Investigations uncover the rot in University of Madras, revealing how the evaluation process has been repeatedly — and blatantly — manipulated

The 150-year old University of Madras has been put to shame. The past year has seen the institution forming three committees to probe irregularities in the evaluation procedures and each has gone on to expose a fraudulent system at work — the latest being the findings of the panel headed by Syndicate member K. Subburaj.

The report of the Subburaj Committee, submitted before the Syndicate on May 31, 2012, has revealed that there was a lapse in almost every phase of the B. E./B. Tech examinations and major tampering of marks in the exams conducted by the Institute of Distance Education (IDE) held in May 2011.

The committee comprised — apart from Subburaj — retired DGP C.L. Ramakrishnan, and Personnel and Administrative Reforms Department officials V.R. Shanmugham and A. Chandra. The Hindu has access to the report which has revealed that the engineering exams (for B.E./B.Tech students who had enrolled ten years ago) were replete with many lapses.

The investigation was spread over 35 meetings and relied mostly on records. It indicted, for the first time, T. Leo Alexander, the Controller of Examinations. Mr. Alexander has not been chargesheeted yet; the report links him with the lapses in the B.E./B.Tech exams and not with the IDE exams.

The committee also indicted staff involved in data entry processes spared by previous panels. “It is very easy to find out if a number has been whitened or scraped. In both cases, it appears it is the doing of many people and it is very difficult to pinpoint a single person,” a senior syndicate member said. The Subburaj report also talks about the involvement of personal assistants in tampering with records, particularly by creating answer scripts for students who did not even turn up for the test.

“There are almost no records of what time the papers were evaluated, processed and handed over to the examiner and then to the controller; or the time when the data was entered into the system. Most important details are missing,” said a committee member who investigated the case.

A section of professors, however, say that malpractices have been a regular phenomenon in the university, most of them due to the double entry system of marks. After the papers are evaluated, the marks are recorded in another sheet, which is where much of the tampering — with whiteners, blades and even digital replacement — takes place, they say.

A source said Mr. Alexander had, in fact, taken steps to bring the issue to light, having noticed the issue when an engineering student cleared over 30 papers in a single sitting which he could not clear in the last ten years. “Mr. Alexander had written to the vice-chancellor many times, informing him about the lapses but he himself was indicted. He could have easily chosen to keep the issue under wraps, as was the case till now,” he said.

A majority of the syndicate members, however, are not willing to buy this argument.

“Everything happened under the nose of the controller of the examination. Reporting the wrongdoings of one's own subordinates is not whistleblowing. What the University needs is a permanent, dedicated registrar who can handle responsibilities well,” a member said.

In fact, Syndicate members representing teachers' associations have for long been saying that one person should not hold the posts of registrar and controller of examinations. A few days after the submission of Subburaj committee report, the university replaced Mr. Alexander with senior-most professor G. Koteswara Prasad as Registrar (in-charge).

Subburaj report calls for action against those indicted under 17 (b) of the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Disputes and Appeal) Rules, which attracts major penalties including dismissal from service.

Meanwhile, a section of university staff are aggrieved over the fact that all the accused are non-teaching staff members. “Why have the teachers who evaluated the papers and gave pass marks to undeserving students not been punished?” a non-teaching staff asked.

Questions are also being asked as to why the university has not taken the issue to police. Syndicate members, however, claim that the statute of the university, enacted in 1923 by the British, was comprehensive and necessary to preserve its autonomy. “We have our own procedures here. Every person chargesheeted will be given the opportunity to prove himself innocent,” a member said.