Kerala varsity wanted Einstein to be VC

Thiruvananthapuram: Decades before India embarked on its quest for superpower status, the tiny princely state of Travancore aimed it high in higher education and even made an unsuccessful bid to enlist the services of great physicist Albert Einstein as Vice Chancellor of its fledgling university for a monthly pay of Rs 6000.

The Nobel prize winning scientist,considered as the founder of modern physics and who developed the theory of general relativity, politely declined the invitation saying he wanted to join Princeton University in America. The University, set up in 1937 as Travancore University, was renamed as University of Kerala later, and is planning year-long celebrations to mark its Platinum Jubilee this year.

According to eminent historian,late Prof A Sreedhara Menon, who authored a comprehensive history of the university, seeking Einstein`s service for the state was the idea of the then Diwan (Prime Minister) of Travancore Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyar. Aiyar was a shrewd administrator and multi-faceted scholar who kept abreast of contemporary developments including those concerning modern science. Citing records of local peoples` council, Menon says Aiyar advised the reigning prince Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma, the last Maharaja of Travancore, to invite Einstein to decorate the prestigious academic post.

Aiyar thought that the prestige and status of the university would get elevated if a great scientist like Einstein agreed to head it. According to writer and historian M G Sashibhushan CP, as Aiyar was popularly known, had tried to bring not only Einstein but many famous personalities from various academic disciplines as faculty of the university. "I have heard people saying of CP`s public announcement about the proposal first at the Sree Chitra State Council. But as far as I know, unfortunately, the copy of the letter sent to Einstein is yet to be traced," Sashibhushan told PTI.

Saroja Sundararajan,in her `Sir C P Ramaswami Aiyar:A Biography`, also says that the visionary administrator had tried to bring Einstein to Travancore University as Professor and Vice-Chancellor,Sashibhushan said. Referring to Travancore`s unfulfilled dream, Menon in his `Sir CP Thiruvithamcore Charitrathil` (Sir CP in Travancore History), says that Aiyar tried to bring Einstein to head the university offering a monthly offering a salary of Rs 6000 per month. But, due to his own reasons Einstein turned down the offer and joined Princeton University.

"An invitation to a genius like Einstein to a tiny state like Travancore is something truly amazing. But CP was such an astute administrator who would try to make impossible things possible," Sashibhushan said. But there are some historians who think CP floated Einstein`s name only to outwit those local academics who would have pulled strings and lobbied for the high post. Aiyar`s intention was that only those who had proven excellence would be bold enough to propose themselves as candidates for the post when a great name like Einstein was doing the rounds.

The University of Travancore, now Kerala University, came into existence on November 1, 1937 with King Chitira Tirunal Balarama Varma as Chancellor, mother-queen Sethu Parvathy Bai as pro-Chancellor and CP as Vice-Chancellor. The first university in Kerala and one of the 16 pioneering institutions of higher learning in India, Travancore University was set up on the model of Oxford and Cambridge in Britain. Before that,colleges in Travancore were affiliated to Madras University.

The Travancore administration in general and Aiyar, in particular, had faced stiff opposition from the Madras government (then British province) to get permission to set up an independent university. Though a politically controversial figure and often at the receiving end of the nationalists and Communists, CP had made valuable contributions to developing Travancore as a modern state. He had made sincere attempts to bring many leading academic figures of the time to the university as faculty to enhance the status of the institution.

After Einstein, CP tried to rope in a great scientist like C V Raman, philosopher and former President Dr S Radhakrishnan and Dr Meghanatha Saha as pro-Vice Chancellors of the university, but those attempts also failed, Menon says in his book. "It was also said that CP once made a similar request to scientist Julian Huxley, eminent biologist and brother of British writer Alduos Huxley, who also declined the offer citing personal difficulties," Sashibhushan said. Now having 220 affiliated colleges and around two lakh students, the Kerala University is gearing up to celebrate the platinum jubilee of its formation.

Dr Jayakrishnan, the present Vice Chancellor, told PTI that the jubilee proposals include conferring honorary doctorates on co-founder of Infosys and alumnus Kris Gopalakrishnan, and well-known scientists PNR Rao and Jayant Narlikar. The proposal is before the senate and its ratification is expected, Jayakrishnan said.