Selection of Vice-Chancellor
Context: The Tamil Nadu Assembly passed two Bills that seek to transfer the Governor’s power in appointing Vice-Chancellors (VCs) of 13 state universities to the state government.
What is the present process of appointment of VC?
- In an ideal situation, the governor is the neutral arbiter in the selection of a V-C — in most states, the governor as visitor/chancellor chooses the appointee from a panel of three names recommended by a search-cum-selection committee appointed by the state government.
- This arrangement can check the government from making appointments on the basis of political preferences, a tendency visible in many states.
- Unfortunately, in states where the governor is deemed powerful, the office has often invited accusations of making appointments as a way of disbursing patronage.
What are the highlights of the Bills introduced by Tamil Nadu?
- The Bills stress that the Vice-Chancellor shall be appointed by the Government from a panel of three names recommended by a search-cum-selection committee.
- The Bills also seek to empower the state government to have the final word on the removal of VCs, if needed.
- Removal will be carried out based on inquiries by a retired High Court judge or a bureaucrat who has served at least as a Chief Secretary.
What is the need for making such changes in appointment process?
- The inability of the elected government to appoint a vice-chancellor of its own university was causing various irregularities in the overall administration of the varsity.
- The Punchhi Commission constituted by Centre had recommended that governors should not be vested with the powers that were not vested by the Constitution (appointing vice-chancellors) as it would lead to clash of functions and powers between the state government and the governor.
- The elected governments have repeatedly accused the Governors of acting as per the wish of the Centre on various subjects, including education.
Are there any other states which have tried to bring in similar changes?
- The Maharashtra Assembly passed a Bill amending the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016, where the Governor will be given two names to choose from by the state government following a panel’s suggestions.
- In 2019, the West Bengal government took away the Governor’s authority in appointing VCs to state universities.
- The Odisha government has also tried to bring appointments to state universities under its control but it has been challenged by the University Grants Commission (UGC).
- In Gujarat, the state government had been appointing the vice-chancellor based on the three names recommended by the search committee.
- In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, the vice-chancellors were appointed from the list of three names recommended by the search committee and with the approval of the state government.
What are the criticisms of the changes proposed?
- Education is a subject in the Concurrent List. Appointments to universities are regulated by the UGC Act. A recent Supreme Court order annulling the appointment of the V-C of a Gujarat varsity underlines that the state government cannot circumvent UGC regulations in appointments.
- It ruled that in case of any conflict between state legislation and central legislation, central legislation shall prevail by applying the rule of repugnancy as enunciated in Article 254 of the Constitution.
- The move by the Tamil Nadu government is more of a pushback against the perceived encroachment by governor rather than being driven by any urge to improve the quality of university education.
- The university has, in recent years, emerged as a site of political contestation, where appointments are often influenced by political preferences rather than academic credentials. As a result, the institution of V-C has lost much of its credibility and autonomy. The focus of any new legislation should have been to restore this autonomy.
Connecting the dots: