Political interference has eroded BU's autonomy: former VC

Polarised between the academic and administrative heads of the varsity, now infamous for their mutual animosity, it is a sorry state of affairs at Bangalore University. Recent inspections of infrastructure have put the spotlight back on the rot that has set in on campus, and in the administration's attitude to0 maintenance.

In this context, The Hindu spoke to renowned academic and the former Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University, M.S. Thimmappa, on what has led to the present predicament, the “ridiculously inadequate” budgetary allocation to one of the largest varsities in the country, and the callous neglect of students' interests.

Q: What is the reason for the present state of affairs at Bangalore University? Is the issue systemic or does it have to do with sustained neglect?

A. Maintaining and running a university is a continuous process: labs need to be maintained and upgraded, syllabi needs to be revised, and so on. This didn't happen here. Somewhere along the line, the focus shifted from students' welfare and education, to other things. The teachers are also to blame. What were they doing when laboratories and facilities were deteriorating?

Q: But what about the governance?

A. I think the governance system has become rotten over the years. It is entirely pitted against excellence and fit to nurture only the mediocre.

This happened over time. Till 1976, universities framed their own rules (or Acts), and the senate was the ultimate. There was no political interference; the senior-most person simply became the VC. Then, came the Common University Act that tied the decisions of the academic council to the government. This meant that whatever academics decided was subject to the will of the government. Slowly, things changed on campus.

Then, in the State Universities Act, 2000, which aimed at creating “greater autonomy and excellence”, the government carved a bigger role for itself. For instance, the VC was selected by a panel headed by a government-appointed member. The role of the government became paramount.

This eroded the autonomy and excellence of the system on campus.

Q: So political interference led to this deterioration...

A. Yes, take for instance the government-appointed members in the senate. How many of them qualify to the definition of “eminent educationist”? Only a few. We had political functionaries being sent during my time, and I sent them back. When contested in a PIL, the High Court ruled in my favour. Why aren't subsequent VCs doing that? They should. After all, is this an educational institution or a taluk institution?

Q: Are public varsities also being killed by low budgetary allocations?

A. The funding of government universities is ridiculous, to say the least. The Block Grant that is given at present is enough to pay the salaries of 60 per cent of the teachers, let alone build infrastructure or upgrade. Every year, the allocation is increased by a meagre two to three per cent. Universities are surviving on research grants from national agencies like the University Grants Commission.

The government wastes no time in announcing new universities. But see how much they are allocating. It pains me to hear these empty announcements.