Chancellor runs roughshod over Kerala academia

The chancellor’s vituperation on the academia, whatever the rationale, has irreparably tarnished the image of universities. Political powers involved, as usual, will emerge unscathed.

Published: 28th November 2022 10:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th November 2022 11:20 AM   |  A+A-

Dr Suresh Jnaneswaran  ​

Dr Suresh Jnaneswaran ​

Express News Service

The chancellor’s vituperation on the academia, whatever the rationale, has irreparably tarnished the image of universities. Political powers involved, as usual, will emerge unscathed. The chancellor, by training his guns on the first academics has blasphemed the high office of the vice-chancellor which sober statesmen over the years had bestowed dignity bordering on veneration.

The raison d’etre for the scholar and his scholarship, despite the hierarchical protocol --- chancellor, pro-chancellor, vice-chancellor, et al --- had a sacred aureole in enlightened society’s consciousness. Jawaharlal Nehru, S Radhakrishnan, E M S Namboodiripad, et al, as befitting their accomplishments acknowledged the vice-chancellors’ special persona. Not to forget the history of Travancore University inviting Albert Einstein as vice-chancellor. It has always been lesser politicians and their ilk that failed to comprehend this cultural finesse.

With the universalisation of primary, secondary and higher education, the socio-political narrative underwent a transition and schools, colleges and universities, inter alia, became nurseries of future politicians. Mass education did affect the quality of the teacher and the taught in spite of interdictory mechanisms. The noble profession witnessed the encroachment of careerists into its fraternity for employment and intermittent political indoctrination.

This impacted the quality of education, in spite of the ideological rodomontade to the contrary. The ‘scholar teacher’ and ‘political teacher’ became synonyms. The latter with abundant rhetorical skills advanced by political patronage while the former, ill understood and suspect, were marginalised for the ‘organic intellectuals’. This being ubiquitous across the country ‘Capturing Universities’ became the new slogan, as the political future of the country resided therein.  Party bosses enjoyed the obsequiousness and sycophancy of the careerist scholar who kowtowed to politicians, for career advancements --- registrars, PVC, V-C, post-retirement postings, et al, being the norm.

In such a macro socio-cultural narrative, the chancellor, a self-proclaimed politician, is not to be blamed for not being a liberator and trampling underfoot the leaders of university. However, the crass exhibition of power and use of mass media for the purpose have bulldozed the ethos and spirit of higher scholarship and its sober sanctity. Vice-chancellors are put on public trial; damned as ‘criminals’ and nonagenarian scholar of international renown, viz. Padma Bhushan Irfan Habib accused of assault and battery. In the aggression and language of its exacerbation lies the heinousness of a mala fide narrative. Noble alternatives for a cleansing, if mandated, were not oblivious to the perpetrator. The judgemental nature and arrogance of power, against which the chief justice of India cautioned, was conspicuous.

Constitutional democracies as ours have two institutions as Walter Bagehot (1867) adumbrated. The ‘Dignified’ and the ‘Efficient’. They work when they support each other for the state’s welfare. The ‘Dignified’ ought to be conscious of its dignity and the ‘Efficient’ of its responsibilities. Political rhetoric and runaway ambitions jeopardise this fine  balance. A scenario has emerged wherein the adage, ‘Knowledge is Power’, is lost to ‘Power is Knowledge’ of an ‘infallible oracle’- the chancellor.

(Dr Suresh Jnaneswaran is a former Dean and Director, School of Social Sciences, University of Kerala)

(Views expressed are personal)

India Matters


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  • Arjun S

    A wonderful analysis timely and opportune. Expecting more like it.
    2 months ago reply
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