Less than a decade after its foundation, the reputation of Kolkata’s Presidency University has hit the reefs. On Monday, it incurred the dubious distinction of being compelled to shift Tuesday’s convocation to Nandan III ~ an auditorium for screening films. The line that demarcates academic pursuit from cinema has consciously been blurred in consequence.
Another dubious distinction was the lock fixed on the college/university’s “great gates” on Monday morning, allegedly by students, thus preventing the Vice-Chancellor and other worthies from entering the campus. Yet another facet must be that permission to hold the convocation at Raj Bhavan was denied, with Governor/ Chancellor Keshari Nath Tripathi refusing to be part of the grandstanding, during which the VC has been known to genuflect at the altar of the Chief Minister and literally so.
To summon a hackneyed expression, developments at Presidency University are “unprecedented”. And the disgust is palpable at the gubernatorial level. Altogether, it shall not be easy either for the students or the authorities to shore up their battered images, let alone to clear the mess in the backyard of College Street. On closer reflection, neither the students nor the authorities can evade responsibility for the current imbroglio, recalling the frequent disruptions at another end of the city ~ in Jadavpur University.
For both institutions, the excellence (JU) or potentially excellent (Presidency) embroidery has been reduced to shreds. The demand of the students that they must be accommodated at Hindu Hostel even during renovation is unreasonable. At another remove, work on the project has been sluggish in the extreme and curiously enough, the authorities have done little to ensure that the overhaul is not in the realm of “present continuous”. It has repeatedly missed the deadline for completing repairs ever since the hostel of historical importance was closed for repair in July 2015.
That said, the students will have to accept that it was decidedly illegal to fix the lock and symbolically shut down the university. Quite total is the disgrace that the great institution has suffered. The students have descended to the level of trade union agitprop. “A handful of protesting students have taken over the entire university. This is unacceptable,” was the lament of the Vice-Chancellor, who has been instructed by the Governor/Chancellor to conduct the convocation.
It is direly unfortunate that Presidency University witnessed the retreat of the VC and other academics as they countenanced the agitating students, and the lock. Given the space at Nandan III, the convocation will be a visibly truncated affair. Not unsurprisingly, the degree certificates will not be handed over, save the honoris causa to Bharat Ratna CNR Rao and veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee. The university has cut a sorry figure in the presence of the dignitaries who have been invited. In the wider canvas, the search of learning has floundered.