Former Vice-Chancellor of the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit K.N. Panikkar tells The Hindu what’s ailing the system.
Has the university deviated from the ideals it had when it was established in 1993?
No. The University has not deviated from its ideals. But then the stated ideals are themselves faulty. The ideals of a university should be in-built into the Acts and statutes. In the case of SSUS, the objective is ‘promotion and development of the study of Sanskrit, Indology, Indian philosophy and Indian languages’. The structure of educational management is authoritarian and not conducive to serious academic pursuit. As a result the university has not been able to make a mark, despite individual brilliance. The general impression is that it is a university meant for study of Sanskrit. The Act itself provides for a multi-disciplinary university. That is the reason why there are more than twenty departments working in the University. But these departments hardly have any academic interaction with the Sanskrit faculty, defeating the very purpose of multi-disciplinary approach. Although this possibility existed, SSUS has not exploited it. These departments function in isolation.
Is it advisable to launch language-based universities when the international academic community is moving towards multi-disciplinary orientation?
It is not advisable at all. The Higher Education Council has written to the government about it on several occasions. Take for instance, English, French or German, there are no language universities. It is not because they do not have resources. It is academically wrong step, particularly in the era of inter-disciplinary research and studies. Succumbing to populism may yield dividends in politics, but in academics it is disastrous. It is a pity that our rulers and cultural leaders do not realise this.
There are allegations that political intervention was the main cause for the ills of the university and lack of clarity in vision worsened the situation?
Yes. Political interference has been a major bane of Kerala universities. Whenever change of government takes place, the entire syndicate is changed by methods fair or foul. The political parties are present on campus by proxy. In SSUS, the syndicate did not meet for three years because there was no quorum. One of the members of the Syndicate gave it in writing that he did not attend the meeting at the instance of the government. Still we believe that our universities are autonomous. The residuary powers of the university rest with the government. It is high time the relationship between the government and universities are revised.
Do you see a turnaround?
Yes. You know that SSUS was the first university in Kerala to introduce the Course-Credit-Semester System. As a part of it, some modernisation of courses is possible and necessary. When that takes place the university may look up.