The recent pronouncement of the Higher Education Department directing Vice Chancellors and Registrars to take a certain number of hours of classes every month makes for interesting analysis. To put it succinctly, it is a right point wrongly made! For too long have those who have little to do with academics and have limited understanding of the ground reality in the higher education space been defining and deciding the contours of education. A government department dictating what the Chief Administrator of a University should and should not be doing is indeed a sad commentary on the way that higher education is today (mis)governed. Further, given the fact that many Registrars are career civil servants and one wonders as to what is the expectation, in terms of teaching hours for them.
Having been part of the higher education system for the last four decades, first as a student and then as a faculty member, one has had the good fortune of seeing the administration of several Vice Chancellors. There have been Vice Chancellors across the country who continued to focus on teaching and research even as they managed their University with integrity and efficiency. The government directive assumes that Universities are mere teaching institutions and happily ignores the research priorities that leading academicians have shouldered. One has heard of Vice Chancellors spending their first few hours of the day in their research laboratories or in the classrooms and moving to their administrative chambers later in the day. Those who have been plugged into active research and have had a passion for teaching have felt uncomfortable not spending time on their research and/or teaching even as they discharged their administrative responsibilities. One also needs to make the uncomfortable point that those who had retired from teaching and research even before becoming Vice Chancellors, even while being in service, thought it perfectly appropriate to remain in that state of detachment from research/teaching when assuming the office of Vice Chancellorship! The simple point being made is that an academic committed to research and teaching would never give up what they are passionate about on being entrusted administrative responsibilities. This whole talk of the work of a Vice Chancellor not allowing for time to pursue research and teaching is merely a mask not to do what one was never seriously passionate about!
Possibly, the Higher Education Ministry directive needs to be approached from a different perspective. Are the powers to be appointing such individuals as Vice Chancellors who are committed to teaching and research, the two principle responsibilities of academicians? Is contribution to research and success as a teacher the key criteria for appointing Vice Chancellors? One is not too confident of giving an answer that is strongly affirmative. While there are honourable exceptions, the manner in which Vice Chancellor level appointments have happened in the recent past bear testimony to the factors that are on high premium. Quality research and inspirational teaching are clearly on the back-burner. In such circumstances, by passing such directives one is placing the cart before the horse. It may be useful to ensure that those chosen to head Universities are researchers who have carved a special niche for themselves and/or Professors who have earned a name for having inspiredseveral generations of students by their classroom dialogue. Such Vice Chancellors would not require a directive from the government to continue to pursue their research and remain engaged in the classroom. It would be their second nature.
(Dr. Sandeep Shastri is a leading political scientist)