Dr. Satish Shetye
Why Did The Goan Government Push So Hard To Keep The University’s Top Official In Place Even After He Reached Mandatory Retirement Age?
Regardless of what you think about the Goa government’s recent manipulation of the law to extend the tenure of Goa University’s top official,symptoms one truth seems undeniable: that if the energy and alacrity displayed in this strange move were applied to other needs in the state, like removing garbage or fixing infrastructure, Goa by now would be virtually problem free.
It remains a mystery why the government led by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar went to such great lengths to keep GU Vice Chancellor Dr Satish Shetye in office past the mandatory retirement age of 65, including passing an emergency ordinance changing the Goa University Act.
“Is the continuation of one VC after the age of 65 years of such importance that rules of succession be overlooked?” asked Prof Peter Ronald deSouza, a member of the Goa University Executive Council.
It’s true Shetye has earned relatively good marks for his performance as head of Goa’s premier educational institution (the Vice Chancellor is the de facto leader as the Chancellor, Goa Governor Mridula Sinha, has much else on her plate). But the university under his watch is also the target of a lot of criticism, and the efforts to keep him in place have opened the government to serious allegations of chicanery and favouritism.
What’s worse Dr Shetye, a son of the soil who graduated from IIT Bombay, achieved his doctorate in Washington in the USA, was director of the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa and Vice Chancellor of Goa University for the past three years, seems to have sacrificed what could have been a stellar legacy for the image of a man who clung to his chair rather than exiting with grace.
Dr Shetye declined to comment for this article.
Behind the intrigue and the unanswered questions lie a number theories as to why the government did what it did. Perhaps it was accustomed to getting its way at the university, including building a stadium and road for its own purposes on the institution’s grounds, and didn’t want any future obstructionist to spoil the party.
“If there’s a man in charge who’s prone to be amenable, why have him changed?” said one university lecturer who asked that his name not be used.
Or maybe other university leaders, facing their own impending forced retirements, secretly appreciated the precedent. Still others might be toeing the government line in hopes of receiving post-retirement benefits from the powers that be.
Whatever the case, the sequence of events has raised more than a few eyebrows.
In March this year, the university inexplicably decided to ask the Chancellor (who is also the Governor) to extend the term of the VC beyond the age of superannuation. For several months no reply was received from the government.
However, on Oct. 15, ten days before the VC was to turn 65, a special meeting of the Executive Council was called to endorse a change in the statute enabling the VC to complete a full five-year term.
The Director of Higher Education wrote a letter saying the government had examined the issue and that after careful examination and consultation with the Advocate General, officials decided to ask the University to amend its statute to allow the VC to hold office for five years from the date of entering office regardless of his or her age during the term.
On Oct. 22, the Governor of Goa refused to endorse this decision and instead wrote back to the government that the VC should vacate the office the next day. She was perhaps mindful of the fact that university statutes prevent the institution’s decision making bodies from changing their own age of retirement.
Unfazed and quite brazenly, the government (at whose request, we don’t know) hurriedly circulated a law among the ministers and by consent passed an emergency ordinance changing the Goa University Act and sent it to the governor for her assent!
Within the space of 24 hours, the governor changed her decision and voila, the vice chancellor got another year in office (officials initially wanted a two-year extension but then settled on a single year).
“It was a government decision. We have done it because he is a Goan and think he is deserving of an extension,” explained Chief Minister Parsekar. When pressed further by reporters, he said, “The issue is settled” and walked away.
Prof deSouza was the only member of the university’s Executive Council who spoke out in dissent.
“Succession, conducted in a routine manner according to rules … is one of the most important features of a constitutional democracy. It enables us to strengthen the legitimacy of institutions and to establish the key principle that an institution is more important than a person however competent that person maybe,” said deSouza, who now functions from New Delhi where he is a senior fellow of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). He had lectured at the Goa University for 16 years, including several of them as head of the social sciences department.
“On no occasion has the argument been entertained that because the incumbent is competent, and maybe even exceptional, the rule of succession is to be set aside. This has happened in places like Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka and Russia to name just a few countries. These are not shining examples to follow,” Prof deSouza said in his dissent note.
“It seems that our legal system is being severely undermined by those in power creating a public culture of disregard for the rule of law,” he added.
Other university officials are simply refusing to speak.
“Why should I respond? I do not think it is appropriate that I speak about this issue at this point in time,” said the University Registrar, Vijayendra Kamat. And Dr Maria Aurora Couto, another member of the Executive Council, said simply, “I do not wish to speak to the press.”
Others say the move is symptomatic of larger problems at the university.
“Secrecy and sycophancy, for which people are rewarded, promoted, nominated on key committees etc, has become culture in this university,” said Dr Nandakumar Kamat, a Goa University lecturer. If that weren’t the case, he added, there would have been loud voices denouncing what’s been done.
One recently retired university lecturer sounded a different note, however.
“There’s no doubt that he (Dr Shetye) was better than his predecessor; he’s a good scientist, has a recognized track record as well as pushed the university towards research publication and during his tenure admissions to the university almost doubled.”
“However, for every good thing he did there was always a flipside. Take for example the increase in admissions, while the numbers no doubt increased, students have been taken in after the last date, arbitrarily taken in without checking on merit and some of them were children of influential people,” said the retired lecturer who requested anonymity.
One of the few voices expressing support for the extension is that of BJP party president Vinay Tendulkar, who has said Dr Shetye deserves an extension because he’s competent and Goan. That, too, raised eyebrows among people who wondered why a political party was defending the actions of a university that’s supposed to be an independent body free of political control.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Goa University ranks nowhere near the top universities of the country, despite having a large pool of talented Goan youth to pull from.