“Volumus Nostram VC” — translated ‘We want our VC’ — says a poster on the wall of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), the country’s premier law school. For several days now, students have been demanding the immediate appointment of their new vice chancellor — in Latin, among other languages.
Over 400 undergraduate students are set to boycott the semester examinations that are scheduled to begin on Monday to protest the delay in appointing Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy as the new VC. This is the first time in the NLSIU’s 31-year history that students are boycotting classes and exams.
Krishnaswamy, who graduated from NLSIU in 1998, was recommended as the first of three choices for VC by a committee headed by Justice S A Bobde of the Supreme Court on August 4, but the university’s Executive Council is yet to issue a formal appointment order. Prof M K Ramesh, a member of the NLSIU faculty for over 27 years, was appointed acting VC last month.
Students apprehend the delay is an attempt to negate the recommendation, and repeat the process of finding a new VC. “The Executive Council meeting is scheduled on September 28, a day after the exams end and students leave the campus. The administration is setting the ground to bring up dissent notes against the recommendation and restart the process,” a student said.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the NLSIU Student Bar Association expressed apprehension that the composition of the Executive Council is being illegally modified by the interim administration.
“The composition of the Executive Council has indeed been changed one week before its 89th meeting. The registrar has an evident conflict of interest,” NLSIU student leaders Hamza Tariq and Divyanshu Badole said.
Students have criticised the registrar, Omprakash V Nandimath, for “deliberately stalling” Krishnaswamy’s appointment. Nandimath was one of the 16 applicants considered by the search committee, but his name was not shortlisted.
At least 12 members of the Executive Council have approved Krishnaswamy’s appointment, forming the majority opinion. Abstentions and dissent notes have come in from several nominees of the Bar Council of India (BCI). Manan Kumar Mishra, chairman of the BCI, has sent in a dissent note, citing Krishnaswamy’s lack of administrative experience.
The acting VC set up a four-member committee on 20 September, comprising two faculty members and two members of the student body, to look at the files related to the appointment process. However, after the committee reported lapses in the procedure and Nandimath’s alleged conflict of interest, the VC rejected the report, and walked out of the meeting.
Subsequently, the Student Body Association called an urgent general body meeting to take a vote on boycotting exams.
The recommendation has to be formally endorsed by the Executive Council after a nod from the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who is the Chancellor of NLSIU, and a member of its General Council.
The administration, backed by a few senior faculty members, has sought to blame the CJI’s office for the delay in the appointment. “The CJI’s office has to sign off for issuing a formal notification, and we have not received that,” the registrar claimed in a meeting.
On September 13, the NLSIU alumni association had sought the CJI’s “intervention in ensuring the logical completion of the process to appoint the newly selected vice chancellor…”.
Nandimath, Ramesh, and Mishra could not be reached for a comment. Krishnaswamy declined to comment. The appointment of a new VC has been in a limbo despite the earlier VC, Prof R Venkata Rao, having retired on July 31, and the panel of experts appointed by the CJI and a sub-committee of the Executive Council having picked his successor. Krishnaswamy, a Rhodes scholar from Oxford University with international teaching experience, is currently professor at Azim Premji University.