Pick new KU vice-chancellor fairly, academics say

 As the second term of Kathmandu University Vice-chancellor Ram Kantha Makaju nears an end, calls are growing for a transparent appointment process while finding his replacement.

Makaju, who was first appointed as the KU vice-chancellor in 2012, was reappointed in January 2017.

Makaju, who is credited for establishing the Dhulikhel hospital as one of the best community hospitals in the country, was caught in a controversy ever since his appointment.

At the time of his appointment in 2012, there were allegations that he got the position on the condition that Morang’s Birat Medical College and Rupandehi’s Devdaha Medical College be granted university affiliation. They were eventually allowed to conduct MBBS courses as an extended programme.

Talking to the Post in December 2014, he had said that the two colleges would operate entirely under the KU. Students would submit their fees at university, which will directly oversee the appointment of faculty members. However, except for paying the first fee instalment at the university, both medical colleges are now operating as independent entities.

Makaju had also riled many faculty members during his eight-year term. Following his arrival at the university, a number of prominent professors at the university either quit, saying they were not allowed to function independently, or their terms were not extended.

Bhola Thapa, former registrar who worked to establish the engineering department, quit in August 2018, arguing that Makaju had monopolised every decision—from finances to faculty appointments.

Constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari, who was instrumental in setting up the University’s School of Law, also resigned in March 2019, giving similar reasons.

“I expect the university gets a deserving vice-chancellor, one who is appointed transparently evaluating his/her capacity to lead the varsity,” Adhikari told the Post.

Under Makaju’s leadership, the term of educationist Man Prasad Wagle was not extended as dean of the School of Education, neither was of Janaradan Lamichhane, biotechnology department chief, or Tanka Nath Sharma, dean of the School of Education.

Makaju remained a controversial figure throughout his two terms. With his second term finishing on January 20, 2021, the KU professors are demanding for a fair appointment process.

“I believe two terms—eight years—are enough for a person to execute his/her plans,” Bhadra Man Tuladhar, a founding professor and a former registrar at the university, told the Post. “When someone looks for the third term it is a clear depiction of his stubbornness or greed for the position.”

Tuladhar said the university needs a competent leadership to drive a university in the right direction. There’s growing perception that Kathmandu University hasn’t been able to perform better after the founding vice-chancellor chose to retire in 2012.

“It appears that @KUnepal lost some momentum in terms of academic growth, excellence and image after the retirement of founding VC Prof Suresh Raj Sharma. Hope next KU VC would be able to regain the lost momentum and glory of this premier institute of higher learning. Best wishes!” Surya Raj Acharya, former spokesperson of Sajha Party and also a visiting faculty at the Institute of Engineering in Tribhuvan University, wrote on Twitter.

The representatives of the professors at the Kathmandu University say they want a replacement of Makaju under whom the university has failed miserably.

Bibhuti Rajan Jha, former chairperson of the Kathmandu University Professors Association, said they have been raising a voice for a competent leadership.

“The university has only ruined under the present leadership. It needs a change,” he told the Post. “We want the timely formation of the search committee. We need a vice-chancellor, who can build the university as the centre of excellence and resolve the problems of the teachers and students.”

In an interview with the Post in January, Makaju had rubbished all the allegations against him and said the university has progressed under his leadership. Asked whether he would want the next term he hadn’t given a clear answer.

Even the students are apparently not pleased with Makaju’s leadership.

Students from different faculties have been staging a relay hunger strike from Sunday against the university administration’s decision to charge fees under the headings of extracurricular activities, field visits, computer system and internet during the time of pandemic.