SC Urged To Ensure Lawful Appointment Of Vice Chancellors In Varsities

In its petition, APUBTA says seats of vice chancellors are lying vacant at 64 institutes across the country with the government content to run these instiutions through temporary appointments

SC Urged To Ensure Lawful Appointment Of Vice Chancellors In Varsities

An association of public university teachers has approached the Supreme Court, urging it to issue directions to appoint vice-chancellors at public sector universities per the law and without further delay.

In this regard, a petition was filed by the All Public Universities BPS Teachers Association (APUBTA) in the top court on Tuesday.

In its petition, the APUBTA informed the court that it is an association which represents around 50,000 university professors from across Pakistan.

Filing its petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the association urged the top court to consider the vacant seats for vice chancellors in public-sector universities across the country. 

The application, moved through Advocate Umer Ijaz Gillani, listed the President of Pakistan (who is directly or through his governors in each province and the chancellor of public sector universities), the Higher Education Commission (HEC), and the federal and provincial governments as respondents.

The petitioners' data claimed to show that a majority of public-sector universities are currently headless. The data showed that of the 34 universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 24 do not have vice chancellors, while 32 out of 50 universities in the Punjab, six in Sindh, and two in Balochistan are without VCs.

The petitioners have alleged that, as per the data, this is not a one-off situation. It seems that the federal and provincial governments have a de facto policy of not making timely and proper appointments to the highest posts in the university system; instead, they prefer to 'control' the universities through 'Acting Vice Chancellors' who hold their office until further orders, the petitioners contend. 

The petition has also pointed out other alleged grave illegalities in the university system, such as the violation of the tenure of Deans and heads of departments and the failure to conduct regular meetings of a university's deliberative decision-making bodies such as syndicates and academic councils.

"The non-appointment of legally tenured Vice Chancellors has a deleterious effect on the overall administrative structure of public-sector universities – because the VC plays a key role in all the major decision-making bodies of the universities. Not only is this a blatant violation of the various statutes, but it is also eroding academic freedom within the universities, which in turn is causally connected with the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan."

The petition stated that the ad hocism created by the non-appointment of the vice chancellors is seeping through the entire university structure. 

It added, "not only that universities are being operated without vice chancellors, but most of the other significant tenure-based positions too, such as directors, deans and chairman of different departments and academies within the universities, have lost their sanctity of the tenure."

The teachers claimed that an 'organic reading' of the entire statutory scheme of the universities reveals that the legislative object behind it was to secure the freedom of professors. 

"The aim was to create an environment where those entrusted with research and teaching can do so without regard for any favour or fear."

"The intention of the legislators was to provide firm protections to those who teach and write from all pressures and demands – other than those of science and of conscience."

"The general scheme of the process of the appointments of vice chancellors is that the President in the case of the federal university and the Governors in the case of a provincial university upon the intimation of the various ministries of higher education forms a search committee." 

"The said search committee caries out a scrutiny process and elicit names of eminent academician though publication in newspapers."

After the scrutiny process has been completed, names of three eminent and suitable individuals is suggested and accordingly intimated to the President or Governors, as the case may be.

The petition further states that the meetings of the decision-making bodies in the universities, such as the Board of Governors, Syndicate, or Executive Council, are not being held regularly, as mandated by the respective parent acts of the universities, primarily because the posts of the VCs remain vacant. 

"This gross violation of the law is one of the major causes in malpractices and maladministration in universities," the petition contended. 

"This also transpires that the violation of the parent statutes is not only gross and blatant, but it is multidimensional," it added.

It said the issue is not confined to a violation of one of the provisions; rather, every key and significant provision of the parent statutes is being violated.

"Universities are being run in a state of lawlessness. This amounts not only to the violation of a precious fundamental right, the right to education, but it also amounts to negation of the same and making the said right almost redundant." 

Right to education cannot be read as merely the provision of a building and a so-called administrative staff therein, it further stated, adding that this right must be meaningful and it should be protected, promoted and enforced by the state, which is duty-bound under the Constitution to do it. 

The association has urged the top court to declare that the appointments to tenured-based posts cannot be made through till-further-orders notifications. 

The top court is further requested to direct the respondents to ensure that the key decision-making bodies of the universities, such as the Board of Governors, Syndicate, or Executive Council, convene their meetings regularly, meaningfully, and in accordance with the law.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain