The Vice-Chancellor of a central university, out on a stroll on campus on the last afternoon of his tenure, was asked by a group of professors how he expected the incoming administration to be. The VC, who had already handed over charge, is said to have replied, “A disaster seems to be in the offing.”
About a year later, JAK Tareen, the former VC of Pondicherry Central University, was to write to the union HRD Ministry, requesting immediate action to save the university from “complete collapse”.
“This was the university which showed the highest-ever progress, with 300 per cent growth and rose to India’s top 10 in just five years,” he wrote in early 2014. The Ministry is yet to react. Meanwhile, events at the university have appeared to show the former VC’s fears coming true.
This month, The Indian Express reported, with video footage, the alleged detention and torture of a PG student for 27 hours by a group of teachers allegedly acting under the instructions of VC Chandra Krishnamurthy. In December, Madras High Court had fined the university for victimising two women students, who were suspended and denied permission to write exams after they filed a sexual harassment and ragging complaint against another student. A month earlier, this paper had reported that the VC had allegedly plagiarised most of a book she had claimed to have written, while two other books listed in her CV had never even been published.
Major reforms and accolades blew into the 800-acre campus of the university between 2007 and 2013, over 20 years after it was set up by the central government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Student strength nearly quadrupled from 1,800 to 7,000, and the faculty more than doubled from under 200 teachers to nearly 500. Beginning 2007, over 80 new programmes and 22 new departments were set up, and the university added 1.5 million sq ft of infrastructure area, including exclusive centres for research. Rs 280 crore was spent in five years, the most by a central institution in the country.
But over the last two years, much of the new infrastructure has lain unused, empty. The 50,000-sq foot library annex building, sprawling research centres for bio-informatics, green energy and nanotechnology research, the Electronic Multi-Media Research Centre (EMMRC) and a Centre for Pollution Control and Environmental Engineering are ghost structures. The university library has got no funds to buy books in the last two years. A campus bookstore, a shopping complex, and over 800 bicycles and six battery cars introduced as a green initiative are either hobbling or have wound up.
The appointment of teachers, many shortlisted as early as last year by university departments, remains stuck. Key administrative posts — Pro-VC, Registrar, Finance Officer — are either vacant or occupied by inexperienced ‘in-charges’. A set of internal reports at the union HRD Ministry, submitted between May and September 2014, have reportedly criticised VC Krishnamurthy’s style of functioning, with half a dozen staff working “to her whims and fancies”.
The Ministry files are believed to contain instances of the “fear psychosis” created by the VC. A professor of politics was allegedly transferred to a community college 700 km from the university soon after he became leader of the faculty union. A professor of philosophy was allegedly sent 800 km to a college that hadn’t even got UGC clearance. A teacher who raised his voice against Hariharan, accused in the illegal detention of a student, was allegedly packed off to a campus 160 km away to work on a clinical psychology programme. One report speaks of alleged attempts by the VC “to appease local politicians” by offering 25 per cent reservation to local students, going against the idea of a central university.
An “Academic Fraud Report” published by the Pondicherry University Teachers’ Association on the basis of what teachers claim are official documents and replies received under the RTI Act, says most entries in the CV that Krishnamurthy submitted at the time she was appointed VC are false. Among them: She never published several of the articles she claimed she did, many of her “projects” do not exist, her DLitt was from a “fake” Sri Lankan university, she was never a Professor, had ordinary LLB and LLM results, and had only ever guided two students, not nine, as she claimed in her CV. An open letter from academics inviting her responses was never replied to. Questions from the media were ignored. The Indian Express could never get through to her for a response on any of the allegations.
A central university is set up by an Act of Parliament, and the President of India is its Visitor. India’s 40 central universities are funded by the central government, and effectively run by the union HRD Ministry. What explains the seeming paralysis of action on the allegations against the VC?
Krishnamurthy, who is said to be close to several top Congress politicians, was appointed when M M Pallam Raju was HRD Minister. The “Fraud Report” quoted from a Ministry file to allege that Raju had, in December 2012, insisted on her candidature, ignoring the established procedure of submitting three names suggested by the search panel. Krishnamurthy’s critics allege she has retained her clout even after the change of regime at the Centre. Matters have not been helped, they say, by the fact that the HRD Ministry has not been settled at the top — having seen several secretaries change since the time Krishnamurthy became VC in February 2013.