The State Cabinet has reportedly approved a Bill that could effectively curtail the Governor’s influence in the selection of Vice Chancellors to State universities.
The Bill will probably be tabled during the Assembly session commencing August 22. It purportedly envisages changes to the composition of the search-cum-selection committee formed to identify candidates for the post.
The number of members on the search committee could go up from three to five. While the committee includes nominees of the Governor, University Grants Commission (UGC), and the Senate of the respective university under the prevailing norms, the proposed legislation will pave the way for the inclusion of a nominee of the State government as well as the vice chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council.
In addition, the candidate who receives the majority vote among the committee members can be reportedly recommended to the Chancellor as the official selection.
The proposed reform is expected to provide greater leverage for the government in the exercise and enhance the prospects of the candidates preferred by the ruling dispensation.
The move comes against the backdrop of Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, in his capacity as Chancellor, initiating the selection process for the next Vice Chancellor of Kerala University without consulting the government. By arguably going against convention to name his nominee on his own, Mr. Khan had virtually nullified the advantage enjoyed by the government in the process.
Seemingly justifying the move, Law Minister P. Rajeeve insisted the posts of the Governor and the Chancellor should be viewed differently. While the Governor is a constitutional post, that of the Chancellor is one created and defined by State legislation.
Even while refusing to join the issue, Mr. Khan told mediapersons that he would not allow any violation of the law as “long as the powers are with me”. “Let them (the government) do whatever they want to do. Anything proposed becomes law only with the signature of the Governor. I am absolutely concerned about the state of affairs in the higher education sector,” he said.
Referring to the controversy surrounding the appointment of Priya Varghese, the wife of Chief Minister’s private secretary K.K. Ragesh in Kannur University, the Governor accused the university authorities of a “series of lapses” and “favouritism”.
“Right from the Advocate General to the University Grants Commission, everybody’s opinion is being sought. But they have sought to keep the Chancellor in total darkness. There are prima facie serious irregularities,” Mr. Khan alleged.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) State president K. Surendran alleged the Bill was aimed at neutralising any attempt to prevent efforts to undermine the autonomy of universities. “The move is also meant to facilitate backdoor appointments in violation of norms,” he added.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala accused the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of making attempts to bring universities under its control. While Syndicates and Senates were overwhelmingly controlled by the party, the current move would completely erode the autonomy of universities.