TNN | Jan 6, 2014 MUMBAI:

The vice-chancellor of the University of Mumbai, Rajan Velukar, has mishandled the situation again. He has suspended Professor Neeraj Hatekar for raising awkward questions by using the emergency powers vested in him. Just as he did not know the difference between ‘alumnus’ and ‘alma mater’ at the time of his appointment (he called himself “an alma mater” of the Nagpur University), perhaps he does not know what the ’emergency powers’ vested in the VC’s position are for. It is sad to see that the tumultuous welcome he received has had no effect on him.

It is equally sad that no charge against him ever sticks. It will be a travesty of justice if verdicts come after he completes his term in office. But whose money is being spent on these cases? His or the university’s? How much time and energy do the university’s officers expend on these cases? And how much should the University spend on court cases? While these are worrying questions, what is more troubling is that a great institution is suffering for want of proper academic leadership. Those who have known its glorious past or were associated with it are helplessly watching.

They can only cry or wail. This is a situation where no free, sensible man can help but revolt against what is happening in the University of Mumbai. That VC Velukar is no academic leader was known in academic circles before his appointment. That he is no Gandhian, as he poses to be, was quickly proved by his vindictive actions after his appointment. That he is no cultural leader (VC of a university like the Mumbai University ought to be) is also clear by the fact that he does not come out in the open. Why, he rarely presides over even University functions.

In contrast, Professor Hatekar is known for his integrity towards the profession and as a very competent, sincere and popular teacher. A Fellow of the Cambridge University, he has alleged instances of the VC Velukar’s attempts at perjury and false claims. He has exposed Velukar’s incapacity to govern an institution of this size and standard. Most of Velukar’s three-and-a-half years have been spent in extra-mural and extra-curricular areas, which he has tom-tommed in the media. One really wonders why the authorities — Minister of Higher Education, the Department Secretary, the Management Council members and Chancellor — remain silent when every other day a new charge against Velukar gets published in the media. Charges of mismanagement, appointment goof-ups, examination irregularities and his wrong claims.

Is the management council of the University of Mumbai full of servile yes-men? Has he become so audacious because of proximity to the powers that be and because he is certain of his survival? Is Ibsen’s ‘Enemy of the People’ being re-performed in the University of Mumbai? Professor Neeraj Hatekar is made out to be a Dr Thomas Stockman and, looking at the charges levelled against him in his order of suspension, shown as an enemy of the academic people. What is the “moral turpitude” shown by Professor Hatekar? The Professor has brought forth issues about the Vice Chancellor’s ethical standards by citing instances, which, according to him, constitute the VC’s perjurious behaviour. Raising questions, academic, socio-cultural, even political, is the very soul of University life. The Professor, if felt necessary, should have been issued a show-cause notice. But had that been done, his reply would have had to be put before the members of the Council.

Velukar did not include the item of Professor Hatekar on the agenda of the meeting as if this case was confidential. Judicial solution is a time-consuming process and ‘let Professor Hatekar seek judicial redress’ is perhaps Velukar’s refrain. Velukar has already exposed his modus operandi. And members of the Management Council, like ‘sheep in sheep’s clothing’, have given their consent to use “emergency powers” to suspend the Professor?

It should have ordained the Vice Chancellor to rebut the charges and then issue a show-cause notice. It is high time the chancellor intervened and sought straight replies from vice-chancellor Velukar to the questions raised. (Aroon Tikekar is a historian)