IE has been frequently pointing to the pathetic state of affairs of universities in Tamil Nadu. There has been crass political interference. As in politics, caste considerations have become a dominant factor and merit the casualty. For some two decades now, institutionalised system of corruption that pervades Tamil Nadu has taken deep roots in higher education as well. Look at the course of Guindy Engineering College, among the three oldest engineering colleges: for decades it enjoyed a prestige that spread across the globe for churning out graduates of outstanding merit. Its standards, systems and output were on par with the IITs. When the Anna University was formed, it had outstanding educationists as VCs. Dr V C Kulandaiswamy served three terms followed by Dr M Anandakrishnan who had two terms. Both were internationally renowned academics who commanded respect for their rich and extensive contributions.
Since then we witnessed an arubathumoovar-like procession of vice chancellors with short tenures of just three years. Almost their first year is spent on understanding and getting into the nuts and bolts of administration. The second and third is meant to curry favour with the powers that be to get a second term or to get a similar posting in another university in the state. The inevitable money power creeps in.
The equally venerated Madras University has undergone a similar course. The university, which had at its helm renowned educationists like Dr A L Mudalilar, who had the longest tenure of 27 years and Dr Malcolm S Adiseshiah, who earlier served as the Deputy Director General of UNESCO with over 40 honorary doctorates across the globe to his credit, has been through a traumatic course when even the short three-year term was cut short for a few. There has been intense lobbying for membership of the search committee and bidding for the post of VC. We seem to be moving towards IPL auction-type system with aspirants making the highest offers for getting the post. The absence of concern for filling the post well before the expiry of the term of the incumbent VC, indicates the scope for canvassing with the powers that be. Can we otherwise explain the vacancy of the VCs’ posts for several top universities of Tamil Nadu including Madras University, Anna University and the Madurai Kamaraj University remaining vacant for this long?
Time was when the Secretary of Education or even the Minister of Education used to seek an appointment to meet VCs like Malcolm Adiseshiah. Recently we witnessed the VCs seeking darshan of Sasikala aka Chinnamma, charged with serious corruption practices that landed her in jail thereafter.
In this system even a meritorious educationist like Dr E Balaguruswami got hit. His tenure ended with just one term. Today you find around 100 ex-VCs floating around!
The course of private universities is not much different: dominated by politicians, traders and businessmen, these have evolved as flourishing businesses. The vast stretches of land acquired through overt and covert means have appreciated in value though the other infrastructure and quality of staff and students are in a pathetic state. Just look at half the under-grads in engineering not getting through the exams in the first year! Several of these have been built on the illegal and pernicious system of capitation fees.
At the 150th year celebration of the Madras University the renowned educationist Dr Anandakrishnan was asked: ”when can an Indian university/academic/institution gain the reputation of a Caltech, Princeton, MIT or Cambridge?” His answer was poignant: “in a system where appointments of vice chancellors were decided by political leaders and when university vice chancellors are the sons/daughters and daughters-in-law of the promoters/proprietors and most of whom are politicians or small time businessmen, how can this happen?” He contrasted this with the reputation as an educationist built over decades needed to be appointed a president of any reputed western university.