The appointment of vice-chancellors in some of our universities sometimes suffers inordinate delays, spiralling even into the superior courts. Eight universities in KP last year endured a vacuum in their top management. The Supreme Court set aside the appointment of some vice-chancellors in Punjab while a couple of years earlier, the High Court had to review the roster of the candidates short-listed by the Chief Minister’s office that had already lingered for more than a year as its files could not meander through the bureaucratic maze of the CM’s signature. His approval is an essential prerequisite for a rather formal assent by the Chancellor. The main reason for these frustrating delays is definitely the pressures and the counter pressures maneuvered by various candidates and the lobbies anxious for the success of their favourites. The pressures and the ancillary stalemate often persist even long after the short listings have been finalised by the search committee constituted for the selection. Previously this maddening marathon was also confounded by the controversy about the relative authority of the federal Education Commission and its provincial contenders that emerged after the 18th Amendment.
Superimposed upon this is the weird government fixation to run and rule the universities almost like its schools, colleges or field functionaries, relegating the selection of Vice-Chancellors almost like the appointment of the Deputy Commissioners who, despite being a decadent colonial relic, still plague our district management. Earlier, some retired generals were implanted to drill the universities to their desired tunes. The aftermath of this fallacy even in the most premier Punjab University proved quite chaotic and embarrassing. The imposition of yet another outsider there, almost alien to the soul, spirit and zeitgeist of the university further riled its rhythm and peace and stirred a discontent among its academicians.
This procedure of appointment evidently seems even more ironic when viewed in the backdrop of the persistently pompous claims to revamp universities to raise their standards to the levels of top global constellations. A straight forward common sense course to create excellent global level institutions would obviously be to emulate the spirit and the system evolved by world-renowned institutions to select and install their superior leadership. The Oxford University always elects its Vice-Chancellor and in 2016, even elected its first ever female Vice-Chancellor in 785 years of its existence. The appointment of the Vice-Chancellor at the Cambridge University is similarly carried out by its Regent comprising about three thousand of its professors, graduates and kindred associates. It is also entrusted to function as an Electoral College to search, select and install its premier leadership. In France, similarly the Heads of Universities as also of the analogous elitist Grandes Ecole, are elected by the boards of their Professors. The selection procedure for the presidents of American public universities is also equally immune to the interference or influence of the State governments, notwithstanding the fact that these universities are established and funded by the states.
The freedom and autonomy of the universities to select their leadership and run their academic and research priorities independent of the governments has actually been an invariable common tradition of the universities almost throughout the advanced democratic world. Some other epoch-making research realms, organisations and projects like the Manhattan or the Trinity project that produced the world’s first nuclear bomb also upheld the same tradition. General Leslie Richard Groves was certainly there to ensure the requisite management, supplies and safety of the genius, gathered to garner a new nuclear world, but the leadership of the project was verily the prerogative of the iconic Oppenheimer and his peers like Fermi and Feynman.
The essence and exemplar of the autonomy of the universities to have their own representative leadership thus must be embraced as an essential instrument for their modernisation. An effective and gradual adoption for this would be to classify the universities into the old established and the newly emerging and founding phase categories. Old universities like in Punjab, Peshawar, Karachi and Islamabad, either already have their own Electoral Colleges and the Select Committees plus a sufficient base of their registered alumni, associates, friends and patrons to create the analogous institutions. In some Universities, for instance, the election for various seats in its Governing Bodies including the Senate and the Syndicate, has been prescribed since the inception of the 1973 democratic Act. An analogous Electoral College, can thus be created to elect its Vice Chancellor and the Pro- Vice-Chancellor(s) for a fixed tenure.
The government can of course, retain a relatively larger role in the selection and appointment of the leadership for the universities in their evolving phases. However, the principle of democracy and the special needs, aspirations of the ambient region, must be maintained even for these institutions and the government control must recede as they gather their own Electoral base. The principle that no external wizards but only the universities can make themselves great, however, must reign supreme.