It is really unfortunate that the Manipur University did not even figure in the top 100 universities in India in the recently announced list by the Ministry of Human Resources, Government of India. Manipur’s other universities, with perhaps the exception of the Central Agriculture University, are too new to be blamed for missing the list. Six universities from the Northeast did make it to the list, but because of the failure of the MU, even this commendable achievement has been reduced to a bitter-sweetness experience for those of us in the state – sweet because six from the region made it, but also bitter because MU has been left far behind. The six universities which made the grade are: Gauhati University, Assam (Rank. 27), Tejpur University, Assam (Rank. 30), North Eastern Hill Universtity, NEHU, Meghalaya, (Rank 48), Mizoram University, Mizoram (Rank 58), Dibrugarh University, Assam (Rank. 74, Rajiv Gandhi University, Arunachal Pradesh (Rank. 76) and Assam University, Assam (Rank. 92). It is time for the Manipur University to begin serious introspection. What is it that it lacks that the other universities have? It is also curious that except for Gauhati University, all of the other universities from the Northeast which have made the ranks this time are either the contemporaries of MU or else much younger. This should make MU’s failure even more painful, for it does indicate it is not inexperience which let the MU down, but its management and competence. Again, with the exception of Gauhati University, which grittily decided to remain as a state university, all the rest are now Central universities as per their wishes, therefore in terms of project funds, salaries and infrastructure, somewhat homogenous. The MU therefore cannot complain on these counts.
The MU while it was a state university after its founding in 1980, was in financial trouble like the rest of the state. This was especially so about two decades ago starting from the time of the implementation of 5th Pay Commission recommendation for Central government employees. But those lean days are now over, and in terms of infrastructure expansion and salaries hike, the MU has like other Central institutions have been enjoying unprecedented bonanzas. Even those outside the MU community cannot mistake these change. Widening avenues, shining new buildings springing up one after the other each year without end, increasing number of swanky cars parked outside the university’s department blocks, all point to this. These advancements make pleasing sights and no doubt this level of material prosperity is necessary, but certainly cannot be sufficient condition for a university to excel for it is also supposed to be a centre for higher learning and knowledge. The question is, how committed is the MU to this later mission? Anybody who visits the MU faculties on a regular basis will vouch this is probably where another failing is. On most of the days, many of the departments in the arts and social sciences blocks are deserted. Especially in the afternoons, the lecturers’ rooms are most of the time locked and students sparse. In the science block the scene is better. Again, in terms of peer-reviewed writings published in reputed and specialised journals are few and far between, and if not for the science blocks, would have been rarer still. Indeed the atmosphere inside the MU campus can hardly be said to be ideally academic, where students and lecturers hang around reading, writing, discussing and conferencing even on days of no classes.
What has instead become a feature of the MU are strikes and students unrests of all hues, sometimes paralysing the entire university for weeks, giving the university a very bad image in the state as well as outside. If the face is the index of the mind, this image is also very important, and probably MU being given the miss this time had a lot to do with it too. Besides bringing order in the campus, there are other obligations the teachers especially but also the students of the university are called upon to shoulder. While their primary concern must be to endeavour to excel in their chosen disciplines, they must also public intellectuals, sharing their understanding of the world, in particular of the trials and tribulations of the state they are in, with the larger public, through their writings. That on so many occasions, in its times of extreme crisis, Manipur remained invisible to the rest of the world tells of a grave failure of the intelligentsia as a whole, of which the academic community should have been one of the major flag bearers. A moribund image and the seeming lack of intellectual ferment are probably some of the factors behind the absence of a gravity around MU to attract students from outside the state, another important scale by which a university’s worth is measured. There probably are more reasons for the MU’s failure this time. We hope the MU community will collectively pull up their socks and give a more credible performance next year. They must remember they cannot exist in an ivory tower, and good performance on their part is a public responsibility, therefore answerable to the public.