Governor-State Disputes Are Most Detrimental To Institutions; Read Here

In order to resolve the dispute between the Kerala government and governor Arif Mohammed Khan, the Kerala high court had to step in and block Khan’s effort to fire the vice-chancellors of nine state institutions. Khan has yet to sign a law that would limit the governor’s authority as chancellor of public colleges. The legislatures of Bengal and TN have already enacted laws that would have made chief ministers, rather than governors, the official chancellors of their respective states.

Political interference in academic institutions is central to the problem. When a compliant governor is in charge, there are no issues. This spoils system has been thrown off by aggressive governors appointed by opposing parties, such as Jagdeep Dhankhar in Bengal, RN Ravi in Tamil Nadu, and Khan in Kerala. The acrimonious battle between the BJP and the opposition has spilt over into the realm of state universities.

However, the rot is pervasive even in states where such conflicts do not exist. Every government reserves spots for its favoured citizens at the upper echelons of the academic world. This is explained by the fact that the state provides the necessary funds.

Accordingly, in Kerala, this would mean that rather than submitting a shortlist of three candidates for the vice-chancellorship to the governor for consideration, the search committee would submit just one name. In all likelihood, the “one” will be a politically popular nominee. Such gaming occurs at the faculty level as well.

State government universities have the most students, yet only a small fraction of those institutions are ranked in the top 100 by the Government of India’s National Institutional Ranking Framework. Despite having decades of younger public and commercial institutions, this is the case.

Having totally autonomous institutions, with independent, professional search committees employing academic talent, free of political interference from governors, education ministers (pro-chancellors), and other politicians like MLAs, might be one option. Governments at the state level need to take a leap of faith. Higher education quality, the prevention of the brain drain from public universities, and the effectiveness of academic leadership are all bolstered by more autonomy.