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Appointment Of Vice-Chancellors: Analysing The Causes Of Tussle Between Governor And The State Government

Over a case relating to the tussle between the Governor of West Bengal and the State Government, the Supreme Court on Friday (15 September 2023) said that in the State of West Bengal it will formulate a Search cum Selection committee for the appointment of Chancellors of Universities.

A bench of Justices Suryakant and Dipankar Dutta asked for three to five names each from the University Grants Commission (UGC), State of West Bengal, and state Governor, after that it will decide the composition of the Search cum Selection Committee, which will then decide on the appointment of Vice-Chancellors in the state. The bench suggested that the UGC constitute the Search cum Selection Committee.

The appeal of the West Bengal government was being heard by the top court against the June 28, 2023 order of the Calcutta High Court which said there was no illegality in the orders issued by the West Bengal Governor appointing interim Vice-Chancellors in 11 state-run universities in his capacity as ex-officio chancellor of these institutions.

Appointment of Vice Chancellors as per UGC Regulations

The regulations of the University Grants Commission are as follows for appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of State Universities:
  1. Vice-Chancellors are to be appointed by persons with the highest level of competence, integrity, morality and institutional commitment. The Vice-Chancellor to be appointed should be a distinguished academic with at least ten years' experience as a professor in the university system or ten years' experience in an equivalent position in renowned research and/or academic administrative organization.
  2. The selection of Vice-Chancellor should be through proper identification of a panel of 3-5 names by a Search Committee through a public notification or nomination or a talent search process or in combination. The members of the above-mentioned Search Committee will be prominent figures in the field of higher education and will not be connected in any way to the respective university or its colleges. In preparing the panel, the Search Committee must give due weight to academic excellence, exposure to the higher education system in the country and abroad, and relevant experience in academic and administrative management, which must be provided in writing with the panel to be submitted to the committee. Visitor/Chancellor. The composition of the Search Committee may be in accordance with the law/statutes of the relevant university.
  3. The Visitor/Chancellor appoints the Vice-Chancellor from a panel of names recommended by the Search Committee.
  4. The conditions of services of the Vice-Chancellor shall be as prescribed in the Act/Statutes of the university concerned in conformity with the Principal Regulations.
  5. The term of office of the Vice-Chancellor is part of the service period of the respective incumbent, which entitles him/her to receive all benefits connected with the service.

Role of Governor in appointment of Vice-Chancellor of State Universities

The involvement of the Governor in India's university system is governed by constitutional principles and largely ceremonial. Acting as Chancellor of state universities, their role in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors (VCs) is limited. The actual selection process is spearheaded by a Search Committee.

As Chancellor of state universities, the Governor wields considerable power, owing to their position as head of the state. By relying on recommendations from the Search Committee, the Governor retains the discretion to select VCs as they see fit.

Typically, the UGC regulations dictate the makeup of the Search Committee, which advises on the VC appointment process. The Search Committee is tasked with identifying and recommending appropriate candidates for the VC role, drawing on a mix of academics, specialists, and public officials.

After the Search Committee finds suitable contenders, it transmits its suggestions through the State Government to the Chancellor (Governor) for sanction. The Chancellor deliberates on the submissions and might request explanations or supplementary particulars, if needed.

The Governor (or Chancellor) evaluates the candidates' credentials and suitability, reviews the recommendations, and ultimately approves the VC appointment. Generally speaking, the approval process is something that the Governor takes seriously, although in most cases it is a mere formality dependent on the Search Committee's suggestions.

The VC's duties are assumed after appointment to the position by formality of the university's Executive Council or Syndicate, which must receive the Chancellor's approval beforehand.

In the process of appointing VCs, it is crucial to understand that the Governor's involvement serves mostly as a non-partisan and symbolic gesture. Upholding constitutional principles and preserving the independence of universities are fundamental duties the Governor must abide by, while guaranteeing fairness and meritocracy during the selection process.

Without directly interfering in the choice of candidates, guaranteeing transparency, fairness, and meritocracy are the core duties of the Governor, particularly during the appointment process.

The governor of a state cannot directly appoint a person of his choice the vice chancellor of a state university without the recommendation of the search committee.

The Governor cannot select any person as Vice-Chancellor of a University, whose name is not present in the list of 3-5 persons recommended to be appointed as Vice-Chancellor by the Search Committee constituted in this regard. The Governor shall act according to the recommendations of the Search Committee in the appointment of Vice-Chancellor of a university, according to the regulations of the University Grants Commission.

Who constitutes the Search Committee for appointment of Vice-Chancellor?

In India, the method for forming the Search Committee responsible for appointing Vice-Chancellors at state universities is typically guided by the university's regulations and constitution and the University Grants Committee regulations. The constitution of this committee can differ among universities, but it generally consists of individuals from three sectors: academia, state politics, and the university's administrative entities.

