By Siddhanta Mishra | Published: 15th April 2017 11:38 PM |
M Jagadesh Kumar, 50
It hasn’t been easy for Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) vice-chancellor to manage the affairs of India’s most colourfully controversial university. M Jagadesh Kumar has steered the institution through it all. Its activist air has been rent with slogans against India, while hailing Afzal Guru, hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack—provoking a violent backlash from people and police alike. Its atmosphere has been disturbed by internal strife, warring student unions and court cases barring the entry of outsiders to the campus.
“JNU is not about the agitations and dharnas you hear about. A goal-oriented approach and eclectic vision are the reasons behind this university’s success. Our long-term purpose is to become one of the world’s top universities, and be useful to society,” says Kumar.
All the recent negative publicity worries the vice-chancellor. “Where is this perception coming from? We have dozens of ambassadors and presidents of international universities visiting JNU,” he says, adding, “Politics and political thinking are integral to our lives. We encourage free-thinking debates here. Discussions on various issues are not related only to JNU. I’ve never met anyone who says it’s a bad university,” he adds.
Kumar is known for his inclusive approach, asking students and faculty for feedback. The 50-year-old acamedician from Telangana de-stresses with yoga, evening walks with wife Lakshmi, aerobics, cycling and classical music. His favourite singer is Bhimsen Joshi.
His mantra is not to hate anyone.
In his time as a college student, village boy Kumar had felt out of place. As JNU’s vice-chancellor, he is determined other students do not feel the same way. “Universities should provide an inclusive atmosphere on campus. Are we doing enough to make students, who are uncomfortable with the new system, comfortable? Fortunately here, we provide an ecosystem where students focus on achieving academic targets as they pursue personal growth as well,” says Kumar.
By Kundan Jha | NEW DELHI | 18 February, 2017
A full year since becoming the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of unarguably the most politically charged university in the country, Kumar finds himself in the eye of a storm, during which he has been accused of cutting the admission seats and called a “Sanghi”—a follower of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology—by the agitating students.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) notification adopted by the university entails an upper cap on the number of students a faculty member can guide. But as Kumar observed,
So, how could the clause of upper cap be applied without cutting down the number of students?
Kumar says that those faculty members with “excess of students” will not get any new students until the existing ones pass out, and additional vacancies are created. He emphasises that even after allocating students across the faculty, including among those who have none or less than what is prescribed now, there will still be excess students pursuing Ph.Ds and M.Phils.
“In Ph.D it takes time to complete the thesis. If we keep on admitting the same number of students, let’s assume, in five years there will be about 150 students. Where will they go? No university does that,” he added.
“I have no clue why they think so, you need to ask them,” says Kumar about the protesting teachers. He adds that “UGC is the funding agency for all central universities” and that “we are paying far more fellowship amount than what UGC gives us because of the excess of students, whereas it gives us a fixed amount”.
One of the issues which students list with the capping clause is not having any freedom to choose their guide themselves, which is chosen according to the specialty” of the professor and “research topic” of the students, as one student leader told IANS earlier.
“If a students comes to me and says that he wants to do a Ph.D. in analog electronics, and if I don’t have a faculty member with a vacancy under him in that department, I may ask him to pursue a Ph.D. in digital electronics. He may choose to do so or he may not. In the latter case, he’ll look for some other institute where there is a vacancy in his chosen field. This is the norm everywhere,” he explained.
“People are entitled to their opinions. They are free to call me anything, it won’t turn me into that. I have no political affiliations. I am just an academician focused on my research and committed to my students,” Kumar said.