Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin’s announcement last week that his government was exploring options to empower itself to make the appointment of vice chancellors of universities, taking the powers away from the Governor-Chancellor , was not unexpected. Though no major issue has erupted in the area of higher education between the State government and Governor R.N. Ravi, the equations between the two have not been good. Even three months after the Assembly adopted a Bill to scrap the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test as the sole guiding factor for admission to undergraduate medical courses, Mr. Ravi has not yet forwarded it to the President . Mr. Stalin has complained that even after he met and requested Mr. Ravi to take this up, the Governor has not taken any action. It was against this backdrop that Mr. Stalin made the announcement.
The move appears to be in line with developments in some other States. In December, the Maharashtra legislature adopted a Bill curtailing the powers of the Governor in the appointment of vice chancellors in State universities. Around the same time came a statement from the West Bengal government that it was considering a proposal to make the Chief Minister Chancellor of all State universities . In the light of a controversy over the selection of vice chancellors for two universities, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan had even suggested that a special session of the Assembly be held to divest him of the charge of Chancellor of universities in the State.
In case the Tamil Nadu Assembly adopts a Bill replacing the Governor with the Chief Minister as Chancellor of universities, this will be the second such instance in the State. In January 1994, when the AIADMK was in power, the House passed the Universities Bill, making the Chief Minister Chancellor of universities . The immediate provocation for it was the souring of ties between the then Governor, M. Channa Reddy, and the then Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, over the appointment of the Vice Chancellor of the Madras University. Though it was another matter that Reddy did not give his assent to the Bill till the end, it must have been amusing for him as he, in his second spell as Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh in 1989-90, himself got relieved of the post of Chancellor of the Telugu University and Health Sciences University, the position held by his immediate predecessor N.T. Rama Rao. Eventually, it was left to the DMK regime to withdraw the Bill.
A former civil servant, who had served in a senior position in the Department of Higher Education at the Centre, points out that the President is the Visitor of a number of central institutions, including the National Institutes of Technology, and has got certain functions to perform, but no controversy arises between the occupant and the institutions. However, the situation is not the same when it comes to universities in States and Governor-Chancellors. Though there is nothing inherently superior in the arrangement of Governor being Chancellor vis à vis that of Chief Minister as Chancellor, a Governor is in a position to generally discharge the allotted functions as a Chancellor in a detached manner, uninfluenced by local and political considerations.
Notwithstanding the merits and demerits of who should be Chancellor of universities, what public-spirited academicians expect Mr. Ravi to do as Governor-Chancellor immediately is to ensure transparency in the appointment of vice chancellors. All the details regarding applicants, composition of the jury panel, interviews, and the factors that guided him or his predecessor in the appointments made in the last four-five years should be hosted on the website of the Raj Bhavan.