In its centenary year, Visva-Bharati’s popularity takes a dip officially

By Bishwanath Ghosh

KOLKATA: On September 9, the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University issued a circular thanking her colleagues because the institution had, earlier in the day, climbed to the number 4 spot (in the ‘university’ category) of the NIRF Rankings 2021. Last year, it stood at number 7.

The same day, about 160 km away, in Santiniketan, the Rabindranath Tagore-founded Visva-Bharati also issued a circular, but to announce the extension of a well-known professor’s suspension. It had nothing to say about the NIRF, or the National Institutional Ranking Framework, because its spot among universities across the country had taken the deepest plunge since the ranking was instituted in 2015: from the 11th position in 2016 to 19th in 2017 to 31st in 2018 to 37th in 2019 to 50th in 2020 to 64th in 2021. In the overall category, which includes all institutions such as engineering, medical and other colleges, Visva-Bharati ranked 97.

Long-time teachers blame the decline on the prevailing culture of suspension orders and show-cause notices, which they say has taken precedence over academics after the current Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty, assumed office in November 2018.

Ever since he took charge — according to the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA) — as many 11 teachers and 11 non-teaching staff have been suspended, while termination orders were served on two professors (including a former officiating Vice-Chancellor, who was dismissed a day before her retirement). About 150 employees have been issued show-cause notices till date and, more recently, three students were rusticated for taking part in a protest. And then, for the first time ever, a gag order was issued: members of the staff, except for the PRO, were barred from speaking to the media.

“There is an atmosphere of fear in the campus. And, because of this fear, people are coming to work on time and leaving on time — perhaps that’s the only positive thing that has happened during the current V-C’s tenure. Otherwise, very little is happening academically; the NIRF ranking says it all,” said a professor who has been teaching at Visva-Bharati for over 20 years now.

The local media at Santiniketan has never had it so good: there has been plenty of fodder, the latest being the Calcutta High Court order that kept in abeyance the rustication of the three students. Ironically, all this is happening during Visva-Bharati’s centenary year, when it should have looked back in pride rather than dealing with controversy.

“As far as I know, nothing is happening to celebrate the centenary, expect that there is now new official stationery marking the 100 years,” the professor said. The university, on its part, claimed that in order to mark the occasion, it was taking steps to get Visva-Bharati designated as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO and to start a PPP-based super-specialty hospital on the campus; but old-timers say these ideas are not new and were mooted/initiated a few years ago.

The university PRO was not available for comment. But Prof. Sudipta Bhattacharyya, whose suspension got extended by a month on September 9, opined about the drop in NIRF ranking: “The public perception about Visva-Bharati has taken a hit because the V-C is trying to rule with an iron hand. Another factor is the poor teacher-student ratio — hardly any appointments were made in the recent years.”

Prof. Bhattacharyya was suspended in January for alleging irregularities in the functioning of the university and writing to the Prime Minister, who is the Chancellor of Visva-Bharati. All these months, he was following the gag order but now he doesn’t mind being quoted; he is obviously emboldened by the latest court order that, while putting the rustication of students in abeyance, noted “the professors and teachers of the university are equally aggrieved by the alleged high-handedness of the Vice-Chancellor.”

The court will hear the matter again next week. Meanwhile, on Saturday, the big news for the local media was the letters received by the students concerned from the proctor, informing them that their rustication had been put in abeyance. The letters were shared on WhatsApp groups and that’s how one noticed the new letterhead, marking 100 years of Visva-Bharati.


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