Curbing university autonomy
University autonomy has been under attack in India, almost since independence, from various government agencies as well as the academic community itself, ironically. There are any number of academics who maintain that all powers, not merely financial but the authority to frame syllabi, should be handed over to the University Grant Commission.
A large number want government to take over colleges and to run them as government departments. In fact, in many States of India colleges have been taken over by the governments. There has not been much of a protest, not to speak of revolt, against measures adopted by the government and university establishments to curb university autonomy which, in actual practice, means curbing freedom of expression.
There are provisions in the Acts of a number of universities and deemed universities like IITs which do not permit faculty numbers to exercise their freedom of expression. There are provisions which do not permit University bodies like the executive and the academic councils/senates to take decisions relating to finance, without government approval.
A blatant instance of curbing freedom of expression is the action of the vice-chancellor of Kurukshetra University which must be described as arrant nonsense. According to published reports, the vice-chancellor has called a meeting of the executive council on 10 January, '97 to consider the following proposal : That faculty members shall not, in any radio/television broadcast or any document published in his/her name or in any communication to the press or any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of any adverse criticism of any current or recent policy of the university, Government of India, Government of Haryana or any other educational body such as UGC, CSIR, ICAR etc; and which is capable of embracing the relation between the university and the Government of India or Government of Haryana. The vice-chancellor has also included an item in the agenda which, if adopted, shall prohibit faculty members from editing any periodical publication, participating in radio-television discussion, writing letters to editors of newspapers and periodicals without the prior permission of the vice-chancellor.
It is understood that the Haryana government has asked the vice-chancellor of the University to frame service and conduct rules for teachers as prescribed by the government.
That the government wants to do away with university autonomy should not surprise any one. What is shocking and painful is that vice-chancellor and his colleagues not only go along with it but are so keen to gag academics.
It is for thoughtful men and woman who love freedom to stand up and revolt against such unlawful laws and authoritarian culture and call upon the academic community all over the country not to keep their lips sealed.
Also, it is time for the National Human Rights Commission to take suo moto notice of acts which curb freedom of expression. If one goes into the spirit of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, one would notice that the NHRC can haul up perpetrators of violation of rights in universities and recommend appropriate remedial and punitive action.
R.M. Pal (7 Jan'97)