The advancement of learning in West Bengal lies rather thin on the ground in the context of certain developments this week. The first was the Chief Minister’s decision to increase the salaries of college and university teachers with effect from New Year’s day, an announcement that was greeted with studied silence from the audience of academics.
The other was Mamata Banerjee’s homily to Vice-Chancellors of the state’s 28 universities, specifically not to succumb to pressure or come under any influence as they were “heads of autonomous institutions”.
This is a sweeping generalisation. On closer reflection, only St Xavier’s is autonomous; the rest are very much under state control. That equation had once prompted an interim VC of Calcutta University to remark rather speciously that if the state government is funding the university, we must abide by the education minister’s wishes on every issue.
Diplomatically enough, the Chief Minister had stopped short of mentioning the target of her angst; yet unmistakable was the swipe against the Governor/Chancellor without mentioning the target. She has advised the VCs to approach the Chief Minister’s office whenever they were confronted with potentially explosive issues.
Within 24 hours, the Governor, Mr Jagdeep Dhankar has advanced a robust response. Both the Chief Minister’s advice and the Governor’s counter-blast would suggest that the campuses, including centres of excellence if not eminence quite yet, could be undermined by the all too apparent conflict of egos and the competitive struggle for the mastery of campuses.
At a meeting with the VCs, the Governor has made it clear that “other than the Chancellor, the VCs and the universities’ own entities, no one else had the right to meddle in campus affairs”. Indeed, the Governor-Chancellor has dwelt on the core of the malaise with the blunt statement that “universities in West Bengal are not allowed to act in the way they want to, while there is always a contest in the institutions over who is a greater boss ~ the state government or the Chancellor. We must operate in our own areas rather than get into a competing scenario of who is a bigger boss.”
If the universities deserve a free hand in their day-to-day operations, neither the Governor nor the Chief Minister should meddle in their affairs. This is the short point that the Governor and the Chief Minister are yet to acknowledge. When Miss Banerjee cavils over what she calls “external interference”, she intrinsically argues against the Governor’s visit to Jadavpur University to “rescue” a BJP MP when heckled by students.
Mr Dhankar did go on overdrive to defuse a crisis that could have been resolved by the faculties, even if the VC of JU was loath to inform the police. The shadow-boxing between the Governor and the Chief Minister reaffirm the competitive urge to call the shots. Let learning excel; neither Raj Bhavan nor Nabanna can be accorded precedence over the advancement of learning and the quest for excellence. Let the student be entitled to uppermost priority.