Amartya comes to NIU VC Gopa's defence

The appointment of Dr Gopa Sabharwal, currently associate professor at New Delhi's Lady Shri Ram College For Women in Sociology, as the vice-chancellor of the upcoming Nalanda International University (NIU) has kicked up a row in academic circles across the country. Scholars have questioned her 'academic' as well as 'administrative skill' to run a university like NIU.

But now, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist who was the chief of the erstwhile Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) and is now the head of the varsity's governing council, has come to her defence.

Breaking his silence on the controversy from Boston, Sen, in an interview to a US-based organization, Asia Society, said that Sabharwal's academic qualifications are excellent and her administrative ability is well established. She is totally committed to the Nalanda project.

"Her involvement with Bihar and willingness to be based in Nalanda contrasted sharply with some others who could have been considered for the position," Sen said.

"The four primary considerations that the selection committee had, on the basis of the deliberations of the MNG, were: (1) academic excellence, (2) administrative ability, (3) interest in — and commitment to — the Nalanda university project, and (4) willingness to be based on the new campus in Nalanda to build an intellectual community there from scratch, and be fully involved with Bihar's problems and concerns," he said.

Sen added that members of the selection committee talked to at least 20 people, sought their advice and also checked their own interest in being considered for the position, with the requirement of living at Nalanda, as and when it (the varsity) became a functioning reality.

"The selection committee decided that the best feasible appointment would be Dr Sabharwal, but it was willing to accept the possibility of appointing some other person from a list of three it gave to the GOI (government of India). Dr. Sabharwal's academic qualifications are excellent (one of our advisers on the academic side was Professor Andre Beteille, a world-renowned sociologist) ...," Sen said.

However, French Buddhist scholar Claude Arpi told TOI over phone: "A person without Buddhist links has been selected as the VC of the new Nalanda university; it's a shame".

Former head of the department of history, Patna University, Surendra Gopal remarked, "To the best of my knowledge, she is not known among academia in social sciences. She has no experience to run a university like Nalanda. He also expressed surprise over the non-inclusion of any scholar from Bihar as well as from Delhi in the NMG.

Chairman of the Institute of Human Development, New Delhi, Alakh N Sharma had similar views, "She does not possess any intellectual stature among social scientists in the country."

Neeraj Kumar, president of the Society for Asian Integration, New Delhi, had a different take on the issue, "The new VC should be appointed as per Nalanda tradition — through a public debate among the contenders who fulfil the eligibility criteria."
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