Bengal’s Trinamool Government Set On Collision Course With Governor Over Appointments Of VCs To State Varsities
Governor Bose seems determined to cleanse varsity campuses of the pernicious influence of sectarian politics.
With the Trinamool government also hell-bent on continuing with the policy of politicising education, a fierce clash with the Governor seems imminent.
The Mamata Banerjee government is set on a collision course with Governor C V Ananda Bose over appointments of Vice Chancellors (VCs) in state-run universities.
Bose had, on Wednesday (31 May) appointed 11 senior academics as interim VCs of as many state universities. The tenures of the VCs of those varsities had ended recently.
But Bengal Education Minister Bratya Basu rejected the appointments and termed them “illegal”. He contended that the Governor had not consulted him or senior officers of the higher education department before making those appointments.
The Education Minister urged the new appointees to reject the “illegal appointments”.
However, except for one professor who was appointed by the Governor as interim VC of Dakshin Dinajpur University, the others met Governor Bose at the Raj Bhavan on Friday (2 June).
The terms of the VCs of six state universities ended last Friday (26 May) and the tenures of VCs of six more universities ended Wednesday (31 May).
Two universities — Calcutta University and Dakshin Dinajpur University — have been functioning without VCs for more than a month.
Senior academics told Swarajya that academic and administrative activities were severely hampered at the two varsities which had been functioning without VCs for over a month and the same would have happened to the twelve other universities whose VCs retired over the past few days.
This, they said, was an unprecedented situation. “Never had such a crisis happened in the past. A university cannot function without a VC. More so now since the new four-year undergraduate course under the New Education Policy (NEP) will roll out in state universities,” a senior faculty member of Calcutta University’s history department told Swarajya.
Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association general secretary Partha Pratim Ray said that a VC has to be in place to take policy decisions and authorise important work related to the roll out of the four-year undergraduate course. Even research projects and academic leaves cannot be approved in the absence of a VC, he added.
Foreseeing this, Governor Bose had, last month, requested the state education department to send names of senior academics that the state government deemed fit for the posts of VCs that would be falling vacant, as well as the posts of VC of the two varsities that had already fallen vacant.
But the state government promulgated an ordinance reconstituting the search-cum-selection committee for appointment of Vice Chancellors.
The problem was that this committee was packed with persons, including academics, whose loyalties to the Trinamool Congress are well-known, and the committee would have, without doubt, recommended only Trinamool loyalists for the posts of VCs.
Bengal’s state universities are plagued with sectarian politics and students’, teachers’ and employees’ unions affiliated to the Trinamool wield a lot of power, rendering many VCs powerless. All VCs have to obey the dictates — very often illegal — of these unions.
This is a legacy of the Left rule in Bengal when all educational institutions were heavily politicised and academia was packed with left loyalists. In fact, loyalty to the CPI(M) weighed much more than academic qualifications in Bengal’s campuses.
The Trinamool, after coming to power in 2011, merrily continued with this short-sighted and regressive policy of the Left. Left loyalists had, without any moral or ideological compunctions, merrily switched their loyalties to the Trinamool by them.
If anything, varsity campuses got more politicised and toxic over the past 12 years with the Trinamool-affiliated unions flexing their muscles, interfering in administrative and academic matters, indulging in factional feuds and vitiating the academic environment in all state universities.
Governor Bose, who had been visiting the campuses of universities and interacting closely with students, academics and others, realised the urgent need to de-politicise the campuses.
To achieve that, he rightly concluded, appointing impartial and qualified academics who are not affiliated to any political party as VCs is of prime importance.
Cleaning the Augean stables in the state universities has to start from the very top with appointment of independent and qualified academics as VCs, the Governor concluded.
Also, the search-cum-selection committee appointed by the state government would have taken a long time to come out with a list of candidates for posts of VCs of the 14 state universities. That would have kept the universities in a state of limbo.
When this was pointed out to Education Minister Bratya Basu, he recommended that the VCs whose tenures were about to end be granted extensions for a few more months.
But that would have amounted to perpetuating the status quo in the state universities, something that was completely undesirable and militated against efforts to cleanse the varsity campuses of sectarian politics.
That is why Governor Bose unilaterally appointed eleven senior academics as interim vice chancellors of the state universities.
The state government objected immediately. Minister Basu cited a Supreme Court order which stated that Chancellors of state universities (the Governor) shall appoint VCs after “effective and meaningful consultations with the state government”.
Governor Bose countered that “consultation” does not mean “concurrence”. But the Governor did hold out an olive branch by stating that future appointments to state universities shall be made in consultation with the state government and other stakeholders.
Minister Basu had crossed swords with the Governor earlier over the latter’s directive to VCs of all state universities to submit weekly progress reports to him. The Minister said that the Governor cannot interact directly with state universities.
Minister Basu had said: “Systemic deadlock and overt politicking by Raj Bhavan is disrupting the academic environment and can impact performance”.
While the minister had appealed to the eleven new appointees to reject their “illegal appointments” — only one had responded positively and declined to accept the appointment — the ten others met Governor Bose at the Raj Bhavan Friday (2 June).
According to Raj Bhavan sources, the ten had already taken charge of their posts. At the Raj Bhavan, Governor Bose circulated a document titled ‘The Kolkata Commitment’.
The document is primarily a pledge by the VCs to “keep factional and sectarian activities and politicking off the campuses”, “implement the NEP” and “facilitate infrastructure and faculty development” that are required for implementing the NEP.
The Governor had asked the new appointees to give their assent to the pledge. It is not, however, known if the ten interim VCs had done so.
The state government, it is learnt, is seeking legal opinion and may move the Calcutta High Court with a plea to block the appointments made by the Governor.
The state government is also learnt to be leaning heavily on the new appointees to decline the offers or give up their new appointments as interim VCs.
But none of that will deter Governor Bose, who seems determined to cleanse varsity campuses of the pernicious influence of sectarian politics. With the Trinamool government also hell-bent on continuing with the policy of politicising education, a fierce clash with the Governor seems imminent.
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