Sanjay Deshmukh, since taking over as the vice chancellor of Mumbai University a year and a half ago, has made several grandiose announcements that haven't made much headway, inviting criticism about a lack of planning and adequate groundwork.

His latest -assessment of all university exam papers to be made on-screen -has principals up in arms. If implemented for all courses at one go, it'll be a recipe for disaster, they say.

Earlier he's announced the purchase of an aircraft, an accelerated postgraduate programme, connecting campuses with Wi-Fi, acquiring universities abroad, and so on (see box).

In a conference to announce the upcoming Youth Science Congress last week, Deshmukh revealed the plan of going online for assessment of papers across courses, faculties. “If that itself was not a shocker enough, he even mentioned that papers will be assessed online for the exams scheduled in March-May this year. There are many teachers who are not well-versed with computers, “said the principal of a college.

“Online assessment is not an easy task. When it was first introduced for engineering exams in 2014, with only about 55 colleges, it was pretty chaotic for two consecutive exams. Now if the VC is planning to replicate it for almost 800 colleges, at this point, with very little preparation, it will be a disaster, “said another principal. “The people who are to execute it -the teachers -were not even aware about this massive project till he announced it,“ said a teacher.

When these concerns were put to Deshmukh, he said: “We always find everything difficult till the time someone leads you successfully in realising it. “ Asked for a detailed response, he said he was busy and could talk about it later in person. Last year, he announced plans to purchase a used Cessna 172 from California to help in commercial pilot training. An official from the Bombay Flying Club said the training is being held at their aerodrome and the plan to purchase the aircraft has been put on hold. “We were told direct purchasing may not fall under the university administration's purview and they may have to go for tendering. It may be difficult to acquire an aircraft through a tendering process, “said the official.

Another announcement that raised eyebrows was about acquiring smaller US universities. Initially, the plan was to set up campuses abroad. For this, he said he will start a world tour, starting with US, to select campuses.

This is not the first time that stakeholders in the university have suffered a jolt, when announcements were made in haste at the eleventh hour. A uniform time-table for first-year exams proved chaotic as it was difficult for colleges to manage multiple exams in a short period. Even today they aren't sure about managing the common schedule as it is clashing with the HSC exams. “It will be difficult to hold the board and university exams at the same time, “said a principal.

Times View

The vice-chancellor must work on restoring basics in the once-hallowed corridors of the university before making grand announcements and unveiling ambitious plans. The prestigious institution, once a model for all of India, has been in a mess for a while now and needs `repair work' of the old-fashioned, seriously academic kind to be truly called a `Vidya Nagari.' Planes and other flights of fancy can wait.