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Chancellor: Find new NUJS VC by month-end • Students beg CJI to save college • VC-vacuum nears 1-year birthday

NUJS nearly one year without a proper VC after ouster of PIB
NUJS nearly one year without a proper VC after ouster of PIB

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, as NUJS Kolkata’s chancellor, via his nominee has directed the stagnated appointment process of a permanent vice chancellor (VC) to be completed by 28 February 2019, with all other senior administrative appointments, such as registrar and accounts officer, to be appointed by 31 March.

The chancellor’s nominee, Supreme Court justice AK Sikri, had attended a general council meeting (GC) that took place on the day of NUJS’ convocation, on 2 February 2019. Reacting, in-part, to a letter sent to the CJI by NUJS student representatives urging prompter action (see below), Sikri asked the university to expedite the appointments and to begin its faculty recruitment process by March.

The state law minister had also repeated those instructions to the NUJS administration, according to campus sources.

However, the GC is yet to release the minutes of that meeting to the students, continuing a long-standing grievance in the students’ battle to be included in - or at least kept informed of - the opaque decision-making processes of the university.

Case in point: former SJA president Arjun Agarwal, under whose tenure the previous VC Prof Ishwara Bhat resigned from NUJS, had written in The Wire on 31 January of the trials and trying tribulations of bringing transparency into NUJS’ (and other law schools’) affairs via blunt instruments such as Right to Information (RTI) (follow this link for copies of Agarwal’s latest batch of RTIs to NUJS).

To date, NUJS acting VC - former high court justice Amit Talukdar - has not yet called the meeting of the registrar selection committee, which was constituted on 22 December, and includes himself, and the Kolkata-based VCs of the universities of Calcutta and Kazi Nazrul.

SJA pleaded for CJI’s help

On 20 December 2018, the Student Juridicial Association (SJA) had sent a 12-page letter (see copy below) to their chancellor and CJI, copied into other officials, asking for intervention in “these times of crisis”.

SJA president Arindum Nayak and vice president Gatha G Namboothiri’s joint letter argued that without assistance from the CJI, a lack of “administrative stability and dynamic leadership”, coupled with the state government’s moves to change the nature of NUJS, “would ensure that the University enters a state of permanent paralysis”.

The state government’s amendment to NUJS’ establishing act in November 2018, would introduce a 30% state quota, relax entrance criteria and give the state government control over student fees.

The SJA said in its letter that the amendment was introduced “without any needful consultation or information with or to the stakeholders - including the faculty, administration and governing bodies”, and “creates severe apprehensions about motivated attack on independent nature of the University”.

Leadership vacuum vs vacuous leadership

NUJS has been under Talukdar’s placeholder administration for nearly a year now, since previous VC Ishwara Bhat’s resignation in April 2018.

Administratively, Talukdar has not done much of note, besides (in the Calcutta high court’s words) being responsible for the “not becoming” and “arbitrary” abrupt nuking of online courses at NUJS.

The process to find a new permanent VC too has gone nowhere, until finally advertising for a new VC in November 2018. Since then, it still seems to have gone nowhere fast. Apprehensions are also real, that the search committee is stacked in favour of finding a replacement that will prove pliable for the West Bengal state government.

On top of that, NLSIU Bangalore, as well as GNLU Gandhinagar, HNLU Raipur and CNLU Patna are looking for VCs now, placing a great strain on a limited talent pool of talented and experienced administrators.

And the longer the appointment process takes, the more like it is that stakeholders, such as students, faculty and alumni, will lose any leverage to ensure that a solid appointment is made that can do justice to NUJS institutional potential: legal education history has shown that it’s not necessarily true that any VC will better than no VC.

SJA representation to CJI to save NUJS (PDF)

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