Unequivocally, the growth in the number of Universities has triggered the conflict between the quality and quantity at all levels in academics. The uncalled-for interferences, biases, and sacrifice of merit in the process of recruitments of the head of higher education institutions (HEIs) like Vice-Chancellors and Directors have brought down the sheen. Umpteen number of Vice-Chancellors are reported to be involved in financial, academic, and administrative irregularities from time to time. Consequentially, HEIs are doomed in misgovernance and innocent students face the brunt. The non-inspiring leadership of HEIs is primarily responsible for their inability to command respect among the teachers and students of the respective institution which plunges the institution into mediocrity. Messy higher education is endangering the intellectual prowess of the country blessed with the demographic dividend. Nevertheless, the same has been part of the discourse in academics and government for quite some time, but the amelioration is not perceptible. The challenge posed by tendentious leadership in HEIs entails the earliest fixing of what is wrong in picking up academic leadership, especially in public sector HEIs holding a larger share in higher education.
Questionable identification of persons
Despite all efforts made by regulating bodies from time to time, the appointment of the head of HEIs in the public sector has been vexatious. The quality of leadership can be assessed from the findings of a committee reported in 2019 by Times News Network stating that 75 per cent of VCs are unfit to hold the post. For example, the alleged involvement of academic leadership in unethical practices of academics, plagiarism, taking bribes for granting favours, giving bribes to get the position, misconduct, etc. are ubiquitous. Disclosure of certain corruption in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors by one of the Chancellor puts rest to all speculations. There are ample shreds of evidence of contentious identification of persons with sullied and modest credentials Often the litigations are witnessed against leadership and culminate into their termination or continuing judicial probe or go beyond the tenure. Undoubtedly, such polemical cases corroborate the serious predicament in designating leadership in HEIs.
The compromises made in identifying persons to lead academics are proved by the prima facie evidence of their misdeeds or from their tendering resignations before completion of tenure or the appointing authority sacking / relieving them. Questioned integrities of the heads of HEIs, howsoever minuscule their number is, pose a bigger threat and are completely unacceptable in the educational institutions that preach quality, integrity, and honesty to their students.
Dwindling brilliance in appointment
University Grants Commission (UGC) has norms for the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. However, the appointments made in violation of these are often seen around with the criteria of deciding excellence being loaded with selectivity.
Historically, the persons appointed as head of HEIs used to be the persons of the highest integrity and reputed experts. Best academics were approached to accept the responsibility of leading a particular HEI and the individuals rushing for the posts were nearly absent.
Nowadays, the old practice of picking individuals through the Search Committee has been substituted through the Search cum Selection Committee (SSC) and formal public notification.
The lowering of benchmark parameters for identifying the suitability of individuals due to various considerations has abated the dignity of academic leadership. The compromises made in selecting the mediocre individuals as academic heads have emboldened the members of the academic fraternity to aspire for heading HEIs even without having worthy credentials and accomplishments.
Consequently, the number of applications received against the advertisement of the post of Vice-Chancellor has grown up significantly. Reference is also made to the advertisements for the post of Vice-Chancellor in two Universities of Haryana in which the candidates are required to pay Rs.2000/- (Rs.500/- for SC/ST candidates of Haryana only). This is disgraceful to the respective University and demeans the prestige of the position which once used to be filled by invitation as per the prudence of the Search Committee and the Chancellor. It is also in stark contrast to the practices followed for the apex position appointments in academics or other organisations.
Reasoning the ailing leadership
While attempting to reason the ailing leadership, the focus is upon the whole process starting from preparation of panel to finalization by the competent authority. The vested interests of individuals in seeking the coveted positions have yielded a paradigm shift in criteria for screening, preparing a panel of few names, and the process of convergence on one name.
Apparent reasons are the formation of a pliable search cum selection committee with the members having questionable integrity, vested interests, conflict of interests, lack of rigour, arbitrariness in describing merit, and insufficient diligence by the SSC.
Quite often the quid pro quo between the members of SSC and the aspirant is talked of in which SSC member buttressing certain name gets entitled to similar help by the propped one in future.
Instances of unethical considerations & obligations between the candidate and those pushing the candidature, selectivity in the interpretation of provisions as suited to the particular candidate by the appointing authority, misuse of proximity to the concerned offices by the incumbent Vice-Chancellors in managing their further appointments, etc. are also murmured.
The quality of leadership in HEIs is a cornerstone in improvising the education in the particular HEI, and the sacrifices of merit and competence of eligible ones mar the institution in particular and the whole education system in general. The losing radiance of HEI leaderships eventually calls for immediate correction.
Steadfast adherence to the prescribed provisions and constitution of SSC with the persons of impeccable integrity will nucleate the probity in the process and rule out the possibility of quid pro quo.
Further, the selection proceedings should be solely proforma-based with weighted considerations to accomplishments as the interview infuses subjectivity. Obligating SSC for recording the quantitative and qualitative merit behind picking up respective candidates in the recommended panel will impel conscious volition along with the process becoming transparent, credible, and free from undue influences. For accruing advantage of the experience of persons completing terms as head of HEIs in strengthening their parent HEIs, the maximum leave admissibility in a row can be restricted which shall bring in a diversity of individuals and variety of thoughts in academic governance. Best practices of the corporate sector in identifying the leadership should be followed for timely appointment of new Vice-Chancellor or Director well before completion of tenure.
Truly speaking, the academic appointments have to demonstrate utmost integrity, fairness, and transparency. Unfortunately, the wiled appointment of persons with a chequered academic and administrative history as the head of HEIs germinates insouciance in the good academicians which could be devastating. It is ineluctable for the Government and the regulators to make the process of appointment of academic heads solely merit-centric.
(The views expressed are personal)