Insisting that there is “no infirmity” in his reappointment, which has set off a tussle between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the CPI(M)-led state government, Kannur University vice-chancellor Gopinath Ravindran said higher education is the “casualty” in this controversy driven by “politics”.
On November 24, the Governor, in his capacity as Chancellor of the university, reappointed Ravindran to the post. However, in a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Khan made his displeasure known, saying he passed the order against his conscience. He also threatened to quit as chancellor. Later, letters written by Kerala Higher Education Minister R Bindu had emerged, indicating that the Governor may have been under pressure from the government on Ravindran’s appointment.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ravindran said, “I cannot comment on the Chancellor’s opinion. But the controversy is purely political. It is politics that’s playing out… It is certainly not going to advance the interest of higher education. The casualty in all this is the higher education sector, which is lagging behind in north Kerala. When I took over as VC, Kannur University had a NAAC rating of B. Now it has improved two notches to B++. Perhaps that is the reason I was retained. Otherwise I had even booked my return tickets to Delhi.”
An eminent historian, Ravindran was first appointed to the post in November 2017, two years after he quit as member-secretary of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) halfway through his term over differences with chairman Y S Rao. The dispute was mainly over Rao’s move to dissolve an advisory committee to the council that had Romila Thapar as one of the members.
The Governor’s stand on Ravindran’s reappointment had led to protests by the Opposition, which alleged that he was retained in contravention of the Kannur University Act, which says no person above the age of 60 shall be appointed as VC. Ravindran is now over 60.
“The Act says the VC should not be aged above 60 during the appointment. I was below 60 when I was appointed. It also says the VC can be reappointed for a period of four years, but cannot be reappointed more than once. I think there is no infirmity here,” Ravindran said, adding that the state Higher Education Minister writing to the chancellor in her capacity as pro-chancellor was also “perfectly in the order of things”.
On December 15, the Kerala High Court dismissed a petition against Ravindran’s reappointment. While the HC verdict has been challenged, he said the court’s position validated his argument.
“Reappointments are a routine matter elsewhere. It is just that in Kerala it is perhaps the second instance of reappointment,” he said.
The Congress-led UDF had also alleged favouritism in Kannur University’s decision to shortlist Priya Varghese, wife of Vijayan’s private secretary K K Ragesh, for the post of associate professor in the Malayalam department.
Asked about the row involving Varghese, Ravindran said the university has sought legal opinion to examine her eligibility for the post of associate professor.
“Firstly, the name of the person who has been hired to the post remains in a sealed cover. Currently, the university is seeking legal opinion on many names, including that of Varghese. There is confusion over whether her two-year stint under a faculty development programme should be counted as leave or deputation. The post requires a person with minimum eight years experience,” Ravindran said.