Only a few want me out: HCU VC Appa Rao
Appa Rao Podile, Vice-Chancellor of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), has been in the eye of a storm since the suicide of research scholar Rohith Vemula. He has been accused of being responsible for the “institutional murder” of Vemula and a case has been filed against him under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
In an interview to Catch, Rao offers his defence in response to the allegations against him. He has also been accused of plagiarism, which he calls a human error.
Excerpts from the interview.
How do you feel being the head of one of India's most prestigious institutions at a time it is mired in controversies?
On the one hand, we are happy that HCU continues to be among the top-ranked universities in the country. Credit goes to the dedicated faculty, brilliant students (and alumni) and committed non-teaching employees who worked for the growth of the University. We strongly believe that the potential of this University has not been fully realised. We can rise even further in international rankings.
On the other hand, certainly we do not feel happy with the controversy raging on campus. The controversy erupted due to several reasons. The problem is much more complex than what is coming out in media.
When the actual issue (that led to the suspension of Rohith Vemula and other students) broke out before you took over as the VC, why do you think you are being targeted?
There could be different reasons. As a university, we are clear that we have followed established procedures. Collective decisions were taken. The matter was pending in the high court. Even now it is sub judice. Hence, I would prefer not to comment further.
There has been a consistent demand for your ouster. Don’t you think you are clinging on to the position and that your exit would immediately bring the situation back to normal?
The demand is coming from a very small section. There are more demands asking me to continue as VC. Most of them know my commitment to the university's welfare. Let it be known that the my appointment as VC was through a search-cum-selection process of the Government of India. It was through a rigorous competition. This is not a nominated post. I will continue to perform my duties in the current position.
Several teachers, non-teaching staff and former employees are working to restore normalcy in the university. We are hopeful that the agitating group comes for discussion. The university is open for discussion always.
You have admitted to plagiarism – at least a few sentences – in various journals. How do you justify this?
It was brought to my attention that a few sentences that we have cited in our review articles have not been attributed to the original source. This refers to papers published between 2007 and 2014. In fact, in some of those cases we did cite the original source in our review, but missed citing the same at another place. The references list of that paper, therefore, lists the original source. In one research paper, the complaint was that we have not cited the original source. The original source also was our own article. The lines were written by the same group and should not be considered as copied.
The omissions on our part were unintentional. The Editor-in-Chief of the journal also felt that the extent of similarity was limited to a few sentences. We have submitted a statement expressing regret.
Some of these minor omissions, especially in matters of citation, are human errors. None of the points of contention refer to the the data or experiments related to our research work.
There have been very vocal charges that Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu is shielding you. What is your take on that?
It is difficult to know where you get such information from. My job is to remain transparent, accountable and committed to the job. I do not think anybody in the government will protect a VC who commits mistakes. A VC who exceeds the limits set be the university statutes can be brought to book through the judiciary.
A case of SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act has been filed against you. Don’t you think a person in the position of Vice-Chancellor can influence the investigation in such cases?
I do not believe that I can influence any investigation process just by virtue of being a VC and an academician. The investigation is with the police and the final decision lies with the judiciary. The apprehension that a VC can influence the police investigation also amounts to casting aspersions on the working of the police system. Raising these kind of doubts is not good for society.
A section of students, especially the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), have been alleging that you rusticated some 10 students when you were the Chief Warden. Is it true? Have you antagonised a section of students in the last few years?
The Chief Warden in the University has no authority to rusticate even one student. Such rustication can only carried out when an inquiry committee strongly recommends such action to the VC. Chief Warden is a non-statutory post. Also, it is pertinent to know that the High Court upheld the University’s decision.
Isn’t ABVP enjoying clandestine support from the powers that be, including the university administration?
There are different student groups on the campus. Some of them work together and some of them oppose each other. Instead of levelling charges, bring to my attention if any other group got any undue advantage after I took charge as VC. The university treats all students equally irrespective of the group they belong to.
Isn’t the university administration precipitating matters by having cases booked against students and professors and also removing the cenotaph of Rohith Vemula?
The institution would never like to precipitate matters. The University had to lodge a complaint with the police when there was unprecedented violence at the VC camp office on 22 March. Deans of the Schools, internal members of the Executive Council, and the Chief Proctor were in a meeting in the VC camp office and the violence was out of control. Out of desperation, people inside the camp office dialed '100', seeking police support.
The matter about removal of cenotaph has come up for discussion in the deans’ meeting. But,we have not initiated any steps in that direction.
When, do you think, is the impasse likely to end?
Soon. Multiple efforts are being made to bridge the gap with the agitating students and to understand their expectations from the university. We are willing to do the best possible within the limits of the university. It is for them to come up with such points to end the impasse and restore normalcy on campus.
It may be noted that the academic activities are going on regularly at the university. The end-semester exams are about to begin. Our research labs are fully functional. Our faculty and research scholars are attending national and international conferences. We are organising several academic seminars and events with the active participation of faculty and students.