Maurice Gwyer is widely credited with single-handedly transforming the University of Delhi. Born in London on April 25, 1878, Gwyer was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi in 1938. In fact, he had also been appointed as the first Chief Justice of the Federal Court of India a year earlier in 1937. But the Federal Court in its early days did not have a lot of work, so the Viceroy asked him to take over as Vice Chancellor of Delhi University.
Gwyer, who was a member of All Souls, Oxford, wanted DU to be like Oxbridge. But when he took over as vice-chancellor, he was deeply upset about DU’s situation. “Sir Maurice designed the University of Delhi as a miniature Oxbridge. He dreamed of a cluster of small residential colleges around the heart of the university,” writes Aparna Basu, the late DU history professor, in her essay contributed to the book Delhi Through The Ages, edited by Refrykenberg.
Gwyer wanted DU to be an all-India university, a university with a different character and to set new standards as a capital city university. “Sir Maurice has suggested measures by which the transformation of the university might be effected. He did not want to create a mere replica of other Indian universities in Delhi,” Basu writes.
He wanted the creation of a certain number of professorships and lecturers. He also wanted to introduce a provision for postgraduate study and research scholarships and he also sought to set a period of three years as the length of a university course.
This was all part of a memorandum he submitted to the government in 1939, which accepted most of his suggestions. The government provided a one-time grant of ₹8 lakh, to be spread over five years. Prior to this, as Basu points out, DU income consisted of less than ₹1 lakh fee and an annual grant of ₹1 lakh from Indian government. Three-year licentiate and bachelor of science courses were introduced during his tenure. It was during his tenure that a number of professors and readers were appointed.
Gwyer always wanted a distinguished faculty who could serve as a role model. He therefore searched for talents all over the country and brought to the university such eminent academicians as VKRV Rao, RU Singh, TR Seshadri, P Maheshwari and ML Bhatia. He also invited nationally and internationally renowned personalities such as EM Forster, Eve Curie Joliot, Homi Bhabha and others to lecture at the university. He even improved teachers’ salaries and gave them staff accommodation.
Gwyer enjoyed socializing and lived in style. His house in Delhi was a meeting place for a large number of people, British and Indian.
An anecdote in ‘University of Delhi: 1922-1997’, a book published by the University of Delhi on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee in 1997, shows that he was a fearless man with a spirit of his own: “His Private Secretary, Mr. Ramkrishnan, recalls, that when the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow once asked him to come and see him, the Vice Chancellor replied that the University of Delhi was very nice and that the Viceroy could enjoy a change of atmosphere coming.
In the 1950-51 budget, the subsidy granted by Parliament was much less than what the DU had asked for. Gwyer resigned on April 11, 1950, months before his term ended in December.