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Why a 47-year-old university is in turmoil

December 11, 2013 16:44 IST

A students-versus-vice chancellor battle has thrown the Madurai Kamaraj University into a flux, finds A Ganesh Nadar.

Tamil Nadu’s 47-year-old Madurai Kamaraj University, which manages 108 institutions, is mired in a controversy that has resulted in two PhD research students and a guest lecturer dismissed, a post-doctorate student transferred, a clerk suspended, a head of the department demoted, and 15 clerks' pay slashed.

C Pandiarajan, one of the dismissed PhD scholars, said he had been presenting students' “small grievances” to the university management for the last one and a half years, though he has been a student since 2009.

“The new university vice chancellor joined in April 2012,” Pandiarajan said. “She wanted to start a new self-financing course, BTech in film technology. She wanted space for this new course and told students to vacate two hostels. In July 2012 we went on strike and the university was closed for six days. We got our hostel back. Victimisation started after that strike, as they lost face.”

He continued, “Our head of the department, Professor Krishnasamy, was demoted to professor. This was done to stop him from attending (the university's) syndicate meetings which he would as HOD.  This is because he supports the students.”

The students and university management also tussled over scholarship money.

“We get a Rs 16,000 fellowship from the University Grants Commission every month,”  Pandiarajan said. “We have never been paid on time. Sometimes we get it three months later, and now we have not got it for eight months. For a student it’s a huge amount.”

He added, “Even those who do not get this scholarship are entitled to another, the Non NET (National Eligibility Test) Fellowship. which they have not got.”

J Arun, the second PhD scholar dismissed, said the students wanted to present a petition to the visiting UGC Vice Chairman Professor Devraj in October 2012.

“This was because in August 2012, the VC told us that the UGC had not sent money,” Arun said. “The university staff did not allow us to meet the UGC vice chairman... We gave the petition to the district collector and told him that it was meant for the UGC. A case was made against us that we disturbed the convocation, we approached the collector though the (university) registrar had promised to look into our problem. They issued a show-cause notice to me and Pandiarajan.”

Ishwari Bandarnayake, image, left, the post-doctoral research student who has been transferred to another university of her liking, insisted that she liked MaduraiUniversity, which she joined as an MSc student in 2000.

“When this VC joined she told me to leave,” said Bandarnayake, who earlier this year won the three-year Kothari Post-Doctoral Fellowship. “She said that I could stay here for three years only to do Phd, and after that I should stay outside.”

Bandarnayake, who suffers from polio, was a resident in one of the hostels the university management wanted vacated in July 2012.

“When the six-day strike succeeded, I came back with the other students,” she said. “I also knew that UGC norms say that lady students can always stay in the hostel. I sent a letter to the UGC telling them that I had been asked to vacate.  I also sent a letter to the university. They took two months to reply and then said no.”

Bandarnayake also wanted to meet the visiting UGC vice chairman, but she insists she went alone.

“Now I am told,” Bandarnayake said, “that they have videographic evidence that I led the boys there. I am not a student leader. I did not lead the boys there.”

She believes her transfer has more to do with a vendetta than legitimate reasons.

However, Vice Chancellor Dr Kalyani Mathivanan, insists, “There is no personal vendetta involved,” said.

About Pandiarajan and Arun, the vice chancellor said, “The mentors of these two students themselves have complained to the research committee that... they are not concentrating on academics. They are more interested in student agitations and bad-mouthing the university. The research committee bought it to the notice of the syndicate... the students have been asked to leave.”

About Bandharnaike, the vice chancellor pointed out, “The Kothari Post-Doctoral Research Scholarship clearly states that this fellowship cannot be done in the parent university where the student did her PhD. We are only following UGC norms and have asked her to find another university.”

About PhD scholars not getting paid stipends, the vice chancellor, whose father was also a former VC in the same university, said, “Yes, I admit that there have been delays in payment of fellowships due to the students. But that delay is in every government department! There are glitches which we are trying to iron out. I personally have given Rs 1.5 crores of university money to this fellowship as a loan. We have tried to pay the students on time with this loan. That money was meant for other activities. When the UGC pays we will take back our money first and use it for what it was meant.” 

University documents accessed by show the syndicate was not unanimous in the decision to dismiss the students and take action against other staff members. Five syndicate members signed their approval, four did not.

“You have to realise that four are heads of department within the university. They cannot function without her approval,” said someone who was at the meeting. “The other syndicate members can only make a token objection. They cannot do anything without being victimised in future.” 

Top image: C Pandiarajan and J Arun, with other protesting students from Madurai Kamaraj University ' Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

A Ganesh Nadar in Madurai