Files stuck, doctoral degrees not awarded: How absence of VC has hit Madras University

The students, research scholars and the administration face ripple effects of the tussle between the state government and Governor RN Ravi, who is the chancellor of the state-run universities.
Madras University
Madras University
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Aneesha* submitted her Ph.D. thesis in the Malayalam language in March 2023 but hasn’t got her doctoral degree as her examiner is yet to be selected. She had other plans of applying for jobs in government-run universities for her academic qualifications. 

“I cannot do anything till I get my degree from Madras University. With not many choices left, I work as a teacher for a salary of Rs 20,000. And I do not know how long it would take for them to choose the examiner from a panel of examiners to conduct a viva,” Aneesha told TNM.  

This is not the story of Aneesha alone. There are more than hundred PhD scholars waiting for their degrees from the University of Madras (UoM). However, the prolonged standoff between the elected Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government and the Governor RN Ravi made it unclear for the students of UoM on when they could get their degrees. 

The students, research scholars, departments, and the administration are facing ripple effects of the tussle between the state government and RN Ravi, who is the chancellor of the state-run universities, even though the latter withdrew his notifications urging the state government to add UGC nominee to the VC selection panel. A four-member advisory committee is in place to take decisions in the absence of VC but they do not reside inside the campus and timely approvals have been severely affected.

TNM spoke to heads of departments, teachers' associations, and research scholars to know how the absence of VC affects their day-to-day function. 

Administration is derailed

According to one of the department heads in the UoM, staff members are spending their own money to meet the everyday needs of the department which include purchase of stationery items to the conduct of seminars and meet-ups for students. “The Vice-Chancellor is the one who is authorised to approve the advisory committee which is constituted to look after the annual budget of the departments. As there is no VC, there is no advisory committee to discuss the needs and wants of the department and to get the annual budget from the administration,” the HOD, who wanted to maintain anonymity, said. According to him, the department had sent the files to the administration to constitute the advisory committee but it is still pending before the four-member convener committee. 

The four-member committee was formed in August 2023. A special syndicate appointed Higher Education Secretary A Karthik as the chairperson of the convener committee to administer the varsity until the next VC is appointed. The other members of the committee are K Veera Raghava Rao, Commissioner, Directorate of Technical Education, E Murugan, HOD of the Physical Chemistry department, and Professor Sarit Kumar Das from IIT Madras. They are appointed to look after the VC's duties. The decision to have the panel was made in August last year, just before the term of last VC S Gowri ended. 

However, the committee members' primary roles are different and two of them are IAS officers. “Due to this, the approval for many files got delayed which eventually derailed the everyday function of the University,” the HOD said. The advisory committee is supposed to give the proposal for the annual budget before the academic year starts but it’s really unfortunate that this academic year is about to be completed. 

The office of each convener member is located in different locations in the city. To get approval for any file, even for a small budget, the files are traveling across the city. If there is a query, the members would return the files to the department and another cycle would start again, leading to virtual stagnation with regard to decision making.

Syndicate and Senate meetings are yet to be conducted, according to the faculty members. Syndicate and Senate meetings are necessary to make policy-level decisions at the institutions. However, now the administration is waiting for the Convener Committee’s approval to conduct the meetings too. Earlier, the meetings would happen as usual whether the Higher Education Secretary attended the meet or not.

Delayed salary and the IT department’s action 

Recently when 37 fixed deposit accounts of the university were frozen, the faculty members felt helpless as there was no designated authority within the campus to directly discuss the matter with the government and take appropriate measures to solve the issue. H Vijaya Raghavan, treasurer of the University of Madras Staff Association told TNM that it would’ve been much easier for us to navigate issues such as pending salaries, and unpaid electricity bills if there was a resident VC. Raghavan said office staff, security guards and employees are yet to get their salaries for the month of January.    

Much before the IT department froze the accounts of Madras University, the temporary staff in the Distance Education Institute of UoM and guest lecturers of the University experienced delays in getting salaries. Temporary teachers got their November salaries in mid-January but are still waiting for their December and January salaries. As the accounts of the institute were frozen, there is uncertainty about when they would receive their salary. 

Read: No Vice Chancellor for Madras University: Temporary teachers suffer 

Students suffer more

 Kathiravan, a teaching faculty from the institute recalled the delay in appointing guest lecturers for all the departments. “For the academic year, we have to approach the VC to get the guest lecturers for each department based on the availability of the teaching staff. Later, the advertisement and interview process will be conducted. Everything will be done before the academic year starts in mid-July or early August. There is no VC now, so there was a long delay in appointing guest lecturers.  Even for this academic year, half the guest lecturers were appointed almost at the end of the semester. The students had to attend all the classes in 10 to 20 days for the subject which is supposed to be taught in 90 days,” he detailed. 

Lab activities, especially in the science stream, have also been affected. According to a faculty member, the university has to call for tenders for purchase of lab equipment. For open tenders, which are above Rs 5 lakh, the process usually takes three to four months. Due to this particular issue, many laboratories lack the instruments, and teaching faculties had to extend the lab hours so that every student gets the chance to work on it.  

“As of now, we are providing part-time opportunities for students who are from underprivileged economic backgrounds. The students would get Rs 2000 per month if they were selected for the scheme called Earn Why Scheme to work in the library or do research assistance for the facilities. The right candidates will be selected once the VC interviews them. Now, this has been delayed affecting the opportunities of deserving candidates.

PK Abdul Rahiman, secretary of the Teachers Collective of the University of Madras said, “The administration of the University is severely affected at every level due to the absence of VC. There has been a delay in clearing all files for the past four months as they need to be scrutinised by four members of the convener committee.” Rahiman urged the state government to fast-track the process of appointing the new VC to the university.    

As of now, the University of Madras, Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, and Tamil Nadu Teachers Education University are yet to have Vice Chancellors due to the dispute between Ravi and DMK Government. Ravi wanted the state government to constitute search committees by including a nominee of the University Grants Commission. The governor last year issued notifications constituting Search-cum-Selection Committee to select the candidates for appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of the three Universities. However, the Higher Education Department issued notifications on constituting the search committees without a nominee of the UGC. However, earlier this January, RN Ravi withdrew the notifications

TNM reached out to S Elumalai, the registrar of the institute for comments and the copy would be updated once we receive it. E Murugan, a member of the four-member convener committee, said they are trying to solve the salary issue on a priority basis. He refused to comment on the administrative stalemate.

“The senate selected the nominee. So did the syndicate members. However,  the government is yet to appoint an academic expert to select the VC even though the governor has withdrawn his notification,” Raghavan said. 

PB Prince Gajendra Babu, General Secretary, State Platform for Common School System, told TNM that an institution cannot function effectively without a regular head. “An academic institution needs an academic head. The post of VC has both academic and administrative responsibilities. The administrator should possess adequate academic knowledge to understand the needs of all the stakeholders. The VC should be available to guide the faculty whenever they approach for his advice as both an administrator and an academician. The current crisis in the University of Madras would have been handled better if a regular VC was in place,” he said. 

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