A long-serving Vice – Chancellor & a formidable educationist
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan is known for his unique distinctions. He served as vice-chancellor of Andhra university at Waltair for two terms and he recruited talented persons as university staff. He consulted far and wide, leading scientists in Europe when he searched for science staff.
He appointed some of the big names, Humayun Kabir, Hiren Mukerjee, V.K.R.V. Rao who all went on to create a name in national life. Also his Mysore days friend Dr. C.R. Reddy was the first vice-chancellor of Andhra university and as a Cambridge man he was more brilliant and in later years the two friends went their own ways. Dr. Radhakrishnan was also vice-chancellor of Benaras university and whatever he did were all landmarks in Indian higher education. The legendary vice chancellor, Sir Ashutosh Mukerjee was a discover of talents, it was he who discovered Radhakrishnan and C.V. Raman and many others.
Soon after relinquishing his VC’s post at Waltair, Radhakrishnan badly wanted to become the Director of Public Instruction in Madras! He didn’t succeed because there were English men, senior to him in the Provincial Education Service. It is another matter, Dr. Radhakrishnan went on to become a professor at Oxford and later, to newe heights of fame and high offices.
In the South we had a formidable figure in Sir A. Lakshamanswamy Mudaliar who served as vice-chancellor of Madras university for an unprecedented 27 years!
By all standards A.L. Mudaliar is perhaps the best known and much respected, even much feared vice-chancellor in his time. He had the distinction of becoming the VC when India was still under the British rule and after Independence there was no one to touch his sphere of activity. I know well from my close movements with the late Kamaraj and Bhakthavatsalam, that they dared not touch Mudaliar! Such was his persona, withdrawn and given to studied elegance, a pleasing rhetoric and diction, when he delivered his speeches, as he did when I was for two of his last years in the Legislative Council, the usual time limit prescribed for us was waied for him.
So he was to deliver his well constructed arguments in chaste English. At a very early age, I was one of the youngest to be elected to the Council Members of the council were Sir. A.L. Mudaliar, Dr. Raja Sir Muthiah Chettiar and others. I, fresh from Oxford and with strong convictioons, I dared to challenge the formidable man with my own private member bill that sought to restrict the term of the Madras VC for three years at a time.
The fierce opposition I encountered when I rose to speak readers can’t imagine! There were shouts and countershouts and Mudaliar men in full strength and sought to block my way through my speech!
However, I did succeed to make my impact on a subject that was a forbidden terriorty for educated Tamil society for such a long time!
Thus, the term of the VC was subsequntly reduced to three years and Mudaliar had to relinquish his pet office!
Sir A.L. Mudaliar survived in pre-Independence India as well as in post-Independence India, thanks to his unique survival skills! As Ashis Nandy, the sociologist, says Indians are archetypal survivors! As a nation of historic invasions, we have learnt to survive at all times. So, this survival instinct is inbuilt into our character. Unfortunately this skill survives to this day!
Mudaliar was also helped by the peculair Tamil character, the non-Brahmin movement, Justice Party all helped him to endear himself to a pro-British establishment and after Independence he survived as the spokesman for the new order in international forums.
He along with his equally illustrious brother Sir. A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar no doubt became symbols of great accomplishments.
But they were no nationalists or freedom lovers. So, I had the determination from early on to do whatever in my capacity to change this obnoxious side of Tamil character.
I am glad I did accomplish this fundamental change in the Madras university history.
Many were the tales told about Mudaliar’s ways, his whims and fancies.
Dr. Malcolm Adishesiah and N.D. Sundaravadivelu who all followed him became my friends and we used to exchange notes! Dr. Raja Sir Muthaiah Chettair was one to embrace me…. in the council premises soon after my speech on Madras university.
However, I like to place on record Mudaliar was a phenomenon. Never after we would have such a great son of Tamil Nadu and he would remain an archetypal VC for others to be inspired and to accomplish great deeds.
The VCs, these days have become faceless people, they seem to live in fear and isolation for much of their official times! Once out of office, they fade away. It is a great pity but then that is how university life and its social role is today!
Alas! Today the VC’s post had been devalued in society, reduced to such powerlessness.
It would be a new dawn if we only manage to lift at least some of our established universities to new heights of greatness.