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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 8, February 18, 2023

Wellbeing of Universities Relies on the Vice Chancellors: Time to Reckon | S. K. Saidapur

Friday 17 February 2023


by S. K. Saidapur *

Vice Chancellors (VCs) are responsible for smooth and efficient management of universities. Nevertheless, varsity governance is not merely about controlling or managing administration; it is equally about providing visionary leadership. Therefore, a person with a clear vision, a roadmap, and competency to accomplish the set vision and missions is needed to steer the university to greater heights. Hence, those with known leadership qualities, good academic and administrative credentials should head the universities. Charismatic professors known for honesty and integrity can bring respect to the chair of VC and practice raja dharma; treat friends and foes alike. On the other hand, incompetent and corrupt VCs remain malleable to political interferences, earn disrespect, soon demoralise the entire set up and make all stakeholders suffer. Therefore, great care and exercise of concern is needed on the part of governments / appointing authorities while picking up the VCs before handing them the reigns of varsities.

How are VCs appointed? Short listing of names for VC’s position is done by a panel of experts. The names of experts are drawn as per the provisions of given University Acts. In most States, members of search cum selection committee are nominated by UGC, Chancellor of Universities (Governor of the State), University Syndicate / Board of Governors and, the State Department of Higher Education respectively. The latter serves as the Chairperson of the committee. At times, sitting VCs who were themselves contenders a few months ago are also made members of such committees. Legalities and handiness apart, such practices bring little credibility to nominating authorities. The sitting VCs are subservient to both State governments and Chancellors and as such they have little freedom to deviate from suggestions coming from these authorities. Seemingly undisclosed conveniences prevail over principles letting polity rule over the probity. A sitting VC with courage and conviction may however desist from participating in the selection of his/her own colleagues- for sister universities of the State. Anyway, the short listed names are then submitted to the Government which recommends its choice of name to the Chancellor for appointment. For Central Universities, search committees are constituted by the Ministry of Education and VCs are appointed by the President of India. Finally, it is a political choice. Here, I offer a few suggestions to sensitise and enhance the credibility of the process of appointing VCs.

 1) As the primary responsibility of short listing the names lies with the search committee it should consist of members with high academic scholarship and integrity, and enjoy freedom to choose names of eminent persons on a pan India basis or even from abroad (non-resident Indians). However, conditions like working knowledge of State/regional language may apply where relevant. In short, the committee should have freedom to shortlist names of worthy persons from national/global pools.

2) It is desirable to provide a set of guidelines carefully drafted by a national level expert committee to search committees and enable them to recommend names of eminent persons with administrative acumen. Generally, the aspiring candidates hide their flawed track records (e.g. enquires held or pending cases against them for misdeeds like sexual harassments, mismanagement of funds, dereliction of duties, plagiarism, punishments awarded, etc.) in their curriculum vitae. Therefore, proper mechanisms are needed to hold all those who recommend/forward/hide the incriminating facts of probable candidates accountable. Even if a person is exonerated from certain accusations it should be made explicit to the committee. Often the wrongdoers get exonerated for want of evidences or witnesses turning hostile. Proper checks and balances are needed to exclude undeserving candidates. It is in the interest of all stakeholders that would be VCs have clean record.

3) Choosing a squint among blind is disastrous. To lead the universities from front they need VCs with a) good standing at the national / international levels, b) proven ability to procure funds from R & D agencies and promotion of collaborations, c) administrative experience, d) ability to take stakeholders in to confidence, and e) possessing sound knowledge of University Act, Statutes, Ordinances, Rules and Regulations.

4) The appointing authorities should do away with the practice of inviting applications for the post of VC. The process of applying is not only appalling but also provides scope for lobbying and unethical practices. Good academicians lacking political connections and other wherewithal may not even apply. Eminent persons out of the shortlisted panel should be invited to head the universities.

Lastly, the irreparable damages done to varsities by the unworthy, incompetent and corrupt VCs are no secret. Governance without leadership leads to atrophy, bureaucracy and indifference while leadership without governance can lead to scams, tyranny and fiefdoms. No matter what a chosen VC reflects the concerns and commitment of the State / Central governments towards higher education and the nation. This must be borne in mind by all concerned.

Undeniably, the wellbeing of universities and making of quality human resource rests on the VCs as they are responsible for providing visionary leadership and clean administration. It is time to reckon the need to appoint competent vice chancellors to run the varsities. Furthermore, the VCs (and Directors of research institutes) are responsible for fostering quality human resource enriched with ethical principles and capability for consistent innovations. Because, a situation leading to retraction of published research papers by the faculty can be embarrassing for the individual researcher, the institute and, the nation at large.

It is sad that in recent times some VCs have contributed to ‘breaking news’ for wrong reasons and controversies. Nevertheless, let us not blame the VCs alone for their demeaning performances as all those involved in making of such VCs also deserve good measure of credit for their mighty contributions. (Basic source: “Remodeling the Universities” by S. K. Saidapur, Atlantic Publishers, Delhi, 2022).

* (Author: S. K. Saidapur, Former Vice Chancellor, Karnatak University, Dharwad. Email: saidapur[at]

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