PUCL Bulletin,

February 1982

Perils to academic freedom
-- By Dalip S. Swamy

The stage through which our system of university education is passing at present is very crucial to the basic issues of our goal of creating a just and egalitarian social order and the role a university is expected to play in it. The autonomy of the university and the sanctity of academic freedom is as vital to a democracy as the independence of the judiciary. This proposition is at least formally acceptable to the rulers.

We must be conscious of the fact that funds for running our academic institutions come from the public exchequer as much as the courts are maintained at the public expense. So a university is not an ivory tower completely isolated from the humdrum of social life and problems. It is a socially useful institution and its autonomy and freedom do not and should not imply complete lack of accountability to the society. But the irony of the situation is that it is this very sense of social responsibility which gives a guilty conscience to some academicians who feel that their participation in the present educational system, which has become irrelevant to the requirements of the people, helps only to perpetuate the existing inequitable social order. Whenever the components constituting a university-teachers, students and karamcharis-articulate their personal, social and professional problems and raise their voice of protest against injustice and the misdeeds of the authorities, their exercise of legitimate freedom becomes intolerable to those who have complete material control over our education. Freedom of thought, expression and organisation in our educational life is now under systematic attack by the forces of status quo and the enemies of social change and progress.

Power Centralised
It is useful to have a glance at the actions of different state governments impinging on the autonomy of the universities all over the country.

In the east, the West Bengal government amended the Calcutta University Act on December 31, 1979. Clause 49 of the amended Act states that the government can at its own sweet will institute an enquiry into the affairs of any department of the University or the affiliated colleges will be bound by law to give effect to the recommendations of such commissions of enquiry. Another clause gives the chancellor sweeping powers to dissolve all elected bodies and to nominate any person he thinks fit to any administrative body. Still another clause confirms the provisions of the Calcutta University Act of 1966 which had imposed financial control. Thus, the 1979 Act enhances the administrative powers of the V. C and centralises virtually all powers in the hands of the Chancellor, which ultimately means the state government. This legalises the government interference in the academic life of Calcutta University and shows scant respect to the idea of academic freedom. The Act in a sense has transformed the University into an another department of the Directorate of Education.

In the west, the state government of Gujarat amended the Gujarat University Act through an ordinance in December 1981. The ordinance provides for the nomination of six additional members to the Syndicate, raising the total number of nominations in the 27-member Syndicate to nine. This means that a V. C. with the support of only five of the seventeen elected members can carry the Syndicate with him. To make the V.C.'s position doubly unassailable, the ordinance invests him with the absolute power to act in emergency, which cannot be called into question even by the Syndicate. He has also been given absolute power in regard to the selection of examiners.

The ordinance also provides that any decision of the Syndicate, which has financial implications for the state government. this provision has been made because some of the universities granted generous benefits to their teaching and non-teaching employees. Even in the M.S. University of Baroda, where the former Maharaja enjoys hereditary chancellorship, the state government appointed the Governor as the Visitor and changed the composition of the Senate. The control on the Senate and centralisation of the administrative powers in the hands of the V.C. are designed to impose the political will on the functioning of the universities.

Political Interference
As we move from the east and the west to the Centre we are face to face with a worse situation. The political interference in the academic life in Bihar is operating in its most naked form. Shyam Nandan Kishore, the Vice Chancellor of Bihar University at Muzaffarpur, tried to stem the rot spreading in the University by eradicating the use of unfair means in examination, holding examinations on schedule, promoting 500 teachers, absorbing 275 temporary teachers, paying arrears of the employees, rationalising the selection grade for class III and class IV employees and so on. The vicious reaction of the government got expressed when Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra stooped so low as to instigate some vested interests against the Vice Chancellor. As reported in the Indian Express of December 10, 1981, parents, guardians, teachers and students are all blaming the Chief Minister, still a teacher of economics on lien from the University, for injecting poison into the atmosphere of the campus for his petty political gains. All top appointments to different university posts are finalised at the direction of the Chief Minister.

The Chief Minister of Bihar is openly meddling in the affairs of the A. N. Sinha Institute of Social Sciences. Sachchidannad was removed from the directorship of the Institute in 1980. After his removal the government appointed, through an ordinance, Hargovind Singh, a person very close to the C.M. as the Director of the Institute. Although he joined the Institute with much fanfare, he was removed unceremoniously when he fell out with the Education Minister, N. H. Khan. An ordinance was issued to remove him. Then, five persons belonging to the Chief Minister's constituency were appointed to grade III and grade IV posts without going through the formality of advertising the posts. After a lapse of one year, however, Durganand Sinha was appointed as the Director. Just a few days before he took over, the Chief minister got three persons, relatives of politicians, fixed as lecturers on an ad hoc basis without formal interviews. One of the appointments was made in economics department one day before the new director, Durganand Sinha, took over. Another appointment in the psychology department was made in the absence of the head of the department, J.B.P. Sinha who was abroad.

