Mumbai university V-C’s ouster symptomatic of larger malaise?
Given the mess over examination results — which are yet to be completed incidentally — perhaps VC Dr Sanjay Deshmukh’s ouster had become inevitablemumbai Updated: Oct 27, 2017 00:57 IST
This is unarguably the bleakest phase in the long history of Mumbai University. Founded in 1857, the year of the Indian Mutiny, it’s been alma mater to several stellar names who earned renown not only in the country, but across the world.
In my student days, MU was regarded as among the best in the world. It didn’t boast of a great campus (Kalina came much later), but it was a hub where students flourished — in academics as well as developing character, finding their métier.
India has some formidable universities, and MU was easily in the elite group. When you introduced yourself as a student of this university anywhere in the country, it would win peer group approval, however, grudgingly.
All that seems unhappily in the misty past now. There have been crises earlier too no doubt, but none so severe that the vice-chancellor has had to be sacked. This is unprecedented and a stain that MU won’t be able to wash easily.
Given the mess over examination results — which are yet to be completed incidentally — perhaps VC Dr Sanjay Deshmukh’s ouster had become inevitable. Aggrieved students have been voicing their protests for months now and their mood was getting belligerent.
Understandably too as students have suffered the most in the fiasco. While the administration was at sixes and sevens in getting online assessment of exam papers sorted out, students sacrificed valuable months agonising, not knowing what new problem might crop up.
I’ve been to some colleges – including the Kalina campus – in recent months on lecture assignments. The frustration of students was palpable, and the verdict, articulated in different ways, was unanimous: We’ve had enough.
Governor CH Vidyasagar Rao, anticipating further trouble had to show Dr Sanjay Deshmukh the door even if this meant going against his own choice of man.
Dr Deshmukh’s appointment in mid-2015, it might be recalled, came following prolonged turmoil and controversy involving his predecessor Dr Rajan Welunkar. He was among five candidates short-listed by a committee headed by retired chief justice B N Srikrishna.
Dr Deshmukh was chosen above the others after being interviewed by the Governor, and Justice Srikrishna has maintained that his credentials were good. How and why the VC then lapse into such incompetence, become a square peg in a round hole as it were, is surprising.
On a broader plane, however, this seems to be symptomatic of a larger malaise afflicting our universities now. VCs and deans are increasingly seen and used as tools of enhancing the political ideology of those in power rather than focusing on robust and enlightened administration.
This is obviously not limited to only the current dispensation. Some in the past have been as short-sighted. There is scramble to undo what previous regimes have done across the board. This has also seeped into academic life and is playing havoc with students.
Students being politically active is healthy. It helps in better understanding of the world and has often provided momentum to major political movements. For instance, students energized the revolt against the Emergency and India’s history got a dramatic twist.
Ideological conflicts in universities are inevitable. Students must be encouraged to think of what they would like their politics to be. But this cannot be allowed to fall to a point where it gets destructive of student and national life, as has been increasingly evident in campuses across the country.
Universities are becoming battlegrounds for ideological supremacy, sadly more and more by violence or the insidious rewriting of curriculum, notably of history which has become a fetish of sorts for politicians, and not just in India.
But frankly this is an exercise in futility. In the Information Age we live in, there are as many avenues to hunt down facts as there are means of spreading falsehoods.
How much better if the deadlock can be broken by debate and cogent argument?