The VC doesn’t suck up? Order an investigation


Last Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu government ordered an inquiry into charges of corrupt practices by Anna University vice-chancellor M K Surappa. Retired judge P Kalaiyarasan will inquire into complaints the government said it had received from different people. Here are the allegations:

* The vice-chancellor and some others collected `80 crore as bribe while recruiting temporary teaching fellows for the university’s constituent colleges

* Corruption and forgery in the promotion of office assistants
* The vice-chancellor appointed a director without the university syndicate’s approval

* Surappa wrongly informed the AICTE that all final year students were promoted without holding examinations

* He appointed his daughter in the university by misusing his powers
* Misappropriation in procurement of machinery

* Malpractices in semester examinations and revaluation

All these are serious charges. While we wait for the inquiry report, it is hard not to suspect the timing of the government order, especially since many of these complaints had come in months ago. Barely a week before the order, the state government had informed the Centre, after a noisy wrangle with Surappa, that Anna University does not want the Institute of Eminence (IoE) status. The government said it was withdrawing a proposal it had made in 2017 seeking the status. Surappa had argued for the IoE status which would bring in Union funds of `200 crore per year for five years besides enabling the university to vie for global ranking such as the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The Edappadi Palaniswami government was angry that the vice-chancellor had been communicating with the Union government over the IoE proposal, circumventing the state. It wasn’t just that the state government’s inflated ego was pricked; it feared that the IoE status would diminish its control over the premier institution of engineering education in Tamil Nadu. While government officials will continue to be in the university syndicate even after getting the status, the real concern for some politicians was that their ‘recommendations’ for postings and contracts in the university — a substantial source of illegal income for power brokers and the powers that be — may not be taken seriously. Many of these ‘beneficiaries’ have been feeling the pinch since Surappa took over in April 2018.

TOI correspondent A Ragu Raman asked a cross section of faculty members and others of the university on what they thought about their vice-chancellor, and here is what he got:

* Cancelled discretionary quota in PG admissions and removed discretionary powers of the VC in admissions. Abolished honorarium paid to VC and other higher functionaries for being in the university’s committees

* Cut down unnecessary expenses. Convocation expenditure was brought down from `70 lakh to `20 lakh and introduced the practice of giving real gold medals to students

* Took action against those involved in exam malpractices and introduced digital evaluation

* Fixed minimum marks in entrance test for PhD

Increased qualification for faculty promotions and introduced Career Advancement Scheme for fair and objective promotion
* Drafted faculty members from IIT Madras, IISc and NIT to inspect engineering colleges

* Research publications of Anna University increased by 15% (300) a year after he took over

* Established an ecosystem for nurturing startups in the university
No academician or administrator of some standing told our correspondents that Surappa is corrupt. In fact, former Anna University vice-chancellor E Balagursamy went on record that the investigation is to harass Surappa for not toeing the state government’s line. I wouldn’t hazard a guess on what Justice Kalaiyarasan’s report would read like, but I can see two words writ large on the government order: Witch hunt.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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