Identifying and suggesting appropriate candidates for the Vice-Chancellor's job based on relevant qualifications, expertise, and criteria is the primary responsibility of the Search Committee. Statutes and policies of the university may describe the exact roles and responsibilities of committee members, although membership makeup may differ from one university to another.

In some states notification of constitution of the Search Committee is made by the Governor while in some other states the State Higher Education Department of the State Government constitutes the Search and Selection Committee.

As for example, the provisions of the Karnataka State Universities Act (2000) in this regard, calls for constituting a Search Committee consisting of four members: one nominated by the Chancellor, one by the State Government, one nominee of the Syndicate, and a nominee of the University Grants Commisssion. The Chairman of the Search Committee is appointed from amongst the members of the committee.

In reality, the State Government nominee is made Chairperson of the Search Committee. The committee scrutinises and assesses the applications from candidates applying for the VC post and submits a panel of three names, listed alphabetically, to the State Government. The State Government shall refer the panel to the Chancellor who shall appoint one of the members of the panel keeping in mind the considerations of merit, equity and social justice, and with the concurrence of the state government, as vice chancellor.

According to the Calcutta University Act, 1979 (West Bengal Act XXXVIII of 1979, as amended up to August, 2019), the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University falls under the purview of the Chancellor, who selects the candidate from a list of three individuals ranked in order of preference by the Search Committee, established by the State Government.

During the compilation of this list, the Search Committee is mandated to assign due significance to factors such as academic prowess, familiarity with both national and international higher education systems, and substantial experience in academic and administrative leadership. These considerations must be explicitly detailed when submitting the panel to the Chancellor.

The composition of the Search Committee adheres to the following guidelines: The Committee's Chairperson is to be an academician, not below the rank of a Vice-Chancellor of a Central or State-aided university or the Director of a National Institute of higher learning, nominated by the Chancellor in consultation with the Minister. Additionally, two academicians, each not below the rank of a Professor from Central or State-aided Universities or National Institutes of higher learning, are to be nominated by the State Government and the Senate, respectively. Importantly, none of these nominees can have any affiliations with the University for which the Search Committee is being constituted.

Flaws in University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations

The UGC Regulations are silent on who will constitute the Search Committee by notification and who will send the list of candidates for appointment to the post of Vice-Chancellor to the Governor/Chancellor, directly or through some channel, after the process of selection of candidates is over. The regulations are also not clear as to how many members will remain in the Search Committee, where will they hold meeting or the selection process and who will bear the cost of the meetings held by them as also their transportation cost. Further, in the UGC regulations it has not been mentioned as to who will be the Chairperson of the Search Committee.

These ambiguities in the UGC rules have given a lot of room for tussle between the Governor and the State Government on supremacy over the appointment of Vice-Chancellor. However, one thing is clear the Governor shall select the Vice-Chancellor from the list of candidates prepared by the Search Committee and cannot appoint his own candidate to the post of Vice-Chancellor without the recommendation of the Search Committee.

Court Judgments
The search committee to select the vice-chancellor must prepare a panel of 3 to 5 names - when only one name was recommended and the panel of names was not recommended, the chancellor did not have the opportunity to consider the names of the other candidates. Therefore, the appointment of the respondent No. 1 held contrary to Regulations. Professor (Dr.) Sreejith P.S. v. Dr. Rajasree M.S. & Ors.

The appointment of the Vice Chancellor by the State Government shall be in accordance with the UGC Regulations and any appointment of the Vice Chancellor in contravention of the UGC Regulations shall be void ab initio, the court ruled in the case of State of West Bengal v. Anindya Sundar Das & Ors., 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 831.

The appointment of the Vice-Chancellor shall be in accordance with the UGC Regulations, even if not expressly adopted by the State. In case of any conflict between the State Legislation and the Central Legislation, the Central Legislation i.e., the applicable UGC Regulations prevail by applying the principle of obnoxiousness according to Article 254 of the Constitution, as the subject of "education" is included in the Concurrent List of Schedule VII of the Constitution. Gambhirdan K. Gadhvi v. State of Gujarat and Ors; 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 242

Unless the loopholes in the regulations of the University Grants Commission are plugged regarding the constitution and composition of the Search Committee, selection of the Chairperson of the Search Committee and the role of the State Government and the Governor in the selection of the Vice-Chancellors of the State Universities, confusion will continue to reign supreme in the process of appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of State Universities.

Further, all stake holders involved in the process of selection of Vice-Chancellors are required to remain impartial and politically neutral in order to appoint the right candidate for this esteemed post thereby preventing unnecessary tussle between the Governor and the State Government keeping the interests of a large number of students of higher studies in mind.

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Written By: Md. Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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