The vice of appointing non-academician VCs

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Illustration: Anand Naorem
Illustration: Anand Naorem

IT IS time the Indian political class rethinks its attitude to what is erroneously referred to as ‘Muslim universities’. For starters, it should insist the historic Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) should have the same rules other Central universities commonly follow in appointing their vice-chancellors. This will ensure AMU is not dogged by anomalous situations, the most bizarre manifestation of which is having a retired lieutenant general heading it.

The current vice-chancellor (VC) of AMU, Lt Gen (retd) Zameeruddin Shah, is an army commander. Under him, though, AMU appears to have the administrative paraphernalia of a military formation — the Pro-VC is a retired brigadier; and the Registrar is a former group captain.

In 1996, Lt Gen (retd) MA Zaki was the first general to become the VC of yet another so-called Muslim university — Jamia Millia Islamia. But army officers aren’t the only non-academic VCs to descend upon AMU and Jamia. Sample these figures: from the time Jamia became a Central university in 1988, it has had six VCs, of whom three, or 50 percent, belonged to either the IAS or the army. Again, from 1980 till date, AMU has had eight VCs (excluding acting VCs), of whom six (or 75 percent) belonged to the IAS, IFS or the army.

Perhaps you think the post of VC in central universities is a sinecure for superannuated non-academicians. Well, think again. From Independence till date, Delhi University (DU) has had just one civil service officer as its VC — the redoubtable CD Deshmukh, who had been India’s Finance Minister between 1950 and 1956, before he became DU’s VC. Now, you can’t really call Deshmukh a typical civil servant, can you?

Visva Bharati has had just one non-academic VC, SR Das, who was the fifth Chief Justice of India. Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has never had an IAS or a general as its VC. Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in its initial years had two diplomats — G Parthasarthi and former President KR Narayanan — as VC, but none in the past three decades. A general hasn’t been sent as VC to even North Eastern Hill University, which is located in a region infamous for secessionist movements.

True, at least two IAS-turned-VCs of Jamia — Najeeb Jung and Syed Shahid Mahdi — have had a few years of academic experience, as did, another IAS officer, Syed Hashim Ali Akhtar, who was AMU’s VC between 1985 and 1989. Yet their academic achievements and experience pale before the eminence of many professors, including those Muslims, who belong to AMU and Jamia. You could gloss over these appointments had they been too few and far between. Indeed, had this been the trend in other Central universities, rest assured the country’s intellectuals would have denounced the move as anti-education as well as an attempt to surreptitiously impose State control over them

So then, what is so special about these two universities to warrant a surfeit of non-academic VCs? The fault is as much the Indian State’s as it is of the Muslim political elite, who harp on their right to determine the working of these two universities, particularly AMU. To appease them, as also to uphold a very warped notion of secularism, the Indian state amended the Aligarh Muslim University Act in 1981. Its consequence was to introduce a new procedure for the appointment of AMU’s VC. Till then, AMU had followed the rules still prevailing in other Central universities: a three-member search committee lists three names as possible candidates to the Visitor, usually the President of India, who then chooses the VC.

Under the amended Act, however, a 27-member Executive Council of AMU prepares a list of five names as possible candidates for VC. This list is sent to the 183-member University Court, which whittles down the list of five to three, with each member casting three votes. The Visitor of AMU usually appoints the candidate with the highest number of votes as VC. The Act was amended to ostensibly render AMU responsive to the Muslim community, the leaders of which have been clamouring for minority status for the institute. In reality, though, it gave them control over AMU. How? See who constitute the court which elects the VC — there are 20 representatives of the alumni association, another 10 of donors, 10 of the “learned professions, industry and commerce”, 15 of Muslim culture and learning, four chairmen of Muslim Waqf Board, 10 of Parliament, etc. Thus, AMU academicians were effectively reduced to a minority.

It can be argued that the Executive Council is the original sinner, for the court only elects the VC from the list of five the former prepares. The council could therefore send to the court names of academicians alone, thereby obviating the possibility of a non-academician being elected as VC. However, for a 27-member council, it has a high percentage of nomination — three from the President and one from the chief rector, who is the Uttar Pradesh governor. Add to this list the VC, overwhelmingly non-academicians in the past three decades. To the VC, in turn, are obliged three other members of the Council — the Pro-VC, the senior-most provost, and the proctor — which endorsed their appointment at his recommendation. In addition, the court elects among its members six people to represent it in the council, none of whom can be an AMU employee. It also elects the honorary treasurer who too is a Council member. So 15 out of 27 members a non-academic VC can easily rally behind him to implement the Centre’s wishes or push his own friends from the IAS cadre.

