The process for appointing a new vice-chancellor to Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) has been mired in controversy from the word go, with allegations from favouritism to dereliction of duty to criminal charges surfacing against candidates shortlisted for the Belagavi-headquartered institution’s top job.
The allegations came soon after a VTU search committee announced its shortlist of three vice-chancellor candidates—Anand Deshpande, Vidyashankar S and Gopal Mugeray—on September 24.
Dr K Mahadev, a member of the planning, monitoring and evaluation board of University of Mysore, alleged that Vidyahshankar has many criminal cases against him. In May, the orthopaedic surgeon moved the Karnataka High Court accusing Vidyashankar, currently vice-chancellor of Karnataka State Open University (KSOU), of malpractice and corruption.
Dr Mahadev’s petition alleges that Vidyashankar, as a mechanical engineering professor at the Bangalore Institute of Technology, had allowed students to cheat during VTU examinations on a massive scale. He also accuses Vidyashankar of misinforming unionists and abetting labour strikes “to the detriment of the Bangalore Institute of Technology”.
“As the V-C of Karnataka State Open University, Vidyashankar illegally indulged in the construction of three regional centres at Magadi, Mangalore and Dharwad apart from several high schools, costing nearly Rs 100 crore, in addition to an existing 21 regional centres using the university funds,” Dr Mahadev further alleged in his petition.
In addition, Vidyashankar was also booked under Indian Penal Code sections for “voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons” to Pradeep Giri, assistant registrar, KSOU. The FIR was registered in the Jayalakshmipuram police station on August 2.
Another shortlisted candidate, NIT-Goa director Gopal Mugeray, a former professor of chemical engineering at National Institute of Technology-Karnataka, has been debarred from the committees of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). According to an AICTE order dated August 5, 2018, Mugeray and six others were removed from the apex body’s panel of experts.
Last week a complaint against Deshpande, the other vice-chancellor candidate, was registered with the Karnataka Lokayukta. Deshpande, now VTU registrar, is alleged to have released crores of rupees at the end of the current vice-chancellor’s tenure. The vice-chancellor is due to retire this month. A September 28, 2021 circular from the Karnataka governor directed vice-chancellors not to take any major policy decisions if their tenure ends within two months.
“The abolition of election to the senate by the bureaucracy and the politicians has corrupted the public universities in Karnataka. This has nurtured favouritism, corruption and other illegal activities in appointment of senate members and V-Cs. As a result, rampant corruption has taken roots in the higher education system and has endangered academics to a great extent,” said Dr Mahadev.
For his part, Vidyashankar attributed vested interests to the allegations and suggested he was ready to face the cases. “It is very clear that I am being targeted with vested interests… I am ready to face the inquiry. I am also ready to appeal against the high court order if it’s is not in my favour. Until then it is just a stranger who is targeting me with motivated interests. I am in this race on my own merit and the good work I have done in improving the quality of education over the years,” he said.
And VTU issued a statement addressing the allegations of irregularities and the violation of the governor’s order.
“This is to clarify that the university unanimously nominated its sitting members, one each from the Executive Council and the Academic Senate, to the search committee strictly as per the provisions in the VTU Act. These members have been the part of executive council and academic senate constituted by Hon’ble Governor of Karnataka. Regarding payment released by the university in the last two months of the tenure of the present V-C, these payments are related to ongoing projects and routine expenses as approved by the Executive Council. No new policy decisions have been taken and actions of the university are in adherence with Hon’ble Governor’s Order,” read the statement.