Sexual harassment at Garware college: Edu society top boss protected vice-principal?

Investigations by mid-day have revealed that Dr Gautam Bhong, who was forced to resign as the vice-principal of the college under a cloud of sexual misbehaviour allegations, was saved from being sacked earlier by the chairman of the society that runs the college; the chairman’s wife had done her PhD under Bhong

When news of the resignation of Dr Gautam Bhong, vice-principal of the reputed Abasaheb Garware College, surfaced earlier this month, questions were raised on how Bhong had managed to stick around in the college for 28 years despite being accused of harassing women several times.

Dr Gautam Bhong
Dr Gautam Bhong

A mid-day investigation into the issue has revealed that Bhong may have had the backing of Ravindra Wanjarwadkar, chairman of the governing council of Maharashtra Education Society (MES), which administers Garware college.

Maharashtra Education Society’s night college
Scandal gets murkier: A student from the Maharashtra Education Society’s night college had filed a police report against Bhong in March, alleging that he had sexually misbehaved with a student. File Pics

Highly placed sources have told mid-day that Wanjarwadkar had backed Bhong on a couple of key occasions and let him keep his post in Garware college even when everyone else in the governing body had wanted him out, following allegations of harassing students in the Society’s night college.

Dr Gautam Bhong’s cabin
Dr Gautam Bhong’s cabin was sealed after he resigned as the vice-principal earlier this month. File Pic

The source of this closeness between Bhong and Wanjarwadkar, according to documents accessed by mid-day, is the latter’s wife, Shaila, who finished her PhD in Business Economics under Bhong’s guidance two years ago. While the Wanjarwadkars admitted to Bhong being Shaila’s guide, they denied any correlation between that and Bhong’s tenure as the college vice-principal.

Documents with mid-day show that Shaila had done her graduation and post-graduation in the commerce faculty but, while pursuing her PhD, she had approached Bhong to be her PhD guide, despite Bhong being the dean of the mental, moral and social science faculty of Savitribai Phule Pune University.

Even though Bhong’s specialisation is in economics, academics say Shaila could have definitely got an expert guide from the commerce faculty to complete her doctorate instead of getting one from another department.

The principal of a reputed college in the city said, “There is a separate Board of Studies (BoS) under the commerce faculty for candidates who want to pursue a doctorate in economics. Hence, it is not at all advisable to take the guidance of someone from outside the commerce faculty. The research and review committee of the university can raise strong objections in such cases.”

“Forget about approaching any other college; MES also has a separate Garware College of Commerce, which has several PhD guides,” he added.

Sole backer
A highly placed source in Garware College said, “In March 2014, when one of the students of our night college had lodged a police complaint against Bhong for sexually misbehaving with a female student, all the other management members were of the opinion that Bhong should be asked to vacate his post. But Wanjarwadkar protected him.”

Another high-ranking official told mid-day, “It is an open secret that Wanjarwadkar’s wife had pursued PhD under the guidance of Bhong, and that is why Wanjarwadkar was shielding the vice-principal. But, considering the nature of Bhong’s offences, he should have stopped this practice keeping the institute’s image in mind.”

Both Shaila and Ravindra Wanjarwadkar admitted that she had completed her PhD under Bhong’s guidance. When mid-day contacted Shaila, she said she had completed the PhD under Bhong and handed over the phone to her husband.

“I am not at all protecting Bhong. You must understand that I strictly differentiate between administration and academics. The two things (my wife’s PhD and sparing Bhong) are not at all related,” said Ravindra Wanjarwadkar.

Asked if he did not think his wife selecting a PhD guide who was the vice-principal of a college under him was a conflict of interest, Wanjarwadkar said, “The university had allotted Bhong as my wife’s PhD.”

When mid-day asked him whether he was protecting Bhong, Wanjarwadkar said, “See, I would be the last person to tolerate such nonsense. I had given him strict warnings. In fact, it was I who had taken away the charge of the night college principal from him.”

mid-day had reported on Sunday that Bhong had taken back his resignation on September 19, barely a week after tendering it. He had also said that he was positive that he would be allowed to come back to the college.

When we told Wanjarwadkar about this, he said, “By accepting his resignation, we had already relieved him from the post. Hence, reversing the decision is not in the management’s hands.”

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