The West Bengal cabinet’s nod to a proposal to make the prime minister the chancellor of state universities instead of the governor has sparked mixed reactions from teachers’ associations. Outfits such as JUTA and WBCUTA have denounced the move and called for a renowned academic to be appointed to the position, while ABUTA said the move will make educational institutions a hotbed of politics but WBCUPA, known for its proximity to the TMC , said it was necessary because of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s “non-cooperative attitude”.
Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA) said in a statement that the move will increase the “stranglehold of the state over universities”. “As a result, the concept of autonomy propounded by educators has long become obsolete and non-existent. The naked display of corruption, nepotism and partisan politics will be commonplace in state universities,” JUTA Secretary-General Partha Pratim Roy said.
Claiming that both central and state governments are determined to have absolute control over higher education institutions by circumventing the law, Roy said, “We’ve been speaking against this trend for a long time.” He said the governor also need not be chancellor and a respected academic should be considered if there is a need for such a position. The cabinet of West Bengal had approved a proposal on May 26 to replace the governor with the prime minister as chancellor of state universities.
State Education Minister Bratya Basu had said the proposal would soon be presented in the state assembly in the form of a bill. The left-wing president of the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association (WBCUTA), Subhoday Dasgupta, said the proposal was unfortunate and against all norms. “While frequent clashes between the governor and the state over the functioning of academic institutions have been inaccurate, the position of chancellor should be reserved for educationalists,” he said.
Goutam Maity, the spokesman for the All Bengal University Teachers’ Association (ABUTA), known for its proximity to SUCI (communists), said the move will turn higher education institutions into hotbeds for politics. Krishnakali Basu, president of West Bengal College and University Professors Association (WBCUTA), said the move was necessary given the difficulties colleges and universities face due to the “uncooperative attitude” of the current chancellor, the governor. The governor by virtue of his position is the chancellor of all state universities in the state.
Dhankhar has been at odds with the Mamata Banerjee government in the state over several issues since he took charge as governor in July 2019. among other problems. He had alleged that vice-chancellors of “24 universities have been wrongfully appointed without the chancellor’s consent”.
In December last year, the governor had expressed fears after chancellors and vice chancellors of private universities skipped a meeting he called at his official residence. They had indicated that they were unable to attend the meeting citing the COVID-19 situation. Dhankhar had faced a similar situation in January 2020 when vice chancellors of state universities were invited to a meeting.
He had alleged that the state government was making nominations to the post of vice chancellor of several universities without consulting the chancellor, and he is being forced to take a firm stance on such developments. The governor then said it was necessary to reconsider all appointments and called for a focus on improving the educational climate in the state.
The state’s education minister had said last year it was time to examine whether there was a “necessity to carry on with the colonial legacy” for the governor to hold the post of chancellor. The decision of the West Bengal cabinet was based on a recommendation by the Punchhi Commission in 2010 to discontinue the convention to appoint governors as chancellors of universities.
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