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West Bengal: Appointments politics

EducationWorld November 12 | Education News EducationWorld

Estranged from the Congress-led UPA-II government in New Delhi, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool government passed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2012 on September 27. Following approval of the Act by the state legislative assembly, a state government representative will replace the UGC member on the search panel to select vice chancellors of the state’s 18 universities.

Until recently, the senates or courts of universities recommended three names from which the chancellor selected vice chancellors. In 2011, under the West Bengal University Law (Amendment) Act, 2011, following UGC guidelines the search committee comprised three members — a nominee of the chancellor, a nominee of UGC chairman, and a nominee of the university’s senate. A year later, this arrangement has been superseded by the latest amendment Act (2012) under which state government nominees constitute a majority on the search committee.

Banerjee reportedly felt the need to enact state legislation to overrule the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2011 because the previous search committee comprising renowned academics Anil Kakodkar, U.R. Anantha Murthy and Govardhan Mehta were all “outsiders’’ who selected the vice chancellors of three West Bengal universities — Calcutta, Rabindra Bharati and Jadavpur. Since the VCs of these West Bengal universities were selected prior to passage of the amendment law, the state government is mulling the option of asking the governor M.K. Narayanan to cancel their appointments and initiate a new search by the panel dominated by state government representatives.

West Bengal’s education minister Bratya Basu is firm that illustrious academics from Bengal should be represented in the search committee. “So far, the search panel has never had an educationist from the state. This is what we have discovered during scrutiny of search committees. There are educationists who are of the same stature or even better in West Bengal. They can now be nominated to the search committee. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee wanted us to make the amendment to ensure eminent academics in West Bengal also have a say in the selection of VCs of universities in the state,” says Basu.

The state government has also proposed to change the procedure relating to the appointment of deans of the three universities. Earlier, they were elected by teachers of each faculty. Now, under the amended law, they will be selected by a three-member state government selection committee which will recommend two names for the posts of deans in order of preference with VCs making the final choice. Moreover, the tenure of deans has been limited to one three-year term instead of the existing two four-year terms. In another significant amendment, the VC will now have the power to remove the deans. The amended law has also curtailed the power of CPM-controlled student unions by excluding students’ representatives from the day-to-day functioning of universities. This was mandatory during the rule of the Communist Party of India-led Left Front government which ruled West Bengal (pop. 91 million) for 34 years prior to being ousted in May 2011.

“The objective of the new amendment is to clip the wings of communist academics who had thoroughly infiltrated the state’s universities. But the Trinamool government’s choice to replace red academics is deplorable. Most of them are not even capable of teaching in secondary schools. While the amended law relating to selecting vice chancellors and deans may reduce the CPM’s influence in West Bengal academia, the remedy is likely to prove worse than the disease,’’ says a science lecturer at Jadavpur University, who requested anonymity.

Moral of this unfinished story? Sub-nationalism may be good politics but bad academics. Clearly, real reform of higher education in West Bengal is still a distant dream.

Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)

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