The Presidency College, Kolkata is now Presidency University. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly today passed the Bill to confer university status to Presidency College. The institute which was originally founded as Hindoo College in 1817 and renamed as Presidency College in 1855, has a illustrious history. Its academic excellence was entwined with the intellectual history of Bengal and India. The new university will start functioning with immediate effect.
During the last three decades under Left rule, the college saw a steady decline in its great tradition in teachings as the Left, which abhor elitism in every spheres of life, was more interested in bringing it down at par with other government colleges. A number of eminent teachers left the college after getting exasperated with the government interventions. Despite a demand raised by many educationists to give more autonomy to the college, the government was steadfast in rejecting that.
Of late, the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who himself was a student of this college, relented and agreed to confer university status to this illustrious college. But he had to overcome the resistance from within his party. Even today, as the Presidency University Bill, 2010 was placed before the House, the CPI(M) organ carried a news item of the agitation launched by the teachers' association of government colleges against this Bill.
The opposition to this Bill from a section of the ruling party was also reflected during the debate when Shrutinath Praharaj, a CPI(M) MLA and member of the college teachers association expressed his reservation about the Bill. The apprehension of the government college teachers is genuine in the sense that with the college being elevated to a university, not many of the present teachers stand a chance to be recruited by the new university.
Till now, they, by virtue of their status as government college teachers, used to enjoy the privilege of getting transferred to Presidency College. While opposing the move to upgrade Presidency College as an independent university, the association has raised the demand of bringing all 35 state-run colleges (including Presidency College) under one umbrella and form the new university where the teachers would be automatically absorbed. The minister for higher education Sudarshan RayChaudhury tried to allay the fear of the teachers by saying that most of the teachers should be able to sail through the selection committee, but that did not pacify the teachers.
Incidentally, the combined opposition of TMC and Congress boycotted the debate protesting the criticism against them by the chief minister yesterday while replying to the debate on Governor's speech and walked out before the Bill was placed before the House.
Rajat Kanta Ray, historian and vice chancellor of Visva-Bharati university, welcomed this move to confer the status of university to Presidency College. Ray, who himself was a student and teacher of this college, however, issued a note of caution. He feels that conferring the university status is not enough."Real autonomy is essential. If there is adequate fund then there is no reason why it should not do well," observed Ray.