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Welcome revival of transparency
Thanks to the various scams and corruption charges in several state universities in Tamil Nadu over the last fifteen years, there is total loss of credibility over the appointment process of vice-chancellors. There were charges of corruption, caste favouritism, political influence and nepotism.

Several  PILs were filed before the Madras High Court seeking directions to the authorities to ensure transparency, objectivity and quality in the selection of VCs. In one such case, the Madras High Court noted that the UGC could penalise universities, which do not function according to regulations. The Madras High Court nudged the state government to amend the statutes governing its universities and adopt the UGC Regulations of 2010. The First Bench of Chief Justice S K Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayan observed: “The Government should now be quite aware of the consequences which will flow to them on their inaction or refusal to amend the provision of the statutes (of the State universities) in line with the UGC Regulations and should be ready to face them. This may entail difficulty in the functioning of the State universities on account of the lack of support and fund flow from the UGC”.  They added that “it would, no doubt, be advisable and desirable for the State Government to amend the Acts in terms of the  UGC Regulations,”

Despite the High Court’s recommendations in good faith, the Tamil Nadu government till recently did not bother to amend the statutes of public universities in conformity with UGC regulations.

The UGC Regulations prescribed not only the qualifications of persons for appointment as VCs but also about the nature of search committees.


Public interest litigations

Narayanan of Change India filed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a direction on the appointment of vice-chancellors of state universities, Tamil Nadu.  He raised the following issues in the PIL 

• Inordinate delay in the appointment of vice-chancellors.

• Continued overlooking of the pre-eminence of the office of the vice chancellors and their role in guiding and mentoring the university towards excellence in learning.

• Steady loss of pre-eminence of public universities in TN following several alleged scams linked to corruption and nepotism by former vice chancellors.

• No full-time vice-chancellor, registrar and controller of examination appointed for Madurai Kamaraj and some other universities,

• No progress in the functioning of the search committee to recommend the name of the new vice-chancellor of Tamil Nadu Fisheries University, which was constituted after a delay of five months on 11 August 2016.   

• The vacancies in the top most positions in the universities were hampering their efficient functioning.  Administrative matters, affiliation, research projects, recognition to new courses, financial allocation and other crucial issues are pending in several state-run universities for want of leadership and direction.

Following the PIL, the Madras High Court ordered the issue of notice to Tamil Nadu government.

In Tamil Nadu the following universities remained headless for considerable time:  

The University of Madras was without a VC for 16 months and the new VC has taken charge on  May 2017. Madurai Kamarajar University remained headless for 2 years and the new VC assumed office in May 2017. This appointment is under controversy both on account of academic merit of the new VC and alleged criminal case pending against him.  Anna University is without a VC for over a year and the chancellor has rejected all the three names recommended by the search committee.


Light in the tunnel

At this juncture, the government of Tamil Nadu has come out with an ordinance which specifies norms for search panel formation, qualifications for board members and VC aspirants. This is promulgated as an amendment to the existing laws governing the appointment of vice-chancellors in state universities and the formation of search committees. The change will be immediately effected in 12 universities. It will apply to the University of Madras post approval of the President since this university was established before independence. 

This is indeed a welcome development recognising the public outcry for probity and transparency in the process of appointing search committees and identifying a panel of names for the position of VCs. Some aspects of this initiative need further reflections.

The ordinance specifies that the search committee be constituted six months before the tenure of the incumbent VC ends. This is a highly desirable feature leaving no scope for vacancies in VC positions. The election for the senate and syndicate nominees should be done within two months. The list of likely candidates for VC post should be finalised within four months’ of the committee’s constitution. It is the chancellor’s discretion to either dissolve the committee or give it time if the committee exceeds the time limit.

The names proposed for the position of VCs should not only fulfill the qualifications prescribed but should also be well-known in the academic circles at the national level.

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