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Mainstream, VOL L, No 14, March 24, 2012

Where Should Higher Education Reform Begin?

Tuesday 27 March 2012



On carefully reading of the article captioned, “New Questions in Naya Bihar: The Cry of Vernacular Academics” (Mainstream, Vol L, No 10, February 25, 2012) by Dev N. Pathak, I feel a genuine urge to place on record my personal experience. The author’s pointed reference to the eminence and sarcasm of Prof Nawal Kishor Chaudhury of the Department of Economics at a two-day national seminar is indeed interesting.

“I wonder whether Nitish Kumar is an offshoot of Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement; he seems to have emerged from Laloo Yadav’s movement,” said Prof Nawal Kishor Chaudhury, with a wink of sarcasm, in an informal conversation during a seminar in Saharsa (Bihar). Prof Chaudhury, an economist of eminence affiliated with the Patna University, had to disclose another barbed wit, that he turned down the offer of ascending to the position of Vice-Chancellor of one of the old universities in Bihar. For, most of the Vice-Chancellors are the charge-sheeted academics in Bihar.

In the end, the author prescribes the strategy for higher education reform by “well meaning academics” replacing the “charge-sheeted Vice-Chancellors”.

I did my dissertation in 1990s and obtained the Ph.D degree from Patna University under my supervisor, Prof Nawal Kishor Chaudhury, Department of Economics. I met him over breakfast at the Vice-Chancellor’s (Prof M. Mohiuddin’s) residence at Rajendra Nagar, Patna. The VC was kind enough to disclose to him my desire to do a dissertation on inland and overseas emigration of the working classes from colonial Bihar. He dropped the hint if Prof N. K. Chaudhury would be willing to supervise my work. The latter readily agreed.

After the Academic Council’s approval and registration of my research project, I met my supervisor for a preliminary briefing from him. Prof Chaudhury frankly told to me that he was totally ignorant about the emigration of the working classes from Bihar during British rule and would, therefore, be of little material help to me. I had picked up a virgin area for dissertation. He further made it clear to me that I could write my dissertation anyway I liked. He could not give any clue even about source materials.

With one year’s extension, I completed and submitted my thesis to him in the required number of copies in the fourth year. Though the supervisor did not contribute a single word to my dissertation, he wrote a glowing certificate attesting that he was satisfied with my diligent and original work. After this, strangely, he developed cold feet. The Vice-Chancellor, who introduced me to him, had by then retired. Two copies of my work were dispatched, after inordinate delay to two external experts—one of whom was Prof K.N. Prasad, a former Vice-Chancellor of Patna University, and the other, a Professor, Department of Economics, Benaras Hindu University. The first expert had sent in his report on my dissertation within three weeks. The report from BHU, however, did not arrive even after eight months. I did not, however, show any anxiety for the delay because award of the degree was not linked to any financial incentive in my career. But later I learned from another former Vice-Chancellor, Patna University that the BHU expert was delaying his report under pressure of my super-visor. In fact he was under friendly request to delay his report as long as possible. After I spoke over telephone to the BHU expert, his report was rushed to my supervisor. But the supervisor would not hold the viva voce for reasons best known to him.

In the meanwhile, my supervisor started calling me up and asking to do his errands. He once wanted me to receive a Professor of Economics from Benares at Hajipur Railway Station quite late at night and to drop him at the Patna University guest house. Secondly, a conference was held at Indira Gandhi Planetarium, Patna, a favourite venue of seminars and conferences. Prof N.K. Chaudhury was one of the organisers. He wanted me to be present in the conference for receiving participants and usher them in. I refused to do either.

Since it was clear that delay to hold the viva voce was deliberate, I contacted the Vice-Chancellor of Patna University, Prof Nazre Ahsan, who expressed his inability to intervene as the matter rested strictly within the supervisor’s domain to arrange for viva voce. Three-four months after the report from the BHU was received, the viva voce was organised. In many universities, not excluding Patna, the convention is that the Ph.D degree certificate is handed over the next day, if not on the same day, to the scholar following the viva voce and declaration of result. The supervisor did not submit his report of the viva voce to the Exami-nation Department for processing and obtaining the Vice-Chancellor’s order for declaring result. This inordinate delay surprised many insiders as well as outsiders who were knowled-geable. It was an exceptional case in the university.

Prof Nawal Kishor Chaudhury’s refusal as a “well meaning academic” to accept the high office of the Vice-Chancellor speaks volumes. It indeed underlines his unknown qualities to remain distinctive from those “chargesheeted Vice-Chancellors”.

A. K. Biswas

(former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur)

1, I.P. Road, Kolkata-52

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