A rather small section of the alumni of Kolkata’s Presidency College/University has suddenly pulled up a chair to express concern over the vacant seats across disciplines in the born-again university. It needs to be underlined at the outset that theirs’ is not the voice of the august Alumni Association as a whole.

The sudden overdrive by a handful of ex-students must make us wonder whether the once omnipotent Mentor Group, not to forget the Vice-Chancellor, have been relegated to the sidelines. This tendency to meddle is of a piece with the umbra and the penumbra within which the Vice-Chancellor has been expected to function ever since the great college was needlessly upgraded to a university in 2010.

The praxis of a section of the alumni, if headed by the president of the association, is no different from that of the Mentor Group.

A panel discussion on Presidency at a prominent social club ~ hardly the venue, we must interject ~ has over the weekend been followed up with a proposal to meet the education minister ostensibly for a discussion on the issue of vacant seats. Mr Partha Chatterjee, as undistinguished in the sphere of education as he was in industries, has readily signalled his intent to conduct what he calls a “special audit” on the finances of Presidency University.

This is a new spin on the institution’s functioning. Student vacancies and fiscal management are two very different propositions. No one denies that vacant seats are a matter of concern, but certain worthies among the alumni have, unwittingly or otherwise, prepared the recipe for direct government interference in the affairs of the university. Instead of discussing the matter with the VC and the Heads of Departments, they appear to have reposed greater confidence in the minister.

The education department’s intervention can only serve to turn the clock back and make confusion worse confounded. In retrospect, former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s suggestion on an autonomous college ought to have been implemented. Sad to reflect, it was shot down by his party’s education cell, which had its own axe to grind. Presidency University has at best been a halfway house ~ a far cry from a truly autonomous institution.

There is yet to be an earnest effort either by the Mentor Group or the Alumni Association or for that matter the university authorities to diagnose the problem of vacant seats. The risk of the government proposing a relaxation in the admission criteria is real.

“Dereservation” of seats, another proposal that has been floated, is thoroughly unfeasible given that the better part of the current semester is over. Both the minister and the alumni must realise that such proposals can only denude the concept of excellence.

Will two fundamental questions get to be asked and answered? Why are students not joining Presidency University at the under-graduate level? Why are they applying for migration certificates to pursue post-graduate studies elsewhere? Thus far, the Mentor Group has been muted in its response.