Thursday, March 16, 2006

Broken: Bangalore University

Prof. M.S. Thimmappa retired two days ago from the Vice-Chancellorship of Bangalore University; the Hindu has a report on his four-year tenure. There is a search on for his successor, and a decision is likely to be made in a month's time. A couple of days ago, I saw this report in the Hindu's Bangalore pages, and I was stunned and outraged to read this:

The list [of potential candidates to succeed Prof. Thimmappa] is obviously long. But caste equations, political factors and academic credentials in that order narrow down the competition to a few players. The names of Ranganath from Mysore University, Shakuntala Katre from Bangalore University Department of Zoology, Govindaraju, UVCE Principal, Jogan Shankar, Ambedkar Study Centre visiting professor, and Prakash, Director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), are all doing the rounds.

The political stakes are high. Equally strong are the caste factors, hinging mainly on the representation of Vokkaligas and Lingayats.

The bold emphasis was added by me, of course. The reporter, Rasheed Kappan, goes on to give a list of potential candidates, and the arguments for -- and against -- each; most of the arguments presented in this story revolve around caste equations.

Soon after stepping down from the vice-chancellorship of the Delhi University, Prof. Deepak Nayyar told the Hindu's Siddharth Varadarajan "There are many distinguished academics who would be excellent vice-chancellors. But they do not wish to become VCs or the system will not appoint them." He didn't elaborate on why VC-ship has acquired this sad reputation. I think we now know at least one of the reasons.

Given a bunch of equally capable candidates (based on some measure of 'merit') on the short list, it is always clear that those who get to make the final decision will base their choice not only on the candidates' CVs, but also on a whole bunch of intangibles. I can also understand if caste is one of these intangibles which gives a slight edge to one candidate over the others. After all, someone has the power to decide, he/she must be given the freedom to exercise that freedom. I personally dislike caste being used as a criterion, but if someone does use it (because of his/her compulsions, sense of comfort, etc), I can understand it as long as caste comes into the picture at the end of this process.

As the Deccan Herald reported last week, the search committee itself was not fully constituted as of 8 March 2006! Thus, what we are witnessing here is the overt role caste appears to play even in the initial stages of the search process.

With all due apologies to the Bard, something is rotten in the state of Karnataka.