University VC research: the missing links

There have been, in recent times, numerous articles in the print media lamenting the unprecedented embezzlement and widespread corruption in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors (VC). Keeping these unfortunate aberrations and raging social ills aside and on a positive note, I would like to focus on streamlining and strengthening the process so that higher education and research institutions do not suffer primarily because of bad leadership and bad governance which breeds mediocrity.

In Karnataka, general universities (other than those dealing with vocational education like health, engineering, law, veterinary sciences, etc.) are governed by the provisions of the Universities Act 2000 State of Karnataka. Despite attempts to change this law, no significant changes have been made over the past two decades. Section 14 and subsections 1 to 11 of the Act deal with various standards for appointing VCs from among “eminent scholars” through a duly constituted search committee. In addition, the appointment of VCs is also governed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations, 2010 as amended in 2013. In short, these regulations which are mandatory for central and state universities, stipulate the following procedure:

The incumbents must be persons of the highest levels of competence, integrity and moral and intellectual commitment; must be distinguished academics with at least 10 years of experience as a professor in a university system or equivalent experience and position in a reputable research / academic / administrative organization. The Committee should recommend a panel of three to five names. The Visitor / Chancellor will appoint a VC from this panel. In addition, in 2014, the UGC amended the 2013 Main Rules to add the following terms:

“The overall selection procedure must incorporate a transparent, objective and credible methodology for analyzing the merits and credentials of applicants and must be based on the academic performance indicators (APIs) provided by the coordinator in the prescribed format”. In this context, let us briefly examine the system followed.

i) The committee with one candidate each from the UGC, the state government, the chancellor and the union of the university concerned shall meet at a suitable date at a place chosen by the coordination office, normally the department of Higher Education.

ii) A brief curriculum vitae of the candidates (the number sometimes exceeds 100 nowadays) is presented to the Committee in tabular form with the appropriate comments.

iii) After a thorough review of the comparative curriculum vitae, the Committee preselects a pool of candidates. The complete bio-data of these “eligible” applicants provided in the original application is carefully reviewed thereafter in order to prepare, in alphabetical order (not on merit) a panel of three names.

iv) This jury is submitted to the Department of Higher Education, which in turn chooses its preferred candidate after obtaining the approval of the Chief Minister.

v) The acts of the Committee meeting, accompanied by the recommendation of the government, are transmitted to the Governor and the latter in his capacity as Chancellor, he generally “approves” (if not always) the recommendation and appoints the CV.

Someone guess

i) Firstly, there is no time limit specified in the law / statutes to fill the vacant post of a VC and therefore such vacant posts are allowed to stay for several months, sometimes even at – over one year. What would happen to academic efforts in such an impasse is to be guessed.

ii) In recent times it has often been observed that some members of the Committee were not only ordinary academics, but also included people far below the rank and class of a VC. This truncation considerably lowered the very stature of the Committee.

iii) The Committee usually meets for two to three hours to prepare a panel of “eligible” candidates. He has no discretion to deviate from prescribed standards. Perhaps it is relevant to mention, by way of contrast, that in July 2019, the Ministry of Finance, when announcing the post of Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, had mentioned, in addition to the criteria eligibility “rhetorical”, the following progressive gap:

“The search committee is free to identify and recommend any other person (other than applicants) on the basis of merit. The committee may also recommend a relaxation of the prescribed eligibility criteria for qualifications and experience with regard to outstanding candidates ”. This type of freedom and discretion are worthy of emulation because they allow the Committee to recruit the most distinguished candidates among the candidates available.

iv) Academic brilliance is known to be different from leadership qualities and the ability to govern as a team leader with tact. For example, the recent student upheavals on the campuses of Aligarh, Banaras, Hyderabad and JNU universities have blatantly demonstrated the leadership’s utter failure to tackle problems in a “pinch-up” manner. The Ministry of Education is now seized of the deadline. A VC as a leader must have the courage, wisdom, and tenacity to make timely but difficult decisions.

v) Apart from the absence of a fruitful dialogue with the “eligible candidates”, the Committee, under the current system, has no latitude to assess the personality of the “holders”, that is to say their “form. physical and alertness.

vi) It is regrettable that the entire selection process limited to a few hours of deliberation is based exclusively on the qualifications and experience mentioned on paper, although the mere qualification does not in any way reflect the competence of each for governance effective.

vii) The committee would certainly do well if the final decision was taken after assessing the suitability of candidates for recruitment beyond the prescribed eligibility criteria.

viii) In order to maintain transparency as suggested by the UGC, it is desirable to publish the profile of the constituted candidates on a website in order to ensure that the discretionary powers of the government or the Chancellor do not lead to discriminatory actions.

ix) It should be recalled that in the system of selection of Vice-Chancellors, the personal interaction / dialogue of the Committee with the potential candidates on the selected jury, is of paramount importance. Second, an empowered committee of experts. to replace the existing search committee, should have the freedom to choose not only qualified candidates but also competent candidates.

(The writer is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Mysore)

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