Don't think language is a barrier for me, says 'outsider' Anna Univ VC   

Opposition parties had earlier condemned the appointment of an 'outsider' to the top post which was made, ignoring sons of the soil
The criticism from other political parties took a stronger linguistic and separatist tone
The criticism from other political parties took a stronger linguistic and separatist tone

Language is not a barrier to building an institution and bringing excellence to it, said MK Surappa, newly appointed Vice-Chancellor of Anna University. He said he was unaware of the opposition to his appointment from various political parties. 

Opposition parties have condemned the appointment of an "outsider" to the top post which was made, ignoring sons of the soil. "I don't think language is a barrier to building an institution and bringing excellence. The leader should be par excellence and should have integrity, passion and commitment to the institution and people of the nation or the State where he is living," he said, answering queries raised in a telephonic interview with Express.

Governor and Chancellor of the university Banwarilal Purohit on Thursday appointed Surappa as the VC of Anna University for a period of three years. The appointment assumes further significance as the post has remained vacant for the last two years and two search committees for the post were formed and dissolved till the third committee short-listed Surappa and two others from a list of 170 candidates.

Surappa, who had obtained his engineering degree at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru, was the founding director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar where he held the post between 2009 and 2015. This is the first time that Surappa holds a post in Tamil Nadu.

Growing opposition

Criticism of appointing a Kannada VC is snowballing now. Political parties are irked that a candidate from another State has bee chosen over several Tamil candidates. They allege that education institutions are being "saffronised" by the BJP and point out that there is an increasing trend of appointing candidates from another State in leadership roles in academic institutions.

Suryanarayana Sastry was recently appointed as the VC of Ambedkar Law University and Premeela Gurumurthy as the Vice-Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University. Both appointments were criticised since they were considered as "outsiders".

PMK leader S Ramadoss has slammed the Governor for appointing a "corrupt" Surappa as the VC. "The appointment of Surappa is atrocious and the claim of the Raj Bhavan that a due process was followed is a façade," he alleged in a statement, adding that Surappa's stint at the IIT faced severe criticism.  

"Due to his delayed decisions, the construction cost of Punjab IIT (IIT Ropar) rose to INR 1,958 crore from INR 760 crore," Ramadoss charged. Surappa faced charges of plagiarism and had a poor relationship with his subordinates, he added.

The criticism from other political parties took a stronger linguistic and separatist tone.  "At a time when the Cauvery protests are raging in Tamil Nadu, the Governor's appointment of Surappa from Karnataka as the VC of Anna University is not acceptable," DMK working president and Leader of Opposition MK Stalin said. 

In a Facebook post, he said the academics, who were "sons of the soil," should not be belittled" by such appointments. Statements from both Communist parties in the State and SDPI questioned if the Governor could not spot even one able Tamil candidate for the post.

MDMK founder Vaiko sought withdrawal of Surappa's appointment and said that only an academic from Tamil Nadu should be nominated to the coveted post. 

Kamal Haasan, actor-turned-politician, in a tweet, said, "We asked for water from Karnataka and we get a Vice-Chancellor from Karnataka, instead. The gulf between people and the government cannot be more obvious...."

"A candidate for the VC post should be chosen purely based on his academic credentials and ability to manage an institution and not on his linguistic background," said E Balagurusamy, former VC of Anna University, adding that the search committee and the Governor had followed a rigorous selection process. "Political parties have no authority to disrupt the autonomy of an educational institution. Surappa was the only one (among the short-listed three) to have an engineering background and there is no need to mix language with this," he said. 

Taking a dig at politicisation of institutions, Balagurusamy said, "Because of political interference, we had one VC who showed preference to those from a certain caste, followed by one who preferred a certain religion, followed by another secular one who favoured anyone with money."

Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar clarified, "The appointment was made, based on the reports given by the search committee. The Governor has done this within the purview. The state government is in no way linked to this." 

State BJP leader Tamilisai Soundarajan said the choice was not influenced by any political party but Surappa was preferred for his credentials.

A Narayanan, a social activist, who has been raising voice often against corruption in the education system, said, "there is a sense of hope and satisfaction that our timely judicial interventions have helped bring about fixed time-frame, minimum standards and qualification norms for search committees and VC selection process."

Contrary to the opposition parties' viewpoint, many have said that having an academic leader from outside the State would reduce the chances of favouritism and open avenues that haven't been considered before.

However, it is unclear if the Governor would expedite the investigation into corruption charges against former VCs and academic leaders, Narayanan said.

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