Sunday, June 27, 2010

Appointments in Universities

S. Krishnaswamy,
Vice-President, MUFA

Talk given at The Tamil Nadu Federation of University Faculty Associations (TANFUFA) seminar titled “Challenges in Higher Education: Present Scenario” held in Bharathiar University, Coimbatore on 24th April 2010.

"A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duty adequately, then, it is well with the nation and the people"…Jawaharlal Nehru.

The life of a University lies in its people – students, staff, faculty, officers and Vice-Chancellor. The quality, integrity and commitment of these make or mar the University.
Without students there can be no University. The University should therefore be driven by them. Their admission process needs to be transparent and above board. However, these are the people with very little or no voice in the direction the University takes or the administration that happens in the University. In Tamil Nadu, no University has an active student association, which would at least ensure that the students have some say in the affairs of the University.
Appointment of staff:
In terms of the staff of the University, again apart from indirect control through the bureaucratic apparatus they do not have a role in the policy and directions of the University. Of course, their integrity, dedication and training make a large difference to the overall ethos of the University. Hence, their fair and clean appointments are crucial to the running of the University. One would expect a system like the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission be utilized for the appointments or at the least those who are registered through the employment exchange be considered. In the current ad-hocism that pervades the University administration, a large number of temporary staff get accumulated over the years. This is one area of appointment where rampant favouritism takes place. However, these people end up being essential for the place especially considering the feudal and colonial nature of our workplace in the University. Without these people, most likely most Universities would come to a grinding halt. Hence, it is only pragmatic and just that people in this category with many years of service should be given due weightage in the recruitment process.
Appointment of officers:
The officers of the University can help provide the University with a flexible administrative system that exists not for itself but for the service of the students, the faculty and the funding agencies. However, for this to happen well qualified professionals need to be duly advertised for and appointed. The current trend in most Universities is to use fill these positions with those most conducive and flexible to the powers-that-be. The one person – one post rule that is a good practice for a good administration is more known for its absence in most Universities in Tamil Nadu.

Appointment of faculty:
The faculty of the University provides the strength and recognition for the University. Qualified, committed and enthusiastic faculty make the all the difference. But like all things good, they have to be identified and nurtured with care. Since the mid 1990s these two have stopped happening in Universities in Tamil Nadu. Increasingly, the appointments are used as ways to satisfy all criteria other than merit. In places like Annamalai University ‘teaching appointments have been made indiscriminately with scant respect to the statute, regulations and other legal consideration’ (quoted from the Annamalai University Joint Action Council letter dt 7th March 2009). The total strength of teaching staff swelled by more than 100% (from 1285 in December 2001 to more than 3500 by the end of 2008). The result is for example in a department like economics there are 48 faculty for 100 students. Courses like soup are shared by many faculties. However, in general the lack of appointments have been a problem. This problem was most severe in Madurai Kamaraj University which had not seen appointments since mid 1980s. This resulted in a large number of backlog vacancies (86) being advertised for and appointed. What should have been a truly joyous occasion if all had been above board, has been embroiled in controversies as seen by the Hindu report dt 25th March 2010 and the Indian Express report dt 20th April 2010. There are now reports that students who tried to question and ask for enquiry were threatened by outsiders. To such levels have our Universities descended! Of course, a strong student, faculty associations and a zero tolerance approach would help. But then in Tamil Nadu, as elsewhere, the commodification of education has gone to such an extent that every aspect of education is taken to the slaughter house of commerce. Wherein lies the solution?
Appointment of Vice-Chancellors:
The Vice-Chancellors in the University system have large powers at their disposal. Such powers give the Vice-Chancellors the flexibility and allowance in decision making required in ensuring the highest standards of excellence in the growing fields of education. The visionaries who designed our University system of Chancellor being the Goevrnor of the State (appointed by the Centre), the Pro-Chancellor being the Minister for Higher Education (elected by the people) and the Vice-Chancellor being selected by a government search committee comprised of eminent citizens must have assumed that all democratic processes would function normally and eminence would be measured by civil society in terms of academic qualities. We have had many exemplary Vice-Chancellors since the time of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. There is an in built system of counterweights that will provide equilibrium in the selection process. For an eminent academician Prof. M. Anandakrishnan to call the University system scandalous because of the commercialization of the appointment of Vice-chancellors (New Indian Express 10 Oct 2009, Chennai) it is a sad reflection of the state of affairs. AIFUCTO gave a call for a check on “money involvement and corruption” in appointments of Vice-Chancellors for Universities (Hindu 26 Oct 2009, Madurai) and demanded eligibility regulations laid by UGC be followed. The candidate for VC post must have capacity, morality and integrity. Also the candidate must have served at least 10 years as professor”. Whether this is being followed in Tamil Nadu, people will have to decide. The cancer of corruption (be it monetary or political influence) destroys the system from within and allows nexus to be established which ensures that the selection from a panel of indistinguishable names is merely a ritual. If our democratic bodies of the Syndicate, Senate and Academic Councils functioned well, they will act as automatic filters to screen out those whose interests lies not in the visionary development of the Universities but in furthering their own career and considering the position as an investment capable of being recovered. We can always try to design new systems as being offered in the NCHER, but in doing so we only deceive ourselves. Establishing watch dog committees and NGOs that will question the process, use the Right to Information act effectively and go in for judicial intervention can mitigate the process. However, the real solution lies in cleansing the system and making people accountable. No amount of working around it will help.
While there are many ailments with the University system, in most cases the cause lies in the steady withdrawal of the State from higher education, the commodification of different aspects of the educational system and the lack of functioning democratic systems within the Universities and the bodies that oversee or govern them. This coupled with the lack of vision by the people at the helm, the rampant politicization of the appointment machinery and the concomitant corruption that ensues at all levels of the machinery have made Universities incapable of providing intellectual leadership and reaching out to the different sections of society.

The best would be if the Government increases its commitment to higher education, delinks politics from University appointments and stops meddling around with Universities. However, the reality is that the Government is shirking its duty to higher education in the name of resources in order to encourage commercialization and its consequent private revenues.

Into this kaleidoscope of corruption, repression and moral ineptitude, when the Governments and authorities exist only for those who wield power and money, Gandhi and these words he uttered in the context of the non-cooperation movement launched against the British colonial rulers “In my opinion non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good” become relevant to us teachers in the current context of appointments in Universities.