Wednesday, July 31, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Mediocrity reigns supreme in our universities

This refers to Dr Amrik Singh's article "What plagues Punjab's varsities" (July 22). Arthur Schopenhauer said, "Whatever be the form which excellence takes, mediocrity, the common lot of by far the greatest number, is leagued against it in a conspiracy to resist, and if possible, to suppress it".

If an academic institution is to flourish and generate excellence, the first entry to the academic profession should be foolproof because once we introduce a mediocre into the system, he will spread mediocrity like a virus. Since academic excellence is beyond the competence of a mediocre, his sole aim in life becomes to struggle for seats of power. As ignorance and incompetenance are no disqualification for high office, such pseudo academics grab high positions by cultivating influential persons. But in his mind he always feels threatened and finds his very survival at stake when confronted by excellence. Therefore, with all the resources at his command he tries to get rid of other persons, who even remotely threaten his existence. Moreover, such a mediocre has neither the competence to judge the excellent nor will dare to recruit one. He knows that his work cannot be judged outstanding in competition with others and, therefore, attempts to cut out the competition. This way mediocrity perpetuates itself at the expense of excellence.

Can this trend be reversed? In the universities where right from Vice-Chancellors to peons are appointed with the collusion of the political powers-that-be, there is little hope of merit asserting itself. One possible way is to give the respective department of the university a collective right of choosing new members.


Like the judiciary, all members of a department should take part in the selection of new members. Such selections made democratically and out in the open would minimise outside influence and interference. This procedure may later be extended to the appointment of Vice-Chancellors as well. But to our polity and politicised bureaucracy, the status quo suits the most. Any change from their side can be least expected. Here is a chance for the AIFUCTO to prove its concern for the profession.

Even this procedure of selection presupposes that the faculty as a collective body is competent enough to judge excellence. It will only succeed when the quagmire of mediocrity is completely replaced by excellence. To do so, we can or rather should take the assistance of excellence, from what Dr Amrik Singh described as the fading out older generation, to cleanse at least one university not by phasing out (there is no time left for this) but by pushing out mediocrity. By suitable amendments in laws, they can be transferred to some other universities, if not kicked out. Later the faculty of this university can be further utilised to cleanse the others. Multiplication of excellence is an evolutionary process and hence will take time. But a beginning has to be made soon, at least sooner than the guiding excellence from the older generation finally fades out.


Culture of sycophancy: There is no denying the fact that the universities in Punjab, particularly Punjabi University, have reached a deplorably low level of academics and research. Thanks to the Badals and Ahluwalias. Petty politics has become the order of the day in the university. The vast majority of the education providers hail from the mediocre and average level of intelligence and ability. They do not possess the right kind of talent, capabilities and commitment. The fact is that when a person who is at the helm of affairs is himself of dubious character and a by-product of political sycophancy, how can we expect that he would select scholars and teachers of high merit and intelligence. Rather, he would naturally bring in a brigade of sycophants who are good for nothing. The number of misfits, incapables and flatterers is mushrooming day in and day out and they have outnumbered the serious scholars in their respective fields. I myself have suffered at the hands of Dr Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, who in spite of my high academic merit and excellent extracurricular record, rejected me for the post of lecturer in commerce. When that episode of my interview and rejection and the selection of “the influential but less meritorious" comes to my mind, I get highly disturbed.

Dr Amrik Singh is very right when he says that talent is ignored and mediocres rule the roost. One more interesting anecdote from Punjabi University is given for the interest of readers. I was a member of the Senate of Punjabi University, Patiala. The VC’s one-point agenda for meetings during my whole tenure was to flatter politicians. I remember that Dr Ahluwalia did nothing at the meetings except to please the Bhundars, Badals and the like. Some ex-VCs and very few members no doubt made some fruitful suggestions but even those suggestions did not carry much weight in the eyes of an adamant Ahluwalia. Most matters used to be decided by Dr Ahluwalia along with some politicians because he was given the right by the "Sycophant Majority" to take decisions single-handed. Now what can be the plight of this highest seat of education in such an environment of flattery and selfishness?

The government should appoint really capable people in order to bring the universities back from darkness to light.

Dr DHARMINDER SINGH UBHA, Phallewal Khurd (Sangrur)

Bureaucrats as VCs: Besides Dr Amrik Singh's vague generalisations of mediocrity and lack of commitment, what plagues Punjab's universities is the appointment of bureaucrats as the acting or regular VCs. Whether IAS officers, serving or retired be made Vice-Chancellors is debatable. But I for one believe that since running universities is entirely different from the day-to-day administration of government departments, the IAS do not fit into this system simply because they fail to make this distinction.

Secondly, over the years politics, factionalism and bickering among the faculty have become so common that only the one from within this system can understand the things.. The bureaucrat VCs with no experience of university administration, underplay the sensitivity of important issues, forgetting that any decision taken has a direct bearing on the future of the students and thus the nation, unlike state departments where revenue or something similar to this is the main consideration.

In PTU, immediately after taking over as the acting VC, IAS officer scrapped the distance education department in one go without looking into details of the matter and consulting the faculty. Had the CM not intervened, the future of more than 50,000 students would have been put on stake.

Similarly, what the Punjabi University VC did first was to overhaul the university administration. The Registrar, the Deans, the wardens and other officials were immediately replaced by those who were known to be against the former VC, Dr J.S. Ahluwalia. Such settling of scores might work in government departments, but its success in the university system is doubtful. With the help this team, he at once started the process of reversing the decisions of his predecessor, hardly realising the gravity of the whole matter. Not looking at the public interest and financial cost involved, the IT and Management Colleges, which got affiliation during Dr Ahluwalia's time, were disaffiliated. Thanks to the CM, he rescinded these arbitrary decisions and saved many of the students and their parents from mental agony.

Dr D.P. SINGH MOR, Patiala

Pakistan fixation

The Tribune has introduced a new column "Pakistan briefs". I, for one, feel that already we were getting an over-dose of Pakistan news and there was no necessity to commence the column in question. No doubt, like our politicians, our media is "Pakistan obsessed". This "Pakistan fixation" syndrome requires to be got rid of. Certainty "Pakistan se aage jahan aur bhi hai" and there are half-a-dozen other countries in SAARC on whom we can focus, besides our other neighbours. How often do we read about them? Seldom.

Why go across our borders, even news about the North-East doesn't attract attention of our dailies as if N-E stands for Non-Existent. I know I hear about Mizoram when its Governor, Mr A.R. Kohli, is in this part of the country to preside over a convocation/prize distribution function or a seminar on education. Let's try to look within also.

K.J.S. AHLUWALIA, Amritsar


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