Some months ago, a news item in the Bangalore edition of a national paper carried this headline, “Three shortlisted for Mysore varsity post”. Since I am a former academic, and have known many past graduates and teachers of Mysore University, I read on further. The report continued to say that “finally, the search committee has shortlisted three candidates for the Mysore University Vice-Chancellor’s post. The committee, headed by K. Balaveera Reddy, met on Tuesday. Sources told The Times of India that the shortlisted candidates are from Lingayat, SC and Vokkaliga communities. The candidates’ names have been placed before the government”.
The report mentioned the names of the shortlisted candidates, from which one could discern their respective caste affiliations. Remarkably, the news report did not carry any details on the qualifications of those who aspired to be the new vice-chancellor of Mysore University. What were their areas of academic expertise? What were their plans for reviving a once-good university now gone to seed? Apparently, these matters did not matter to the newspaper, as they did not to the government that was to make the appointment. Perhaps they were of no concern to the candidates themselves.
I suspect that, in these respects, the Mysore case is entirely typical…
In the past few decades, however, the quality of teaching and research in Indian universities has rapidly declined. Surely this has something to do with the manner in which we have come to appoint the men and women at their helm? The same newspaper that reports neutrally and without comment that the vice-chancellor of Mysore University will and shall be picked on the basis of caste goes into an annual fit of apoplectic rage when The Times Higher Educational Supplement announces its list of the top hundred universities in the world, a list that always has no Indian universities but often features several Chinese ones.
After one accepts the premise that the state has a role in the education sector, and then the premise that affirmative action is justified to a certain degree, both of which Guha does, why is he surprised at the state of the education sector? Further why does it matter if the candidate is selected on the basis of his caste, or religion, or language or some similar factor over which he has no control, or his or his father’s bank balance for that matter, and not merit? The nature of politics in our country is such that a problem can be found for every solution. That’s how vote banks are created.
If one thinks that the situation will change anytime in the future, one is living in a fool’s paradise. As long as one is living there, why not do it in a principled manner?