Patna, Jan. 25: The continuing deadlock over the vice-chancellors of Bihar's universities has shifted focus on the post considered crucial to the future of education in a state where the quality of higher studies has steadily declined over the years.
Old-timers pointed to the early 1970s, when Patna University (PU) was the hotbed of student politics. Mahendra Pratap ' a doctorate from Cambridge University ' was the vice-chancellor of PU then. "Such was the aura of the VC that Lalu Prasad ' then an upcoming student leader who used to be on perpetual protest ' would disappear from the scene when Pratap would pass by," recalled a retired teacher of the university.
The government has questioned the list of nominees sent by Governor Devanand Konwar, in his capacity as chancellor, for appointment as VCs. Last month, the high court had quashed the appointment of six VCs and four pro-VCs on the ground that the stipulated consultation with the government had not been followed by the governor.
All the six of the VCs have been renominated by the governor in his list sent to the government. Four of them are facing charges of irregularities, prompting the government to question their credentials.
"One VC was found prima facie guilty of indecent behaviour towards a lady Bhojpuri singer. Another VC was accused by a TV channel of having an inappropriate relationship with a girl," remarked PU professor of economics N.K. Choudhary, while expressing hope that the chancellor shows respect to the office he holds in selecting the new VCs.
Patna University has had the privilege of having VCs such as K.K. Dutta, George Jacob, Sachin Dutt and Sudarshan Prasad Singh, who earned the moral authority of teachers and students due to their academic brilliance and integrity. "Compared to them, if I were to grade them on a score of 10, the present lot of VCs would not get more than 3. Outside PU, the situation is worse," said a professor at Patna University, who did not wish to be named.
Academicians indicated that only educational credentials were no longer enough to be considered for the VC's post. "To become a VC, one has to be in the panel of either the chancellor or the government. For that one needs more than sound academic background," said PU professor Shiv Jatan Thakur.
Thakur had a stormy stint as member of the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) during the Lalu-Rabri era when he spoke out against irregularities in the panel. More recently, he was the chancellor's nominee for appointment of 22 principals to constituent colleges under Magadh University. Thakur raised his voice again by alleging irregularities in the selection. He was removed as the chancellor's nominee. "No wonder I do not find myself in any panel of VCs. I am not sure if I want to become a VC," Thakur said.
If the present list of VCs does not evoke confidence, it is because their academic background and integrity is questionable. But the decline started long ago ' from the Congress regime. During the early Lalu Prasad era, VCs were appointed depending on their proximity to Ranjan Prasad Yadav (now a JD-U MP), recalled a PU teacher.
Academicians have little sympathy for the Nitish Kumar government's plea that it was "helpless" as the chancellor had the last say. "What happened when Nitish Kumar shared an excellent relationship with Konwar's predecessor, R.S. Gavai? The quality of VCs appointed then was equally bad. In fact, even last time around, there was a dubious character who figured in the lists of both the government and the chancellor," said an academician.
Teachers like Shiv Thakur hold the view that the government can offer resistance by expediting vigilance cases against VCs facing corruption charges. There are others who believe that the only solution is to have a mandatory search committee of distinguished academicians who would make a list of candidates. "But that is the bill the governor is sitting on and unless this chancellor goes, it is not possible," said a teacher.
Does the choice of VCs raise questions about the quality of academicians Bihar has? "Most definitely not," said a top bureaucrat. In Patna University alone, he pointed out, there are teachers like Rashbihari Prasad Singh (Principal of Patna College), Arun Kumar Singh (Principal, Science College), U.K. Sinha (head of the botany department) besides economist Choudhary and Shiv Thakur. All of them have impeccable credentials. Talent can also be tapped outside the state's boundaries. Earlier governors had brought in VCs from outside Bihar having outstanding academic backgrounds like Y.C. Simadhri (former VC of BHU) and Shyam Lal (former VC of Rajasthan University). Both were appointed VCs at Patna University.
Academicians pointed out that the performance of the existing VC wasn't something to write home about. Except for Shambhu Nath Singh (VC of Patna University), who introduced the entrance exams and held elections to the students' union, no other vice-chancellor has done anything substantial for their universities.