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Why giving complete power to Mumbai University V-C Sanjay Deshmukh was a mistake

According to experts, even after the law was enforced, Deshmukh delayed the appointment of elected members to academic bodies such as the academic, management council, senate, pro-vice chancellor and controller of examinations.

mumbai Updated: Nov 11, 2017 15:58 IST
Mumbai,Mumbai university,vice-chancellor

Was the University of Mumbai’s (MU) decision to introduce online paper assessment, which delayed the results by months and left lakhs of students suffering, a mistake? If experts are to be believed, it was not. According to them, the biggest error was scrapping the Maharashtra Public Universities law, which gave unrestrained power to the now-ousted vice-chancellor, Sanjay Deshmukh, who brought in the system.

“The state’s decision to scrap all academic bodies constituted according to the 1994 State Universities Act, without putting in place a new policy, was a blunder. It concentrated the power in the hands of the V-C alone,” said Bhalchandra Mungekar, a former vice-chancellor of the university.

The government scrapped the Act in August 2015, with an aim to bring in a new law. The process, however, was delayed, with the legislative Assembly approving it only in December 2016.

“This meant in the meanwhile only nominated members handpicked by the government and V-C got to run the show. All elections, too, were put off till the new law was in place,” he said.

According to experts, even after the law was enforced, Deshmukh delayed the appointment of elected members to academic bodies such as the academic, management council, senate, pro-vice chancellor and controller of examinations.

“Legally, every decision of the university has to be approved by several bodies, including the senate, which should have a balanced representation of all stakeholders. With no law in place, V-C’s decisions were approved without any debate,” said Madhu Paranjape, from Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU) and a former senate member of the university.

Underscoring the mismanagement, Mungekar pointed to the academic council’s recent resolution, which lauded Deshmukh for his “visionary” move to introduce online assessment of answer booklets. “This is the climax of shamefulness. It shows how the university is run by ill-equipped members handpicked by Deshmukh. The council should be scrapped immediately,” said Mungekar.

In two years of his five-year tenure, Deshmukh faced flak for his assertion in a letter to the governor that the examination work is not part of his “day-to-day responsibilities”. BUCTU and other student bodies also complained about Deshmukh’s arbitrary decisions such as digital assessment, sudden changes to the marking pattern, shoddy upgradation of syllabus by ad-hoc members, among others, to the government and governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, who is the chancellor of all universities in Maharashtra. But no action was taken. “The government is equally responsible for ignoring all complaints,” said Paranjape.

The latest in the crisis at the 160-year old university was the decision to switch to digital assessment, without adequate preparation or consideration.

Arun Nigvekar, former chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC), said a V-C should be much more involved in conducting exams. “The process is the most important exercise of the university. The method should be well-defined. A vice-chancellor can’t leave it to his officials,” he said.

The rise in the number of affiliated colleges, too, has divided the university’s focus between exams and academic work. “The universities started with the premise of offering education across disciplines and carrying out research. However, large-scale exam work led to administrative problems. They were ill-equipped to handle it, as they didn’t have the money, resources and expertise for it,” said SS Mantha, professor at VJTI and former chairman of All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE). “Even the use of technology takes some time. Universities need to put checks and balances in place before switching to digital.”

The university has, for the past few years, been plagued by lack of funds, growing size of the university and oversight of statutory bodies. Many blame the varsity’s downfall on the state’s decision to curtail the funds for higher education, which has left hundreds of posts of teachers and experts vacant, affecting the quality.

“Declaration of results of hundreds of examinations involving lakhs of students calls for an appropriate infrastructure as well as the need for top-class academicians and researchers. The needs, however, have been ignored for a while now,” said Anil Karnik, director of MU’s Garware Institute of Career Education and Development.

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 09:32 IST