It has been a great day for Jadavpur University as it boasts “full autonomy” in league with Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Hyderabad ~ central universities both ~, Homi Bhabha National Institute in Mumbai, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and NALSAR, also in Hyderabad.

For Jadavpur, the inherent irony in last Tuesday’s announcement by the University Grants Commission must also be a source of considerable pride not the least in the context of the student unrest that has roiled the campus all too often, leading to the resignation of the previous Vice-Chancellor and the prolonged leave (on “health grounds”) of the incumbent.

The violent agitation has gone hand in hand with the “excellence” tag… and now autonomy. On closer reflection, the grant of autonomy is a double sundae for a centre of excellence and it must be conceded that though the students have on occasion gone on overkill ~ with the police resorting to lathicharge after allegedly switching the lights off ~ JU has never compromised on its academic achievements, whether in pure science, technology or humanities.

Autonomy is a recognition of that almost in-built excellence. Just as a suicide in the central university in Hyderabad or a Dalit counter-mobilisation against saffronite meddling in JNU have scarcely impinged on the traditional excellence of the institutions.

For JU as indeed for the 25 other universities that have been granted “full autonomy”, quite the most striking facet is the freedom to open off-campus centres without seeking the UGC’s approval and with self-financing programmes.

This would suggest that the autonomous institutions will have to generate their resources for the new disciplines. The universities have also been given a free hand to start new departments such as “peace studies” and “sustainable development”, offer higher salaries to attract talent, and effect a 20 per cent increase in seats to admit foreign students.

Indeed, the special entitlements will spell the difference between “full autonomy” and “limited autonomy” that has been granted to 27 other universities.

The higher salary structure would have raised no cavil were it not for the increasing tendency to go on junkets… at the cost of classroom lectures. This hopefully will not be construed as an innuendo; only to underline a statement of fact that often militates against completion of the syllabi.

More accurately, the initiative to link talent with “higher salaries” has been a non-starter in Presidency. Kolkata has an additional reason to preen its feathers ~ across the city, Jadavpur is the second autonomous institution after St Xavier’s University.

But whereas the state has stopped short of interference in the latter, Jadavpur, Calcutta, and Presidency Universities have been the playgrounds of the political class ~ from the Congress to the Trinamul dispensations via the robust meddling during the 34 years of CPI-M rule.