Cover Story

Politics fly higher than education

The higher education in Bihar is in doldrums. The teaching is at a discount. Ad-hocism rules supreme in all 14 universities. The teacher-taught ratio has dwindled to 1:100 against the UGC norm of one teacher for 20 students. At least one constituent college in the state has meagre seven teachers to tech 3,500 students in different faculties.

This sordid state in higher education is the result of politics. The successive state governments and Chancellors (governors) have been at loggerheads. Teachers and students too are locked in see-saw battles on political lines. And senior teachers devote more time in coaching bazaar than lecture theatres. Merit takes a back seat in appointment of vice-chancellors and other top mentors. Political patronage and money power rule supreme. Dr. B. K. Mishra, a senior journalist and Patna University don takes a look on the murky higher education scenario.

Battling for ever

While Rome burnt, Nero fiddled. This adage aptly sums up the scenario in the higher education in Bihar. The appointment of vice-chancellors and pro-vice-chancellors in different universities in recent years has generated much heat and dust in the academic circles; the powers that be seem to be little concerned about improving the system. Neither the state governments nor the governors (chancellors) have so far evolved any foolproof mechanism to ensure that only academicians of repute and men of integrity are allowed to head the universities.

After annulment of the appointment of six vice-chancellors and four pro-vice-chancellors by Patna High Court in December Governor-cum-Chancellor Devanand Knowar re-appointed all the sacked VCs on temporary basis. And, after some time, he submitted to the state government a fresh panel including the names of all previous incumbents for appointment as VCs and pro-VCs. The panel was sent to the state government just to complete the formality of ‘consultation’ as directed by the high court. Insiders say that all of them are likely to be re-appointed as VCs and pro-VCs for another full term of three years, the objection of the government notwithstanding.

Here the question arises whether there is dearth of competent academicians in the state to occupy the highest office of VC. Why only mediocre persons, some of them are even facing vigilance probes, are offered these coveted posts? Academicians feel that merit is no longer the criterion for the appointment of VCs or pro-VCs. “The posts of VCs are literally on sale. Anyone who influences the powers that be can be appointed VC,” said a senior teacher of Patna University. “What moral authority can a VC exert on his students and faculty members if he was found prima facie guilty of indecent behaviour towards a lady singer or having an inappropriate relationship with a girl”, he asked.

Appointment of vice-chancellors in the universities of Bihar has never been a smooth affair for the rulers. Whenever some appointments of vice-chancellors or pro-vice-chancellors are made, a lot of heat and dust is generated. Academicians say that clash of ego between the two highest offices, the state government and the chancellor, and some ‘vague’ provision in the university Acts often lead to the controversies. The provision that the VCs are to be appointed by the chancellor ‘in consultation with the state government’ seems to be a misnomer, they say.

Ever since Independence there have been controversies over the appointment of VCs. In the 1950s, the then chancellor Zakir Husain had appointed Balbhadra Prasad as the VC of Patna University for the second consecutive term against the advice of Shri Krishna Sinha government. When the government sought the opinion of the then advocate general L N Singh, it was told that the chancellor’s office is different from the governor’s office and that in the university matters, he is not to act on the advice of the cabinet.

Later, chancellor A S Ayyangar refused second term to Bihar University VC Dr. P L Srivastava in spite of the education minister’ s insistence to do so. He also appointed Bisheshwar Prasad as the VC of Bhagalpur University without consulting the state government.

Much later, Chancellor Govind Narain Singh appointed VCs for seven universities without consulting the state government. When much hue and cry was raised on these appointments, an inquiry committee headed by Prof. Paul was appointed by the Association of Indian Universities which found the chancellor’s action ‘arbitrary and vindictive’. Even chancellor Sunder Singh Bhandari did not see eye to eye with the state government and felt free to appoint VCs and pro-VCs without consultation. In the year 2000 chancellor B C Pande discussed the issue of VCs’ appointment with the state government, but did not appoint even a single nominee of the government.

Since 2005, all the chancellors have been appointing VCs and pro-VCs without consulting the state government. But the academics feel that even if the governor chooses to be a rubber stamp of the state government and appoints VCs and pro-VCs solely on its recommendation, there is no guarantee that only people of integrity would be appointed on these coveted posts. The past experience has not been quite good as even the VCs appointed after proper consultation between the two highest offices have not been found to be above board.

Patna University Democratic Teachers’ Forum convener Nawal Kishore Chaudhary blamed both the state government and the chancellor for appointing VCs on extraneous considerations. In fact, there is hardly any system of appointment or removal of VCs in Bihar. Consequently, so many VCs in the past have faced charges of corruption and some of them have even been sent to jail, he added.

Academics fail to understand as to what prevents the government from following the UGC guidelines and constituting a search committee for appointing men of integrity as VCs and pro-VCs who could really prove to be ‘role models’ for the entire academic world. The UGC guidelines stipulate formation of a search committee consisting of the representatives of the chancellor, the state government and the UGC for recommending a panel, said Federation of University Teachers’ Associations of Bihar working president K B Sinha. He said that the federation had always held the opinion that a broader and positive understanding between the two constitutional authorities can alone serve the interest of the higher education.

He pointed out that the hotly discussed issue of the appointment of VCs in consultation with the state government, as provided in Section 10(2) of the university Act, has to be interpreted in larger perspective along with its forerunner Sec 10(1) which provides that no person shall be deemed to be qualified to hold the office of the VC unless such person is, in the opinion of the chancellor, reputed for his scholarship and academic interest. In case of K S D Sanskrit University, the incumbent has to be a reputed Sanskrit scholar and has made significant contribution to Sanskrit education.

He further said that Sec 10(1) & 10(2) are in fact inter-dependent; they do not give freedom either to the chancellor or to the government to select persons of their choice for the highest academic office, but have got inherent direction to the two authorities to consult each other in meeting the requirements of Sec 10(1). Consultation apart, it should be convincing that those appointed to the coveted office are outstanding and should command respectful reputation in the academic fraternity.

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