A playbook of confrontation shrinks spaces at Visva Bharati. Vice-chancellor must course correct

A battle for management is enjoying out at yet one more public college. The Visva Bharati college’s determination to expel three college students final month for “disorderly conduct” throughout a protest in January has led to the latest spherical of scholar agitations on the campus. The college administration responded to the standoff by shifting the Calcutta Excessive Courtroom, asking for deployment of police personnel to quell the protest. Whereas the court docket had earlier prohibited protests by college students close to educational blocks within the college, on Wednesday, it revoked the rustication orders in opposition to the three college students, discovering the punishment “extreme and disproportionate”. It additionally remarked on the dissatisfaction among the many college members over the “high-handedness” of the vice-chancellor.

The college administration headed by vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty has, certainly, proven an unwise urge for food for confrontation with college students and college. Since November 2019, 22 workers members (college members and non-teaching workers) have been suspended, and 150 show-cause notices issued to staff. The explanations for disciplinary motion have ranged from college members writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in opposition to alleged irregularities at the central college to visiting the home of a fellow trainer. Since he took cost in 2018, Chakraborty’s selections — from scrapping the Poush Mela held each winter to declaring Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen an encroacher and requesting the deployment of CISF on a college campus whose beginnings lie in Rabindranath Tagore’s expansive imaginative and prescient of openness in studying — have solely sharpened the fault traces. The vice-chancellor’s workplace has refused the duty of moderation and negotiation; as a substitute, it has performed a job in turning disagreements right into a query of order and safety. The dissent of college members and college students has been met with a heavy hand. Disputes have been sought to be framed as a face-off between a “robust” administrator, backed by the Centre, holding out in opposition to an “unruly” campus. Given the lengthy historical past of politicisation of greater training in Bengal, it isn’t arduous to identify the proxy battle between the BJP-ruled Centre and the state authorities. However given the implications of an analogous playbook of confrontation at the Jawaharlal Nehru College, it’s secure to say that it’s the college that can pay a worth.

Besieged they may be, however public universities nonetheless play an important position in shaping residents in a democracy. Tagore’s ambition for Santiniketan was to create an establishment of free spirits, the place studying was not deadened by fiats of authority or a homogenising ideology. Vice-chancellor Chakraborty must mirror on the gap between that imaginative and prescient and the continuing tussles — and course correct.

This editorial first appeared within the print version on September 10, 2021 underneath the title ‘The uneasy campus’.

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