by Ajaz Ashraf
You’d think the teachers of Jamia Millia Islamia have gone a little batty in requesting the President of India to appoint as their new vice-chancellor (VC) a person from the academia. But of course, you’d say, the VC of a central university, which is the status of Jamia Millia Islamia as well, should have an academic experience long enough to ground him or her in the contemporary culture of our universities.
So then, are the teachers of Jamia a paranoid lot, smelling a conspiracy even though the process of appointing their new VC is still afoot?
Unless you are deeply prejudiced against professors, dismissing them as a people who live in isolation, you’d be surprised at the statistics I stumbled upon while researching a story for a weekly newsmagazine. From the time Jamia became a central university in 1988, it has had six VCs, of whom three, or 50 per cent, belonged to either the Indian Administrative Service or the Army.
This picture is alarmingly dismal for Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), too. From 1980, AMU has had eight VCs (excluding Acting VCs), of whom six (or 75 per cent) belonged to the IAS, IFS or the Army.
Its current VC is Lt Gen (retd) Zameeruddin Shah, who is a former Army commander of repute and, from all accounts, an honourable man. But he seems to have mistaken AMU for a military cantonment or else he wouldn’t have chosen a retired brigadier as the Pro-VC and a former group captain as the Registrar. Shah isn’t the first general to head what are popularly but erroneously referred to as Muslim universities – this honour goes to Lt Gen (retd) MA Zaki, who, 17 years ago, was made Jamia’s VC.
Since the laws governing Jamia and AMU don’t disqualify non-academicians from the VC post, they are as entitled as any to head the two universities. Would it not enrich them, you’d argue, to have at their helm men and women experienced in administering districts and, say, food or oil ministries? Theoretically yes, but then you must also ask the other question: Do other central universities, as old and prestigious as Jamia and AMU, have IAS officers calling the shots and generals blowing the whistle?
From Independence till date, Delhi University (DU) has had just one civil service officer as its VC – the redoubtable CD Deshmukh, who had been India’s Finance Minister between 1950 and 1956, before he became DU’s VC. Even the querulous Jamia teachers wouldn’t mind if they were to have, say, Finance Minister PC Chidambaram as their new VC.
The only non-academic VC to have graced Visva Bharati was SR Das, who was the fifth Chief Justice of India. Arguably, India’s chief justices can match any academician in their knowledge of jurisprudence. Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has never had an IAS or a general as its VC.
Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in its initial years had two distinguished diplomats – G Parthasarthi and former President KR Narayanan –as VC, perhaps to overcome the teething problems the new institution must have encountered, but none in the last three decades.
The NorthEastern Hill University has had as its VC just one IAS officer, BD Sharma, but then he is considered an authority on tribal affairs. He was reportedly persuaded to take the post of VC as nobody was willing to accept the assignment following the killing of his predecessor. Nevertheless, the university was spared the general’s rule even though it is located in a region infamous for armed secessionist movements.
True, at least two IAS-turned-VCs of Jamia – Najeeb Jung and Syed Shahid Mahdi –had a few years of academic experience. Mahdi, for instance, taught in AMU and Kurukshetra University for around four years before he joined the civil services in 1963. Pedagogy and university culture in the fifties presumably differed remarkably from what it was in 2000, the year in which he became Jamia’s VC.
Najeeb Jung had been a Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Oxford University, for some years; it is his appointment to the post of Delhi’s Lt Governor has created vacancy in the VC’s office, into which Jamia teachers now want an academician to step. Interestingly, the Jamia Teachers’ Association has opposed the move to confer on Jung an honorary degree.
In a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee, the Association president, Professor MS Bhat, wrote, “In our opinion, conferring this degree on a person who has not made any exceptional contribution to public or academic life will lower the prestige of the honorary degree. Moreover, awarding it to a person who has just relinquished the office of vice-chancellor is bound to breed suspicion in the eyes of the public.”
You get the picture, right?
What exceptional qualities do Jamia and AMU possess that generals and IAS officials are required to helm them? Many believe the phenomenon of non-academician VCs in these two universities is closely linked to the Indian state’s imagining of the Muslim community – that it is unruly, its young susceptible to radical politics, beyond the control of professors who have been trained to argue and debate, not take stringent disciplinarian measures.
Yet, it is equally true that the paranoid Indian state couldn’t have succeeded in imposing a surfeit of non-academicians as VCs on Jamia and AMU without the connivance of Muslim elites.
As is true for other central universities (other than AMU), the Jamia Millia Islami VC is appointed by the Visitor (President of India) from a panel of at least three names recommended by a Search Committee, which consists of three members, two of whom Jamia’s 15-member Executive Council (EC) nominates and the other the President. It’s the President’s nominee who chairs the Search Committee.
No doubt, the EC nominees in the Search Committee could play a significant role in aborting insidious attempts to impose a general or a bureaucrat on Jamia. In reality, though, the EC is vulnerable to manipulation and pressure, having as it does members who are beholden to the government.
For instance, four members of the EC are nominees of the Visitor (read the HRD Ministry). Add to these four the VC, who is obliged to the government for appointing him to the post in the first place; he is inclined to please the government in the hope of getting a sinecure in the future. Another EC member, the pro-VC, is on paper the appointee of the EC, but it is the VC who recommends his name for the EC’s ratification. In addition, the EC has two members from among the ‘Life Members’ of Jamia whom the university Court elects. It effectively balances or tilts the scale against some Jamia academicians in the EC, who are willing to take on the government.
Considering the skewed composition of the 15-member EC, it isn’t surprising to discover a Muslim bureaucrat or general among the names the Search Committee forwarded to the President for choosing the VC.
The President is entitled to choose, presumably on the Human Resources Ministry’s advise, any among those recommended. Such a system insulates the government from criticism as Jamia’s EC members are party to the selection.
In writing to the President, the Jamia teachers have demonstrated their opposition to the government’s predilection to appoint non-academicians as their VC. Should yet another non-academician become the VC of Jamia, its teachers shouldn’t hesitate to oppose the decision.
Imagine the government appointing a general or an IAS officer as the VC of Delhi University or JNU. Delhi’s intellectuals and students would have been out on the streets condemning the move as anti-education and an attempt to surreptitiously impose state control over them. Indeed, the Jamia VC issue is about demanding treatment similar to that of other prestigious central universities. (Courtesy: firstpost.com)
(The author is a Delhi-based journalist. Email: email@example.com)