SHANTI MARIA FONSECA
The Goa University, which was established on June 1, 1985, has always been the center of intense debate. Even before the setting up of the Goa University (GU), the academicians, intelligentsia and people in Goa were split in their opinion as to whether Goa should be an independent State University or come under the aegis of the Central Government. There were many who were concerned with regard to the quality of education that would be imparted after Goa moved away from the umbrella of the hallowed Bombay University – a well founded fear of many a Goan, since there were only a handful of people in Goa who would qualify for the academic posts. The same would be filled up essentially by persons from outside the state. That is exactly what has transpired. Besides, while husbands are teaching in the University, many of their wives and kin are employed in educational institutions in Goa. Over a period of time, most have invested in land, buildings and property and for all practical purposes they have become naturalised residents of Goa.
Successful universities thrive primarily because of their teaching and research. In research, the Universities create new possibilities and horizons; in teaching, they shape intellectually robust people. A University’s essential character is that of being a centre of free inquiry and critical analysis. Universities should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning where the character of every student is moulded, chiselled and refined.
University life is the best time of your life! We often hear this growing up, and yet when we do reach the portals of the University, we find that it is not what we expected it to be. For many a student, it has been spending years of their life in higher studies only to find that thereafter they have remained unemployable. In recent times, the Universities as we have known both in India and abroad are facing the prospect of being irrelevant. Many predict that Universities will not survive and are on the verge of extinction!
The future of education is outside the traditional campus and classrooms. No more desks and benches and chalk and blackboard. Home schooling and distance learning has come to stay. Universities are in danger of losing their monopoly, especially those less performing ones and for good reasons. The most visible threats are the new online courses, many of them free, with some of the best professors in their respective specialised fields.
On July 15, 2021, PS Sreedharan a lawyer by profession and a former BJP politician was sworn in as the 22nd Governor of the State of Goa, thereby becoming the deemed Chancellor of Goa University. Following his appointment as Governor and Chancellor of Goa University, PS Sreedharan appointed Harilal B Menon to officiate as the Vice Chancellor of Goa since September 3, 2021. Many were expecting Bernard F Rodrigues, a Goan and the Head of the Department of Electronics to be appointed as the Vice Chancellor since his name was shortlisted for the post. What we now have are two persons from the State of Kerala heading our highest temple of learning. This year marks a significant milestone in the journey of the Goa University which has embraced and implemented the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 at the undergraduate level in general education.
The previous Vice Chancellors had often blamed the new faculty recruited in Goa University for securing of low rankings. It is said that many of them are from Goa. They do not have a PhD and enough of research to their credit. The GU administration has blamed the new faculty, and some members of the administration are pushing hard to remove the prevailing domicile rule. It has now come into public domain that several applications by young faculty members for study leave were rejected multiple times by the current administration. This delay in sanctioning study leave acts as a demotivator and further sabotages their quest to do research. On the contrary, sabbatical leave to senior faculty members, who are key members of the current administration, is readily sanctioned. Overburdening young faculty members with non-teaching, administrative and non-research related work is another big reason that hinders their productivity. Is shifting the blame onto the young faculty on all public forums a deliberate attempt to misguide the government into thinking that young Goans are not good enough and that Goa University needs people from outside to secure good grades? Is this not a malicious attempt to remove and subvert the domicile criteria?
This is the question to be dealt with by Goa’s Education Minister Dr Pramod Sawant.
Unlike most other government establishments that are manned by security personnel of the Goa Human Resource Development Corporation (GHRDC), it is a mystery why the varsity campus relies on private parties to manage its security. The University Campus security system is incompetent given the fact that majority of the guards on the campus are untrained, who merely take up duties for long hours to eke-out a living and support their families. This is a big risk to the safety of everyone, especially women, on the campus. Late evening hours, vehicles are often seen parked on the internal roads of the campus. No one has any clue what goes on inside these parked cars. CCTV coverage on the university campus is scarce. Students are scared to speak openly or file a complaint in the absence of any support system. A few who have tried to complain about the safety of women have been given a deaf ear. For several years, students have complained about the poor transport facilities to reach the University Campus. The issues of safety, security and transport remain unresolved.
Over the years, the increase in sexual harassment cases against teachers has been on the rise. The Goa University has not been handling such cases even-handedly. Many have been conveniently told to take voluntary retirement and cases against them have been laid to rest.
In 2008, the University handled a case of sexual harassment with blatant bias and in violation of natural principles of justice. The professor concerned was dismissed from service in the absence of due procedure being followed. In May 2023, the same has been remanded back from the Supreme Court. The University has been directed to re-hear the matter afresh following due procedure and with opportunity being given to the Professor to defend himself. Apparently, in this very case those who had charges of ragging and other serious misbehaviour on them had charged their HoD of sexual harassment.
Last week, the Goa University Teachers Association (GUTA) expressed displeasure in the way the GU administration handled the issue of threats made by a group of students against the University staff. GUTA has clearly expressed that “this development underscores the importance of maintaining a safe and respectful academic environment on the GU campus.”
Time for the GU to wake up and take an affirmative audit of where it stands given the many controversies that surround it.
(The writer is a social scientist and a senior practicing criminal lawyer)