Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit recently said that crores of rupees exchanged hands in the appointments of vice chancellors in the state in the past. The Bharathiar University VC was arrested earlier this year on bribery charges and the former VC of Anna University, Coimbatore, was convicted of graft charges in 2016. A few years ago, the apex court had to cancel appointments of around 10 VCs in various universities of Bihar. A recent UGC audit report on Aligarh Muslim University made a few controversial suggestions about the appointment of its VC.
Who should be appointed as a vice chancellor? What should be the process of appointment? Should the government have any say in their appointment?Even Albert Einstein cannot become the vice chancellor of an Indian university if he is ineligible under UGC regulations, the Madras HC had noted. VCs, the heads of universities and the most visible symbols of the university system, are these days appointed not because they are distinguished academicians, but because they have the right political connections in the MHRD in case of central universities, or appropriate political or caste affiliations in the concerned state—in many cases, they pay huge amounts of money with rates varying from `1 crore-`3 crore in some states.
Not surprisingly, expediency, and not merit, decides the choice. Even associate professors and in some cases, even assistant professors, who had worked only in private colleges have been appointed as VCs. Gujarat had many such cases. So a number of appointments have been quashed by the judiciary due to the appointment of ineligible candidates, absence of consultation by the governor with the state government, defect in the composition of the search committee, etc.
In 2015, the SC itself upheld the appointment of Kalyani Mathivanan, who was an associate professor in a private aided college, as Madurai Kamaraj University VC on the technical grounds of non-adoption of UGC regulations by TN, though the incumbent was not eligible as per the UGC regulations, 2010. In 2016, the Allahabad HC had similarly upheld the appointment of General Zameeruddin Shah as the VC of AMU.
A VC is the keeper of the university’s conscience. As head of the university, a VC is expected to function as a bridge between the administrative and academic wings of the university and that’s why the VC, in all university acts, is called an ‘officer’ of the university rather than purely the academic head. It is to facilitate this role that universities are always in search of those with leadership qualities and integrity in addition to academic excellence and administrative experience. The qualifications for a VC were for the first time laid down by the UGC in 2010. As per this, a VC should be a distinguished academician with 10 years experience as a professor, and should have impeccable integrity and morals.
A number of commissions had made recommendations on this issue. The Kothari Commission, in 1964, said, “A vice chancellor should be a person with vision ... He should command high respect among all sections of the society. The vice chancellor should be a distinguished academic...(who) has commitment to the values for which the universities stand.”
But is such a paragon found only amongst teachers? There has been near unanimity that a VC should be an academician and no bureaucrat, judge, diplomat or army officer should be appointed as VC.
Unfortunately, the government continues to play a crucial role in the appointment of VCs and a university’s autonomy is given scant regard. There are different levels of governmental role, i.e. the VCs of central universities are appointed by the president of India who generally acts on the Centre’s advice; in state universities appointments are rarely made by the governor on his own and in most cases in consultation with the state government.
In the West, universities have freedom to choose their VCs. Each university has its identity and peculiar problems; so, ideally universities should be free to elect their own VCs. The SC has not so far examined the merits of the UGC qualification or the process of appointment. It has merely held that UGC regulations are mandatory for central universities and institutions receiving maintenance grants from the UGC. It also held that in case of a conflict between the state university act and a central law like the UGC Act, the latter would prevail.
Ideally, the SC should have looked at the merit of confining the vice chancellorship to just professors. Most VCs in India are academicians, yet not a single university finds a place in the top 100 universities of the world. We need to expand our net and make distinguished people from all fields eligible to become VCs. Similarly the court has not clarified on the vital issue of conflict between the UGC Act and acts of central universities. Many central university acts lay down a process of appointment of VC which is at variance with the UGC regulations. The UGC Act is the general law and central university acts are special laws and in case of a conflict between a general law and special law, the special law would prevail. Further, the statutes of central universities which lay down procedure of the VC’s appointment are generally passed by Parliament along with the Act and so should be superior to UGC regulations framed by just UGC members. The AMU statute has a highly transparent and democratic process of selection of VC in which all stakeholders such as students, teachers, non-teaching staff, Parliamentarians, etc. suggest three names to India’s president, who eventually appoints one of them as VC.
The new UGC regulations framed this July say that one member of the VC search committee for even state, private and minority universities shall be nominated by the UGC chairman. In respect of private and minority universities, this is violative of their freedom ‘to administer’ educational institutions under Article 30 of the Constitution as well as the 11 judge-bench SC decision in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case (2003). Let us trust our universities and give them freedom to choose their VCs.
Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, and an expert on constitutional law