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Wanted: A bold visionary as Mumbai University V-C

If persons of eminence, excellence and integrity must occupy the chair, the mechanism and process of selection would have to be reviewed.

mumbai Updated: Apr 19, 2018 22:20 IST
Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
mumbai,university,VC
The University can once again be turned into a hub of intellectual power if its top management so deems.(HT file photo)

If all goes to plan, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao in his capacity as the Chancellor of the University of Mumbai will hold final interviews beginning today to give the beleaguered University a vice-chancellor. He would have to choose from among the five men in the final shortlist who, according to reports, made it there from a group of 34 interviewed by the search committee from a staggering 102 aspirants. Will the University have the kind of vice-chancellor it desperately needs? I would not bet on it.

This is the second opportunity the Chancellor has to select a person with the right blend of academic stature, public profile, organisational capabilities and, above all, a vision for the 161-year-old once-reputed institution. He would have to buck the trend of the last few years and select a person who can pull the University out of the morass it is in and set it on a path of excellence, not someone who would be convenient for the ruling party as has been the recent trend. The University needs not merely an acceptable vice-chancellor; it urgently needs an intellectual with administrative competency.

He had, after all, selected Dr Sanjay Deshmukh in mid-2015 to head the University when it was besieged by the disastrous tenure of Dr Rajan Welukar whose appointment and academic qualifications were both challenged in the Bombay High Court. Dr Deshmukh’s brief tenure was marred by, among other things, the total collapse of the University’s examination system and he was dismissed – the first vice-chancellor to have the ignominy – in its history. Dr Deshmukh was, to put it mildly, a surprising choice.

The frequent lament over the declining stature of the University, the chaos and indifference in its administration and academic quality, the slide in its national and international rankings, the quality of its academic research and physical infrastructure can be correlated to two factors: The overt and covert politicisation of its functioning, and the lack of visionary and courageous academic titans as vice-chancellors. The decline of the University is both a reflection of and a cause for Mumbai to have been “de-intellectualised” in recent years, the late Dr Aroon Tikekar, writer, historian and biographer of the University used to say.

If persons of eminence, excellence and integrity must occupy the chair, the mechanism and process of selection would have to be reviewed. There are University Grants Commission guidelines and then there are state government norms. Aspirants are expected to apply or have someone nominate them for the prestigious post. The discomfort involved in this would hold many a worthy person back.

Then, the search committee which evaluates and shortlists “candidates” is chaired by a renowned person – the renowned scientists K Kasturirangan chaired the current search committee – but the three-member committee usually has a state bureaucrat as a member. This has been seen as the route for political pulls and pressures over the shortlisting and selection process. Imagine a “candidate” being interviewed by a bureaucrat and, if selected, having to stand his/her ground later with possibly with the same officer or his colleagues.

Resources can be raised – the University’s alumni include some of India’s wealthiest corporate leaders – research activities which form the life blood of universities can be give a direction, patents can be won, its campuses can be made student-friendly, and the University can once again be turned into a hub of intellectual power if its top management so deems. This includes the vice-chancellor, pro vice-chancellor and the registrar.

Appointing the vice-chancellor, then, sets the parameters for these possibilities, especially so at a time when private universities are becoming an attractive option to students. That the University is too large to be managed is only a part of the problem. That India’s second-oldest University has been allowed to decline for want of a capable and worthy vice-chancellor is the real lament.

First Published: Apr 18, 2018 23:42 IST