Education

Sunaina Singh Appointed Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University

Singh, currently VC of the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, was chosen from among 135 applicants who were screened by Nalanda’s governing board.

Professor Sunaina Singh. Credit: English and Foreign Languages University website

Professor Sunaina Singh. Credit: English and Foreign Languages University website

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee has appointed Sunaina Singh, currently head of the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, as the new vice chancellor of Nalanda University.

Sources have confirmed that Sunaina Singh’s appointment order was signed off on by the president on Tuesday. Her appointment letter reached Nalanda University this evening.

As per rules, the president has to choose the vice-chancellor from a group of at least three names forwarded by the university’s governing board. As per sources, 135 names were screened, while six applicants were called for interviews. Out of the three names forwarded to the president, her name was at the top, The Wire has learnt.

Nalanda University is a flagship initiative formed under India’s Act East policy, which was first proposed at the East Asia Summit in 2007. It was envisioned as a project to evoke India’s historical and cultural linkages with South East Asia and beyond.

Earlier on January 27, President Mukherjee appointed computer scientist and former IIT Delhi board chairman, Vijay Bhatkar – who is also the president of the RSS-affiliated Vijnana Bharati – as the university’s chancellor. And with Singh’s appointment, the university’s change in leadership is now complete.

Singh’s record at EFLU

Sunaina Singh is a somewhat controversial figure at EFLU with her tenure as VC dogged by allegations of high-handedness towards a Dalit scholar and by an adverse audit report.

Singh had been summoned in April 2016 to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes over EFLU’s decision to evict a Dalit scholar, Koonal Duggal, from a function to mark 125th birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar. Hindustan Times reported Duggal claimed that he could have been targeted by the EFLU administration for participating in the agitation to get justice for Rohith Vemula, the Hyderabad University Dality research scholar who committed suicide in January 2016. The News Minute reported that a week after the eviction, an exhibition of Duggal’s paintings and sketches was held in EFLU, which was also disrupted by the university.

As per news reports at the time, the SC/ST Teachers’ Forum and the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice from the University of Hyderabad extended their solidarity to Duggal.

Singh was also in the news last year when EFLU unfurled the national flag on a 108-feet flagpole – touted as the “tallest flagpole among all central universities in the country”. In February 2016, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development had said universities should fly the flag prominently in order to ‘instil a sense of patriotism’ in students.

A 2014 Times of India report stated that the Comptroller and Auditor General had found ‘misuse’ of funds, with alleged double claims on domestic and foreign travel, as well as house rent allowance by the EFLU vice-chancellor.

Singh has also served as the president of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute from 2009 to 2011. Before that she was the chairperson of Osmania University’s English department. As per her official resume, Singh completed her doctorate in comparative literature and has done postdoctoral research in areas as diverse as women’s writing, postmodernism, diaspora literature and South Asian writings.

Sen, Yeo ousted

The term of the university’s first vice-chancellor, Gopa Sabharwal ended on November 24.  Sabharwal’s original term ended in November 2015, but she was given a one-year term extension. When Sabharwal’s extended term came to an end, the president ordered the senior-most dean of the university to temporarily discharge the duties of the vice-chancellor.

Earlier, President Mukherjee, acting on the Modi government’s advice,  had reconstituted the governing board by dissolving the Amartya Sen-led Nalanda Mentors Group, which had been operating as the board. Claiming that he had not been consulted before the president made his decision, George Yeo, former Singapore foreign minister and then university chancellor, also resigned.

Thereafter, a five-member search panel was set up in January 2016. However, differences between the panel and the government delayed the selection process. The two sides differed on whether the panel could only recommend one name – Sabharwal’s – to the president for the position of vice chancellor.

Attorney general Mukul Rohtagi was asked to weigh in and finally the search panel had to compile a list of three names to send to the president.

The advertisement inviting applications for the post of vice-chancellor was issued on October 31, with the last date for application listed as November 30. Then, the reconstitution of the governing board in November meant that the search panel members also changed.

The new search committee comprised Bhatkar, ICCR president Lokesh Chandra, McGill University professor Arvind Sharma, Preeti Saran, secretary (east) in the Ministry of External Affairs and N.K. Singh, former Rajya Sabha member.