Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dhiraj Nayyar - DU Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh deserves no sympathy

Reports that Dinesh Singh has allegedly resigned brings to an ignominious early end the tenure of Delhi University’s Vice-Chancellor. Under most circumstances, the ouster of the head of autonomous institution under enormous pressure from the government of the day would be an ominous sign. But in Singh’s case, there is little room even for sympathy.
For his supporters that at one point included Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Union Minister of State for HRD Shahsi Tharoor and other UPA Government luminaries including Sam Pitroda, Dinesh Singh was the radical Vice-Chancellor who was willing to shake up the almost 100-year-old university with an ambitious attempt to introduce a four-year undergraduate programme (the infamous FYUP). It seems, however, that Singh’s vanity and the political support he enjoyed got the better of his judgment.
It is important to note that there is a difference between a four-year undergraduate programme and a four-year undergraduate programme a la Dinesh Singh. Singh and his supporters wanted to create an illusion that Delhi University would bring American standards to Indian higher education merely by adding a year to the degree. But the reality is that a quality American undergraduate education is quite different from what Dinesh Singh forced through in Delhi University. Which American university spends its first year teaching nonsensical "foundation" (allegedly lessons in real life) courses to its students? Which American University offers as an "opt out" after three years? Which American University rolls out a new academic programme without adequate thought to curriculum and even minimum consent of teachers?
Dinesh Singh was never able to persuade the two most important stakeholders in the university. It is rare for the constituent politically-affiliated groups of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) to speak in the same language, but the FYUP was opposed by the Left, BJP and Congress affiliated groups. The Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) witnesses a similar unity against the FYUP cutting across political divides. Without the support of teachers and students, any radical reform of a university is bound to fail.
Let us for a moment assume that Singh was a visionary and the students and teachers of DU lacked a long term vision. The least Singh should have done was to follow correct rules and procedures in enforcing the change. It is now clear that he simply ignored UGC rules and regulations, which would be okay if the university didn’t depend on the UGC for more than 90 percent of its finances. He was even more blatant. He did not see it necessary to amend the DU Act through ordinances which needed to be vetted by the President of India who is also the Visitor of the University. There always seemed to be an unseemly hurry in changing track. Of course, it is imperative that the government also use this opportunity to fire the Chairman of the UGC who twiddled his thumbs when Singh pushed through the FYUP in contravention of its rules more than a year ago.
It is a mistake to believe that the most sorely needed reform in Delhi University was the FYUP. Singh could have fought plenty of good battles. If he admired the American system, why did he not fight to raise fees which are a paltry sum? DU will only have real autonomy when it has the ability to finance itself without government aid. If he admired the American system, Singh could have fought to liberalise the system of fixed salaries for teachers — DU is starved of star academic talent and paying higher salaries is the only way to attract talent. And if indeed FYUP was what Singh was passionate about, he could have built a greater consensus around it and spent more time thinking about the curriculum.
In the end, Singh rammed through FYUP either because he wanted to please his political masters or because he was vain enough to believe totally in his own ability and invincibility against the odds. But politics changes and vanity evaporates in the real world. It has taken little time for Singh to turn from hero to zero and what’s worse, very few will shed tears for him.
More on FYUP and the VC