January 3, 2012

Kerala would have been smarter if Einstein had agreed to be vice-chancellor of its varsity

The state had agreed to pay the great physicist a monthly salary of Rs 6,000 in 1937 

Decades before India embarked on its quest for superpower status, the tiny princely state of Travancore had aimed it high in 1937 when it made a bid to enlist the services of great physicist Albert Einstein as vice-chancellor of its fledgling university for a monthly pay of Rs 6,000.
The founder of modern physics, however, politely declined the offer, saying he wanted to join Princeton University in the US. The Travancore University, later renamed as University of Kerala, celebrates its platinum jubilee this year.

According to eminent historian, late Prof A S Menon, who authored a comprehensive history of the Travancore university, seeking Einstein's service 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 in modern science.

Citing records of local people's council, Menon says Aiyar advised the reigningprince Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma, the last Maharaja of Travancore, to invite Einstein to decorate the prestigious academic post. Aiyar thought the prestige and status of the university would get elevated if a great scientist like Albert Einstein agreed to head it.

According to historian M G Sashibhushan, Aiyar had tried to bring not only Einstein but many other famous personalities from various academic disciplines as faculty at 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 said.