There are differences between VCs who are academicians and those not. AMU’s experience testifies that the former demonstrated a propensity to plan for its educational enhancement. By contrast, non-academicians tend to stress on the development of physical infrastructure. For instance, it was Vice-chancellor Prof Mohd Naseem Farooqui who overcame tremendous opposition to introduce AMU to the culture of the computer, making it among a few outside the nucleus of IITs to offer a BTech degree in computer engineering then. Even Prof PK Abdul Aziz, whose 2007- 2012 tenure as VC was controversial, is credited for vigourously implementing the idea of AMU centres outside Aligarh. Then again, it was Syed Hamid, an IAS officer an IAS officer-turned-VC between 1980 and 1985, who introduced the practice of summoning police to tackle student agitations in AMU. Barring the spell of Emergency, policemen, it is said, would change into civilian clothes before entering AMU. Or again, take the case of Jamia — it was Prof Mushirul Hassan who as VC held elections to the student council after a hiatus of over a decade.

FURTHER, THE new procedure erodes the moral authority of AMU’s VC, required as he is to canvass among influential factional leaders of the court, without which he can’t hope to trounce the other four in the election. Promises of future favours are made and lavish parties thrown. Worryingly, this process has turned AMU into a playground of community leaders who are Sunnis, often illiberal, having foggy ideas of modern education. Thus, for the post of VC, count out Hindu professors, as also those Shia, however brilliant, Leftists and atheists. Women? Stop joking. Indeed, AMU’s emphatic turn to Islamic Right has been in the years following the 1981 amendment.

Nevertheless, AMU’s flawed system can’t absolve the Indian State of playing games in the shadow. For instance, Jamia follows the system of the search committee, yet it has had 50 percent of its VCs as non-academicians in its 24 years of being a Central university. It suggests to the manipulative powers of the State and the susceptibilities of Muslim academicians to play its game. AMU’s tragedy is greater, lulled as it is into believing it has elected its VC. It’s a classic case of the State applying gloss to its intent of controlling the politically conscious AMU through conservative community leaders who are willing to do its bidding, content with the clout they enjoy. Simultaneously, the Indian State can’t be blamed for the decline in its educational standards as it can justifiably argue that, well, Muslims wanted to choose the AMU VC.

AMU and Jamia need to introspect, the starting point for which ought to be the question: why haven’t IAS officers and generals been appointed as VCs to DU, BHU, Visva Bharati or JNU in recent decades? Hopefully, their introspection should lead them to understand that their plight is directly linked to that idea of secularism which empowers community leaders whose notions of education lack the imagination befitting the 21st century. Muslims should not want this sort of secularism, good neither for their education nor for India.

