Several public universities in Punjab are being run by temporary vice chancellors, who in turn have put in place a make-do system of ad-hoc appointees.
A number of public universities in Punjab have been marred by administrative crisis due to the absence of permanent vice chancellors to run the affairs of some of the most important higher education institutes in the province. Some of the institutes have been running without a permanent head for almost three years now.
The delay in hiring could extend further as the Punjab government is experimenting with new requirements for vice chancellors, which too have not gone down well with academic circles, leading to an as yet cold standoff between the government and members of the academia.
Currently, Punjab University, University of Home Economics, Women University Multan, University of Sahiwal, University of Jhang, Ghazi University in Dera Ghazi Khan, University of Okara, Information Technology University (ITU), University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi and University `of Health Sciences Lahore are functioning without permanent vice chancellors.
Of the VC seats falling vacant, the Punjab government was only able to appoint candidates for Muhammad Nawaz Sharif University of Engineering and Technology (MNS-UET) Multan, King Edward Medical College (KEMU) and Lahore College for Women University Lahore. However, even these appointments have not materialised fully. KEMU is still being run by pro-vice chancellor as the appointee is yet to take charge, while the LCWU VC has been appointed conditionally and the confirmation is dependent on a verdict on her eligibility, to be passed by a committee formed by the chief minister.
Why The Wait?
Hiring for the top slot has remained a thorn in the Punjab government’s side. On several occasions, the process of appointments was either delayed by the government or halted by litigations against appointments to the coveted seats.
The problem became severe in 2015 when the government advertised the vice chancellors’ posts for several universities. The move was challenged in the Lahore High Court and the government resorted to appointing acting vice chancellors to look after institutional affairs. Later, the court decided to remove the acting vice chancellors and allowed provisional charge to short-listed candidates to run the universities’ affairs.
In April 2017, a court verdict eventually validated Punjab government’s authority to make appointments to the VC seats. However, the Punjab government thought it apt to revamp the criteria for aspiring candidates of the vice chancellors’ post. The revamp was completed by the end of 2017 and the Punjab government has since been in the process of forming search committees that will vet applications, interview candidates and make nominations of candidate for appointment as a university vice chancellor.
Although government officials claim that the hiring process is almost complete and permanent VCs can get appointed any day, nothing could be further from the truth. The process of appointing vice chancellors is quite complicated, with a maze of bureaucratic obstacles yet to be crossed before a final appointments.
The first snag in the process is the formation of individual search committees that are to be formed for choosing VC candidates for each university. The process itself can take weeks, even months at worst. Once the committee is in place, an advertisement is to be printed in newspapers to seek applications from prospective candidates, for which a month on average is routinely allowed for submission of applications. Once all the applications are in, the search committee gets to task and begins scrutiny of candidate, which can also take from weeks to months.
After vetting applications and conducting interviews, the committees will eventually finalise three names for each university, and recommend to the Punjab chief minister through the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED). Per practice, the chief minister then holds interviews, and going from the past record, the process can also extend for months. Once the CM shortlists the candidates, the HED is notified of the same, and the department then forwards the names to the governor, the chancellor of all public universities of the province. In a final step, the governor approves the candidates and the HED then issues notifications of appointments, making way for the appointee to take charge of the position.
Almost the same process in undertaken for medical and agriculture universities, where the secretaries of the Specialized Healthcare & Medical Education Department and Agriculture Department perform the bureaucratic duties of their respective universities.
But the biggest threat that could stall the process for much further is the rising resentment in the academic circles over the revamped criteria for VCs’ appointment, seen by many as a covert indication of the Punjab government’s intent to appoint blue-eyed bureaucrats to the institutional top slots.
Second-tier Leadership Crisis
But the crisis just doesn’t end there. Taking a cue from the Punjab government, ad-hoc appointees in many of the public universities have in turn created an ad-hoc system of their own to make intra-university appointments.
Key positions like the university registrar, treasurer, controller of examinations and deans are made by the VC and later approved by the chancellor/governor. The VCs recommend three names based on seniority for the positions and the governor then gives a final approval. The chancellor also reserves the right to reject all three names and ask the vice chancellor to re-nominate people for the slots.
However, a practice having become common in recent months is that the acting VCs have been on and about making ad-hoc appointments to these key positions, without any approval from the chancellor.
The issue of ad-hoc appointments has become so critical that the Punjab governor recently wrote to VCs of all public universities, warning them to halt such practices and appoint permanent officials to the key seats in line with rules and regulations.
So with such a makeshift system of governance in place, it’s really no surprise that corridor-brawls between students blow into full-scale battles, as on exhibit in Punjab University last month.