and when? This calls for an in-depth probe into all aspects of the on-screen marking system, covering the entire process, all decisions and its implementation. Accountability must be fixed down the line. Dr Deshmukh’s predecessor was considered to be the worst vice chancellor given that his qualifications and appointment were challenged in the courts. Dr Deshmukh beat his record.

Now, a new search committee, under the chairpersonship of scientist and public intellectual Dr K Kasturirangan, will start the process for his successor. Candidates will be evaluated for their academic qualifications. But the once-prestigious University needs more than mere qualifications. It needs a leader with an over-arching vision, independence of mind, and integrity to take on the enormous challenges at both the academic and administrative levels. Its best traditions have to be revived, its purpose rejuvenated, and its glory regained. The chancellor will hopefully make an appointment to remember for the right reasons.

First Published: Oct 26, 2017 00:32 IST