The vice-chancellor failed the Mumbai university exam

Dr Sanjay Deshmukh proved unfit to hold the post

mumbai Updated: Aug 17, 2017 01:44 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai university,vice-chancellor,Sanjay Deshmukh
Sanjay Deshmukh(HT FILE)

The 160-year-old University of Mumbai, once reputed for its academic excellence, intellectual capital and distinguished alumni, has been steered by a range of vice-chancellors from the very best to those who merely held the chair. The immediate former vice-chancellor had neither academic heft nor administrative experience; his very appointment had been challenged in the Bombay high court.

When Dr Sanjay Deshmukh was appointed in June 2015, he raised hope that things would improve. A botany graduate from the university, he had acquired a PhD in Ecological Studies of Mangroves in Bombay at the age of 25, taught in the university’s life sciences department and had spent time in environmental institutions. Dr Deshmukh’s stint as research director at the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh political training centre, may have worked in his favour too.

The official statement of his appointment assured: “He has vast experience of development and planning as well as negotiations and execution of various research and development projects”. The rumblings within the university indicated otherwise but those who had watched his career believed he must have a fair chance at the job.

He did – and messed it up big.

Among the grandiose projects he initiated in the last two years, none has come out worse than the on-screen marking of answer sheets of exams conducted by the university. A staggering 4.7 lakh students had written nearly 475 exams this March-April. Some 18 lakh answer sheets had to be assessed. Two months after the results were supposed to be declared, the process is far from complete.

Lakhs of students suffered. Those who had provisional admission to international universities risked losing their seats; others their jobs. Teachers were not adequately trained for on-screen evaluation and moderation of papers. There were repeated technical glitches and breakdowns in the servers. Students feared discrepancies and inaccuracies in the evaluation.

The Governor was forced to take note of the chaos in mid-July. He issued an ultimatum to Dr Deshmukh that all results should be declared by July 31 and appointed his officer to oversee the process. Dr Deshmukh, going by his Twitter feed in late July, was also occupied with meeting assorted swamis and presiding over an Indo-Israel conference.

Eventually, the Governor served him a show-cause notice, forcing him to go on leave. This is a first in the University’s history. The acting vice-chancellor and pro vice-chancellor will, hopefully, steer the University through this crisis.

It is clear that the university initiated the process too late and without adequate preparation for it to be successful this year. In February, it was still being debated. In April, tenders were still being issued for results to be declared by mid-June. Teachers received bare minimum training, the support staff even less. Reports said that Dr Deshmukh insisted on this system this year despite many colleagues expressing grave doubts.

Common sense should have told the vice-chancellor that the project, however desirable, was not one to be undertaken in haste, more so when key posts in the university’s exam office lay vacant. A trial run this season followed by a phased introduction over the next few exam seasons would have been the best approach, especially given the mammoth scale of the task.

The rushed and ill-prepared introduction of a new system was, at best, a gross misjudgement and, at worst, a colossal mismanagement. Either way, Dr Deshmukh proved unfit to hold the post. His response to the Governor that a well-entrenched nexus in the university caused the debacle is a fig-leaf of an excuse. And it doesn’t square with the “vast experience” he is supposed to have had.

This is a grave crisis but only one of the many in the University in the last decade and more. The question is: Why has it been difficult to find men or women of genuine achievements, sterling character and vision to lead the university?

First Published: Aug 17, 2017 01:44 IST