Tamil Nadu

Questions over an appointment

Print edition : July 25, 2014

Kalyani Mathivanan, after she assumed charge as the Vice-Chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University in April 2012. Photo: S. James

In Madurai, posters by the Save Madurai Kamaraj University Coalition condemning the assault on its convener, A. Srinivasan, in May. Photo: S. James

THE Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court recently set aside the appointment of Kalyani Mathivanan as the Vice-Chancellor (V.C.) of Madurai Kamaraj University in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. A two-member Bench ruled that she was just an associate professor in an aided private college before she was elevated to the post of Vice-Chancellor, which, the Bench observed, did not satisfy the eligibility criterion stipulated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations, 2010.

However, it permitted the respondents to go on appeal to the Supreme Court since “it is true that there are several universities in the country where even bureaucrats have been appointed as Vice-Chancellors. Therefore, the question as to whether the UGC Regulations, 2010, have to be followed in letter and spirit is a question that needs, in our opinion, to be decided by the Supreme Court. Therefore, in terms of Article 133 (1) (b) we grant certificate to the respondents to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Justices V. Ramasubramanian and V.M. Velumani, hearing writ petitions challenging the appointment of Kalyani Mathivanan as V.C., pointed out that according to the UGC Regulations, 2010, distinguished academics with a minimum of 10 years’ experience as professor could become Vice-Chancellors.

The Bench dismissed the submissions of the respondents, including that of the V.C. and the University Registrar, that the eligibility criterion of the UGC [with regard to the appointment of V.C.] was “not mandatory”. Kalyani Mathivanan said she had 31 years of “teaching experience” and claimed that the UGC regulations need not be taken into account since the V.C. would function not as a teaching staff but only as an academic head.

The judges, however, pointed out that “if we accept the contention [of the respondents] that the educational qualification and eligibility criteria prescribed in the UGC regulations could not be applicable for the post of V.C., then anyone without any qualification whatsoever can also be appointed as V.C. in view of the absence of any prescription in this regard in the Madurai Kamaraj University Act, 1965.” The Bench further noted that under the UGC regulation “even Albert Einstein could not become a Vice-Chancellor of any university unless he fulfils the qualifications prescribed….”

(The UGC Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education, 2010, stipulates that the Vice-Chancellor to be appointed “should be a distinguished academician, with a minimum of ten years of experience as professor in a university system or ten years of experience in an equivalent position in a reputed research and/or academic administrative organisation”.)

Justice Ramasubramanian said: “It is true that when the seeds of higher education were sown in this country 150 years ago, men of eminence from various walks of life were appointed as V.Cs.” Great jurists (both lawyers and judges) have become V.Cs of Madras University ever since its inception, he pointed out. “However, it is not possible [now] to continue with the same legacy for two reasons. We do not have such tall men of great eminence, and today the field is regulated by law. Therefore, it is not possible to accept these contentions that drawing inspiration from the past, one need not be a performer or even a teacher to become a Vice-Chancellor.”

Taking up two petitions for issuing a writ of quo warranto against Kalyani Mathivanan, the judges contended that she did not satisfy the eligibility criteria stipulated by the UGC and the non-fulfilment of it could not be completely “white-washed” on the specious plea that the UGC regulations “were only directory and not mandatory”. K.V. Jeyaraj, a former university professor, and I. Ismail, a former principal of an affiliated college, filed the petitions in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court some two years ago. Later, a former research student from Singapore, S.S. Chandran Babu, impleaded himself in the case. The petitioners claimed that information obtained under the Right to Information Act showed that the V.C. had been working only as an associate professor in a women’s college in Chennai and not as a professor until the time she was relieved from the post on April 8, 2012. The next day, she took over as the V.C. of the university, which had been functioning without a head since April 19, 2011.

The petitioners noted that “she had claimed she was a professor and gave false information to the search panel, which had recommended three names to the government for the appointment of the V.C. from a list of 104 candidates. Her actions amounted to malpractice, the petitioners contended. But her counsel argued that only varsities had the posts of professors and that she also had been a guide to many research students. Hence, the government appointed her as the V.C.”

Kalyani Mathivanan’s appointment caused a rift among the teaching faculty and students in the university and resulted in unsavoury incidents. A group of academics launched a “Save Madurai Kamaraj University Coalition” campaign, which urged the Chancellor and the Tamil Nadu government to annul her appointment. A gang assaulted A. Srinivasan, the campaign convener and a former professor of Tamil at the university. The Madurai Police filed a first information report under various Sections, including 302, of the Indian Penal Code against six persons, including the V.C. Srinivasan told Frontline that since the court had ruled against Kalyani Mathivanan’s appointment, the Chancellor should form a committee of conveners to run the university. S. Krishnaswamy, convener of the Tamil Nadu Federation of Universities Faculty Association, endorsed his view on the committee formation.

Kalyani Mathivanan was Head of the Department of English in Ethiraj College, Chennai, before she was elevated to the post of V.C. She is the daughter of M.D.K. Kuthalingam, a former V.C. of Madurai Kamaraj University and the daughter-in-law of the late V.R. Nedunchezhian, a former All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Minister, and Vishalakshmi Nedunchezhian, who is the Chairperson of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women and one of the members of the Parliamentary Board of the ruling AIADMK party.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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