University and politics: Will appointment on political line continue?

2014-04-05

Himalayan News Service

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A group of former vice-chancellors has requested the authorities to appoint VCs in the vacant posts of Tribhuvan University (TU) and Nepal Sanskrit University (NSU). Now, Purvanchal University too is going through the same fate. In the past, such appointments were treated as political, and never as academic as it should have as it pertained mainly to academic leadership. If the ministries are without ministers and the constitutional bodies are without heads, it is no wonder that the seats of educational institutions remain unoccupied.

Looking back at the history of TU, the oldest university, one can find that even when the king happened to be the Chancellor of the Universities, hardly any academic standard was required for the selection of the VCs, and in the changed context now, when the Prime Minister is the Chancellor, to think of the selection of VCs on the basis of merit, is definitely a mirage. In the Pachayat era, ironically, there was a time when the Vice-Chancellor was a Lecturer, the rector was a Reader and the registrar a Professor. In some TU campuses, the campus chiefs were the junior teachers, who were supporting the then system. The senior teachers were humiliated, as they had to show respect to their juniors, who used to be on the chair.

TU turned into a hotbed of politics in place of academic activities after king Mahendra dissolved the parliament, put the elected Prime Minster and his cabinet colleagues behind bars, and banned all political activities on December 1, 1960. The only option left before the democratic-minded students was to make the colleges the arena of politics, which is embedded in human nature. The students’ movement succeeded in their demand for students’ union fulfilled, after a long political battle fought in the college premises. It produced student leaders like Daman Nath Dhungana, Arjun Narsingh KC, SB Deuba etc., who gained prominence at the national level, after the fall of the partyless Panchayat system in 1990. Their political grooming ground was definitely their college premises.

Apart from the students’ movement, there was a kind of restlessness for academic freedom in the teaching community as well. However, there was no forum to raise such demands. The University Teachers’ Union, once inaugurated by the then king himself, had fallen into oblivion. The teachers could not dare to come out openly for it. However, in 1975, the University dismissed more than twenty teachers without any justification, making them the victims of their conviction. Most of them were democrats, and some had left leaning as well.

Regretfully, the post-1990 history of TU too did not show any sign of improvement. The first VC appointed during GP Koirala’s regime was BC Malla, who was a senior teacher dismissed earlier. But, he was appointed ambassador to China after a year of his service. As VC, he could not lead the university for his full tenure. Similarly, the next VC appointed was KB Mathema, an official in the World Bank, who too was dismissed like Malla earlier. He did not have any long innings at the helm of TU. Of course, he belonged to a martyr’s family. He was believed to have been appointed on the recommendation of the senior-most leader of the NC. The regime of Manmohan Adhikari not only continued the tradition established by his predecessor, but surpassed it. The NC had appointed only its supporters, whereas the CPN-UML appointed a very cadre of the party, KK Joshi as VC, who had unsuccessfully contested the mayoral election as CPN-UML nominee in 1992. After Joshi, the NC appointed NJ Shah as VC. Although he too belonged to a martyr’s family, he could not meet the minimum standard for becoming a VC, as he was only a Reader. He was appointed as chairman of the TU Service Commission (TUSC) a year before he was appointed as VC. He held two top posts of TU within two years. One may wonder as to how a Reader was supposed to hold interviews for professorship. After Shah, a royalist Professor Dr. GP Sharma was appointed VC, but was forced to resign in the wake of the Second People’s Movement in 2006. Meanwhile, the newly established Pokhara and Purvanchal Universities remained occupied by the NC nominees.

In the post-2006 era, the situation further deteriorated. There was a gap of almost one year in selecting the new VC. In the early period, since CPN-UML was the main partner, which got CPN-UML nominee, MP Sharma appointed as VC, a NC nominee as Rector and CPN-Maoist nominee as Registrar, while NC nominee Bidur Paudel was appointed VC of Nepal Sanskrit University. After the CA election, the CPN-Maoist becoming the largest party rightly claimed its share, and had its nominee as VC of Pokhara University. The Tarai Madhesh Democratic party too got its nominee appointed as Chairman of the TUSC. It is said that faculty heads and posts of campus chiefs are being divided among the political parties. When the parties are concerned about sharing power in the universities, the quality of education is bound to make an exit.

(Source: The Himalayantimes)