Almost all appointments in the academic institutions in Bihar are accomplished either by the Chief Minister personally or through the ordinances of the state government. Research and education by ordinance has become the hallmark of academic environment in Bihar.

The Rajasthan model of State interference in university education is almost on the Gujarat pattern without underwriting the actions of the Vice-chancellor. In 1981, the composition of the syndicate or executive committees of the Rajasthan, Jodhpur and Udaipur universities was changed. The number of elected representatives of teachers has been drastically reduced. Two MLAs, who used to be nominated by the Speaker on those bodies, have now been nominated by the state government. The state government has also transferred the provident fund of teachers and karamcharis of these universities to the State treasury. These changes are designed to ensure stricter control on the administration and finances of the universities. The state government is also contemplating doing away with the principle of rotation of headships and restoring the system of academic monarchy. All the progressive decisions by the Vice Chancellors, potentially beneficial to teachers, are being systematically aborted.

The state government's interference in the academic functioning has become apparent in the implementation of the teachers' promotion schemes. In view of glaring lag between the expansion of senior posts and the expansion of all teaching posts in the universities, the late Ved Pal Tyagi, the Vice-chancellor of Rajasthan University, introduced a scheme in 1979 for the promotion of 5% teachers every year. When the scheme was discontinued in 1980, Tyagi resigned. Prof. Iqbal Narian, the next Vice-Chancellor, also introduced a promotion scheme for teachers. But he had also to resign in June 1981 when the state government refused to accept the scheme. Prof. T.K.N. Unnithan, who succeeded him, also tried to revive the scheme. This time the state government was approached jointly by a committee of three Vice-Chancellors. But nothing tangible has emerged yet.

Vice Chancellors Sacked
The Madhya Pradesh model of State interference is a combination of the Gujarat model and the Bihar model. The former Governor and Chancellor of the universities, S.N. Sinha, cornered all powers for himself under the Madhya Pradesh Universities Act 1973. Section 52 of this Act empowers the government to take over a university's administration and financial management without any preliminary inquiry and to sack a Vice-Chancellor without ascribing any reasons, if the state government is displeased with certain developments in the university. As soon as Section 52 is invoked, the Executive Council, Academic Council and university court automatically stand dismissed and all the powers get centralized in the hands of the new Vice-Chancellor. The Act allows the initial take-over of the university for one year which can be extended for a maximum of 3 years.

In 1981, the state government sacked half a dozen vice-chancellors and took over three universities affecting 74000 students in 137 colleges in Madhya Pradesh.

In January 1981 the government took over Ujjain's Vikaram University. The Registrar was asked to proceed on long leave. Vice-Chancellor Kawatekar was replaced by K. K. Dave, a stern former I.G. of Police. In August 1981 Rewa's Awadhesh Pratap Singh University was taken over by the government. The former Vice-Chancellor, S. R. Bhandari, was replaced by A. G. Sharma. In November Saugar, the oldest university of the state, was taken over by the government, when the Chief Minister's address was violently disturbed by the students. D.P. Jatar, who had quietly slipped away from the dais when irate students started throwing stones, was asked to quit the next day. As a matter of fact, 1981 proved the year of academic emergency in Madhya Pradesh.

In Andhra, the elections to the academic bodies of the university have been abolished. In Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. IAS and IPS Officers have been appointed as vice-chancellors. The state government took over the universities in Orissa. Students in Osmania and Kakatiya Universities were indiscriminately arrested. Professors with academic distinction are suspended in Aligarh University.

Hiring and Firing
In Delhi University, businessmen and politician chairmen of the college governing bodies, who are not even matriculate, hire and fire teachers with Ph.D. degrees to their credit. Teachers in their professional and intellectual pursuits are criminally assaulted. Rao Birender Singh, a Union Minister is determined to usurp the precious land of Rao Tula Ram College, obtained at concessional rates for educational purposes, while the teachers and karamcharis have lost their jobs without formal dismissals. College principals are suspended on flimsy grounds and the karamcharies' basic right to protest is being undermined. These are but a few signposts on the road to the total erosion or universities' independence and autonomy. Education by ordinance and executive flat has become the order of the day.

There seems to be in operation a determined conspiracy to stifle the academic initiative and undermine whatever dignity and independence still survives in academic life. These trend threaten not only the present functioning of universities and research institutions but their future existence as well.

Education must be rescued from State debauchery. It is of utmost importance that minds are not enslaved, anaesthetised or numbed and academic initiative and independence not curbed. Let us not forget that the history of the freedom struggle was intimately linked with the struggle for the liberation of educational institutions-schools, colleges and universities-where knowledge of new sciences, are and history etc. Could be imparted to young Indians. It women groomed in an atmosphere of freedom and fearlessness would not only be able to struggle effectively against alien domination but also create a secular, democratic and socialist society in a free India.

It is no longer possible to remain illusion now that academic activity can be pursued in disregard of the struggle for democratic rights, economic independence and human dignity. It is the need of the hour that the academicians confined to the seclusion of 'academic monastaries' and that of laboratories join hands with those who are in the front line of the battle for bread and human dignity.

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