The case of state universities in Karnataka is an example of the mediocrity being nourished in the functioning of the universities and the will of the governments to have control over universities.
The Forum of Former Vice-Chancellors of Karnataka State Universities (FFVCKSU), an advisory board for higher education established in 2008 — recognising that appointments being made to the search committees for selecting Vice-Chancellors (V-Cs) are not up to the mark — has submitted a memorandum to Governor Vajubhai Vala, who is Chancellor of all state universities. The forum has said the provisions of Section 14 (2) of the Karnataka State Universities (KSU) Act, 2000, were diluted when recently a working principal/dean of a college from Junagadh Agricultural University, Gujarat, was nominated as a member of the search committee, reported The Hindu. Since the KSU Act states that no person affiliated to any college or associated with any state government affairs be appointed as member of the search committee, this was a blatant violation.
According to Section 14(2), the committee will have one nominee each from the government, the University Grants Commission, the university’s Syndicate, and the Governor’s office. In their memorandum, the former VCs noted that the Section 14(3) of KSU Act says the member of the committee would be of academic eminence; and the governor’s office by appointing a person from Gujarat, who was not even a professor is not acceptable. According to the Hindu Report, “Your office sometime back nominated a person from Gujarat, who was not even a professor, to the search committee constituted for the appointment of a V-C for Karnataka State Law University, while the other members on the search committee were former V-Cs,” said the memorandum.
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The forum also brought to notice of the governor, the appointment of Guru Raj Karajagi, a retired professor, a Syndicate nominee (for the search committee) of Karnatak University, Dharwad, “ignoring the availability of several renowned academicians, including former V-Cs with wealth of experience and expertise.” Karajagi a doctoral degree holder in Chemistry from Karnataka University, is also well-known for his daily religious and spiritual discourses on the TV channel called Sri Sankara.
Speaking to Newsclick, Dr Sreenivasa Gowda, secretary of FFVCKSU and former VC of the Karnataka Veterinary, Animal and Fisheries Sciences University, mentioned that this memorandum has to be taken seriously as the KSU Act has not been followed in many ways, and this is disrupting “not only functioning of the universities but also their quality.”
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VCs Asked Not to Speak to Media
While on the one hand, the eminence of the university Vice Chancellor search committee is in question, on the other, the existing VCs are facing the music from the state government for talking to the media about the problems faced by the universities. The additional chief secretary of higher education had circulated a notice to all the Vice Chancellors of all the government-run universities in the state, ordering them to refrain from saying anything about the universities to the media. In his so called clarification, the minister said, “There is nothing stopping them from talking about education. However, they were asked not to involve the media in talking about anything else but education.”
The notice that was issued on June 13 equates speaking about the issues plaguing government universities with shaming the state government. According to a report in Deccan Herald, the notice says, “vice-chancellors, registrars and other officials of the universities which come under the purview of higher education department found giving statements before print and electronic media about the issues and problems related to universities which are a kind of humiliation to the state government. Considering such instances seriously hereafter vice chancellors and other officials of the universities are directed not to give any statements.”
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GT Devegowda, the current Higher Education Minister of Karnataka is reported to have “clarified” that the government is not trying to silence the Vice Chancellors of the government-run universities.
Speaking to Newsclick, an education expert from Bengaluru said, “The notice speaks for itself. There is no need for any clarifications from the government that is trying to rob off the right to free speech from the heads of the universities, which are autonomous and are headed by VCs.”
It is important to note that the previous Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah had passed a bill titled ‘Karnataka Universities Bill 2017’, which had brought 21 universities under its fold. However, governor Vajubhai Vala refused to clear the Bill, noting that it gave too much power to the government in terms of administration.
The current Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government is continuing to nourish the desire of the state government to dictate terms to universities. According to the existing Karnataka State Universities Act, 2000, the state government is just an authority that facilitates the functioning of the universities. The question GT Devegowda has to answer is, what it is that the government is scared of? The notice also said that universities should go directly to the government with the problems — and of course, one cannot not deny the importance of this. But why should not they speak to the media about the issues faced by public-funded universities?
“No Research in a Research University”
As reported and discussed above, universities in the state are in bad shape. For example, a report in Prajavani today titled, Hesarigashte Samshodhana Vishwavidyalaya (A Research University for Name Sake) said that no substantial research was being conducted in the Hampi Kannada University, which was set up to be exclusively a research university.
As per the rule, every professor in the university should individually propose a research project and departments are expected to submit a research project. However, according to the Prajavani report, none of this is being done. There are 68 professors in the university and it is reported that most of these professors have been there ever since the university was established, 25 years ago. It has come to light that except for a few professors who have in 25 years submitted two or three books, others have not written anything.
Gowda, reflecting on this report, noted that this was the condition of research in the state and in the country. This has to be dealt with by taking research seriously first, he said. But it is not only about research, one has to ponder the question: what are universities for? “If the universities are not taken care of and nourished, where will the educated and sensible individuals, who can think, come from?”
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