When the Vice-Chancellor of a university, a distinguished historian to boot, makes a pregnant observation at a convocation, it is almost suggestive of a rift in the lute vis-a-vis the state government.

More than the customary award of D.Litt and D.Sc to academic notables, Prof Suranjan Das took the opportunity of Saturday’s 61st convocation of Jadavpur University to advance a remarkably forthright presentation ~ “The moment I realise my inability to discharge the coordinating role in university governance, I shall not hesitate to offer to step down.”

What could the provocation be? He has not defined what he calls his “coordinating role”.

No one expected the VC to be explicit at the annual grandstanding; but he has bared his angst ~ however mildly ~ in the presence of the Governor/Chancellor, the faculties, and the students. Is it possible that he has obliquely alluded to at least two critical issues?

The first was his sudden transfer from Calcutta University to Jadavpur… to cause a contrived vacancy for a confirmed party loyalist who, on his appointment as “interim VC”, had pledged to function according to the state government’s lights as it was the appointing authority as well as the source of funds. That must have been music to the ears of the likes of minister Partha Chatterjee. Was the transfer really necessary? For one, the post is not tenure-based.

For another and still more crucially, the former Governor/Chancellor, Mr MK Narayanan, had once certified Prof Das as an “outstanding VC”. Since July 2015, when he stepped into the Jadavpur VC’s office, it has been a roller-coaster ride for the incumbent, most particularly because of an occasionally turbulent campus.

More recently, the education department’s directive not to “reappoint” professors on extension has rocked the apple-cart fair and square. The rule is seemingly reasonable, judging by the prism of the age of superannuation.

Nonetheless, it calls for a clear-cut regulation, one that is applicable to universities across the state and concordant with the UGC certitudes. In Jadavpur, there has emerged a critical conflict of interest between the university and the minister… resulting in the abrupt termination of the extended tenure of three professors and much against the VC’s will.

In the net, a centre of excellence had to sacrifice merit at the altar of an equally abrupt ministerial fatwa. That fatwa, as it turns out, has had to be accorded precedence over the decision of the university authorities, one that was formulated in the interest of pedagogy.

Not that such reappointments are uniquely JU; the services of selected academics are extended in other state universities as well. More accurately, it is the performance /contribution of reappointed academics that ought to be accorded greater weightage. Pray why?

For even during normal service, the classroom lectures are far less than what the UGC stipulates. The general preference is for junkets and seminars.