Will work towards making JNU more attractive: V-C
In an exclusive interview with Rahiba R Parveen, Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar talks about the controversy that led to a major chaos in the varsity in February. He also underlines the efforts of his team in handling the students and initiating a barrier-free, environment-friendly campus. His plans as an academician for the university and his immediate experience in dealing with the temperament in and outside the university.
Since you joined office, so much has happened in JNU. How do you feel when you look back?
*In a university many things keep happening and that is how it remains vibrant and lively. I will work towards making JNU even more attractive to the prospective students and make sure that JNU continues to fulfill the societal goals for which it has been established. Universities should be progressive and futuristic by expanding their programmes and using technology for outreach to the most disadvantaged sections of the society.
What makes you happy about it and what has saddened you?
*The experience of meeting students, professors and staff and getting to know their aspirations for the university is something I cherish. The fact that there are so many good ideas coming from the JNU community to take it to the next level makes me happy and confident that we can work together to transform JNU into a word class university.
Lack of adequate funds is a major stumbling block. We need additional hostels, faculty housing and research labs. There is lot of expertise within JNU in different areas. We need to synergize this to raise funds. This requires collaboration with industrial partners and starting of new programmes with a significant outreach.
What makes me sad is when I encounter the “frog in the well” attitude. It is not right to say that since something has worked for years, we should not change. We should keep introducing changes in a system to improve its performance. The most undesirable thing to do in a university is to maintain status quo.
What all have you been able to concentrate on in terms of academic and other goals in the varsity?
* Improving the quality and quantity of research in the university is our primary concern. We are working on creating new research facilities which are both inter-disciplinary and product oriented. We have appointed a new Director (Research and Development) who will focus on getting more research projects to the university so that additional research facilities can be created. We are creating more hostel seats to accommodate the new batch of students, who will be joining in the coming session. We are planning a 2 Mega Watt solar project to generate electricity. This will be provided to research labs which require round the clock power supply. We are working on making JNU a green campus. JNU has certain intrinsic strengths. We should take advantage of this to generate funds. For example, our language programmes are excellent. Why not we start online certificate and diploma programmes to educate those who cannot afford to join JNU? There are various programmes in School of International studies, which are unique and not available in any other university. We should leverage this expertise not only to outreach but also to generate internal funds.
Do you think, the way you handled the entire situation since February 09 event, was fair enough? Could it have been better?
* The JNU administration works as a team which includes senior professors of the university. Solutions to the situations that arise in the university are thoroughly discussed and decisions are taken. We, of course, should always learn from experiences and improve our approaches to solving problems. As far as February 09 event is concerned, the high level enquiry committee, which followed due university procedures, had given certain recommendations. When these punishments were announced, students went on an indefinite hunger strike which was unlawful and harmful to health. We appealed to the students to break the hunger strike and come for discussions. However, they chose to go to the court. The court has asked the students to break the hunger strike and appeal to the Vice Chancellor, who is the appellate authority and has mandated that they should not go on strike or dharna on this issue. We are now in the process of forming a committee to look into their appeals and take a final decision. I have absolutely no regrets on how we have handled the issue. This could not have been handled any better since my decisions are always based on the collective advice of my colleagues.
What are the reforms that you are looking to bring in the university?
* JNU conducts an all India entrance examination to select the students. We want to bring some reforms in this exams. For example introducing an on-line exam and conducting the exam in December instead of May. We are aggressively working on faculty recruitments. We have almost 30 per cent vacancies. We are also working on making JNU a green campus. We are planning to introduce e-rikshaws and install a 2 Mega Watt solar power system to cater to the power needs of critical research laboratories.
Do you have any plans on widening the research platform any further?
* We have plans to upgrade some centres into schools and introducing inter-disciplinary master’s programmes such as MTech in VLSI design and Microelectronics. We have recently created a position Director (Research & Development) who will act as an interface between the faculty, administration and the funding agencies and facilitate getting more project funding to the university. This gives an opportunity to hire research scholars and establish new facilities. We are also strengthening the Placement Cell.
Would we ever see increment of seats for courses like PhD in JNU?
* JNU is primarily a research-oriented university. Out of 8,432 students, who are currently enrolled, 5,219 are research scholars doing their MPhil or PhD. Every year, we are adding new programmes to the list of existing programmes. This is bound to increase the number of students. For example, the total number of students enrolled four years ago was 7,677 but now it is 8,432. We also would like to reach out to the foreign students and increase their number from the current 338. Our International collaboration unit is working on this and we are signing a number of MoUs with foreign universities.
What are your ideas of dissent in an academic institution?
* I welcome dissent which is expressed in a peaceful manner and is within the boundaries of law. Dissent should only be used as a grievance redressal mechanism to result in a progressive change in a university and should not degenerate into disruption of normal academic life of the university.
What was your instant reaction to the February 09 event?
* I never react in a knee jerk fashion. As a professor of electrical engineering, my mind is conditioned to control transients and bring stability to the system. A university is a system consisting of human beings. I use a similar approach whenever I face a crisis and remain calm during the crisis.
How much interaction have you been able to do with the students? Were there any barriers? If yes? How do you plan to break them?
* There are no barriers. Throughout the day students, staff and faculty keep meeting me. On the first Monday of every month, I meet the students from 2 to 5 pm without any appointment to listen to their suggestions and problems.
Was it depressing as an academician to see students getting arrested?
* No university administrator wants their law abiding students to be arrested. At the same time, we must remember that no one is above law and no one, who has committed a serious crime, can expect not to be arrested just because they are within the protected walls of a university.
How did you manage through days when JNU situation went out of the hands of the administration?
* When there is a crisis, it is important to remain cool and calm. We were in complete control of the situation by continuing to be in dialogue with the student and teaching community. A large number of students, teachers and staff worked hard to bring normalcy to the university. Our teaching and research activities continued without interruption. To give you an example, during the agitation when there was a dharna going on outside my office, I went around all the eight floors of JNU central library. It was jam packed with students immersed in their studies. Students continued to work late night in their labs. Is that not an indication that JNU community is not interested in disrupting the academic life on the campus?
There is a clear-cut chasm between JNU administration and the students. How are you going to bridge the gap?
* On many issues, the university is on the side of the students. We regularly receive their feedback and discuss in our Academic Council and Executive Council meetings and implement their suggestions as long as they are within the ordinances and rules of the university. Any such decisions based on students’ suggestions should be rational and based on wide ranging consultations. Dialogue and discussion are the only mechanisms which are fundamental to JNU ethos. We will continue to do it.
Now the students who were given punishments have approached the High Court? What are your thoughts about it?
* All of us have to abide by the court’s verdict. We are glad that the students are no longer on hunger strike which we have been requesting them all along. The court has also instructed the students not go again on dharnas or hunger strike on this issue. The court has asked the university to look into their appeals which we will be doing shortly and take final call.
The student’s have spoken anti-administration and accused you of not coming out in their support. What would you like to tell them?
* If students break university rules, we cannot support them. The law will take its own course. However, it is the fundamental right of any student to criticise the university if it is not able to meet the objectives for which it is set up. This criticism acts as a feedback to the administration to improve the functioning of the university.