letters@tehelka.com 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with certain points but I don’t see any reason of writing this article at such an improper time. It doesnt say anything new and lacks any solutions.The praise of VC Azis,who always looked beyond the campus, neglecting and ignoring his own disorderly house , and raising Hindu Sunni Shia issue is unwarranted.
    The writer should know that first Pro Chancellor of AMU Prince Agha Khan,1st Vice Chancellor of AMU Raja sahib Mahmoodabad and 1st Registrar Sajjad Hyder Yalderam ,all belonged to Shia sect of Muslims.Then AMU Vice Chancellors in 1956 Col Basheer Zaidi,followed by Badruddin Tayyabji in 1963 followed by Ali Yawar Jung 1965 were all from Shia sect of Muslims.The Chancellors, Raza Ali Khan,the Nawab of Rampur,Syedna Tahir Saifuddin saheb and Syedna Burhanuddin Saheb belong to Shia sect .
    Before embarking on AMU,it is essential to know the history “Why the Institution was established??”.Aligarh Muslim University is a different Institution,it is product of a popular educational movement of a community. It was not built by sovereign supported by revenues of State. The Institution owes its existence,neither to the charity nor love of learning of an individual, nor to the splendid patronage of a monarch.The Institution owes its existence to the combined and united efforts of whole community. It has its origin in causes which the history of Muslim community has never witnessed before
    Dr Zakir Husain had said in 1955: ‘The way Aligarh works, the way Aligarh thinks, the contribution
    Aligarh makes to Indian life & the treatment meted out to AMU… will largely determine the place Mussalmans will occupy in the pattern of National mainstream.
    It is true,whether anyone agrees or not ,but, AMU events affect the pulse rate of India’s Muislim community.
    Issue of minority character started after 25th april 1965(The darkest day at AMU), suspension of AMU Act of 1920 & promulgation of an ordinance.Subsequently is the gift of 2 Muslim Union Education Ministers,Mohamad Ali Kareem Bhai Chagla & an Ex AMU Professor turned Union Minister of Education Prof Syed Noorul Hasan(who was reported to have filed a 40 page FIR of the incident & later in Parliament he argued that “AMU was not established by Muslims,was established by act of Parliament,hence cant be a minority Institution.”
    I quote certain events:
    Treguna Sen, the Union Minister of Education after Chagla, was interviewed by Suhail Khan of Radiance at Patna on April 22nd, 1967. Following are the questions asked and their answers:
    Question- Would you like to concede the demand of religious minorities for maintaining their own academic Institutions at all levels? For example would you like that the Islamic Character of AMU, as bequeathed by the Founder should be maintained and protected.
    Answer- It is the fundamental democratic right of minorities guaranteed by Constitution, to be provided by every opportunity and facility to maintain their own educational Institutions at all levels. The basic Islamic character of AMU must be maintained and promoted at all costs, and in all circumstances. It is obvious that the name of Mulsim University must also be kept unchanged.
    Question- but how do you feel in this regard?
    As you know, Mr. Chagla left no stone unturned to demolish the minority character as well as name of AMU
    1. I personally feel that Mr. Chagla was absolutely wrong in his approach. Rather, he went even beyond his limits
    May 1967 Mr Sen the Education Minister assured the delegation of old boys that minority character of AMU will be maintained.
    Soon after the ordinance a delegation of Muslim parliamentarians under leadership of Dr Mahmud met the PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, PM assured them that the minority character of AMU will be restored.
    1st September 1965 the PM Lal bahadur Shastri wrote to old boys Convention Council assuring that the character of AMU will remain the same through a Letter No 3735-PMO/65 Prime minister’s House, New Delhi.
    For 7 years the Congress kept assuring the Muslims that a comprehensive bill will be adopted which will satisfy aspirations of Muslims. It will be based on recommendations of Chatterji and Beg Committees.
    But the AMU amendment act of 1972 became a betrayal of these promises and it highly disappointed the Muslim community.
    2014 elections in mind Mrs Sonia Gandhi in her recent address of Convocation Skipped controversial topics supports on Minority character of AMU .She confined herself to remark by reminding Nehru Gandhi bonds with AMU.
    1st September 1965 the PM Lal Bahadur Shastri wrote to old boys Convention Council assuring that the character of AMU will remain the same through a Letter No 3735-PMO/65 Prime minister’s House, New Delhi
    May 1967 Mr Trguna Sen the Education Minister assured the delegation of old boys that minority character of AMU will be maintained.
    Soon after the ordinance a delegation of Muslim parliamentarians under leadership of Dr Mahmud met the PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, PM assured them that the minority character of AMU will be restored
    Since 1965 ..For 7 years the Congress kept assuring Muslims that a comprehensive bill will be adopted which will satisfy aspirations of Muslims
    AMU amendment act of 1972; But the AMU amendment act of 1972 became a betrayal of these promises and it highly disappointed the Muslim community.
    The greater tragedy of Muslims is that they don’t read their history,therefore history repeats upon them .They cant differentiate between friends and foes.
    At the Students Union symposium presided over by VC Gen Shah Last week,a speaker is reported to have declared that he went to jail for so many months coz of AMU’s minority character.He was applauded by the audience.The real story is that the speaker was allegedly one of the prime architects of the darkest event of 25th April 1965 in which Ali Yawar Jung the then VC was sadly assaulted after an unprovoked Police fire upon students.The person had gone to jail for an alleged criminal act of instigation and assault on the Vice Chancellor.(Read the 95 page FIR filed by Mr Nasser Ali the then Proctor and 40 page FIR by Prof Noorul Hasan)
    The 1965 incidece was for 75% vs 50% reservations for professional courses.The minority status issue then didn’t exist atall.The minority character was abrogated only after that incident.
    It is a great pity that the AMU Students union leaders are themselves ignorant of their own history of events.A greater pity that they honor & applaud those responsible for ABROGATION OF AMU’s MINORITY CHARACTER.

  2. Now a days, administration of educational institutions is quite different and more demanding. These institutions have to be managed like corporate by experienced professionals. There has to be two different streams, Academics and Administrative under V.C. Most common problem with educational institutions is politics.It is probably due to availability of ample of spare time with faculties. Time allocated for research work is not utilized.The progress of resesrch work going on each department need to be reviewed at defined preferably by external team of experts. There is no system of reporting or feedback. There has to be system of assessment of performance of all teaching/non teaching staff.360 degree assessment no doubt is better and more matured system.It is common for all educational institutions

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