Interview with Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar, Vice Chancellor, JNU

(Published in JNU NEWS, Issue 1, 2016)

JNU NEWS: Welcome to JNU. The first thing we would like to know is how you feel about this transition from being a ‘Scientist’ to being the ‘Vice Chancellor’ of this University, which is an exclusively administrative job?
As a scientist and technologist, during the last several decades my life has revolved around mentoring students, teaching and research. As a Vice Chancellor, I now see myself playing multiple roles as a mentor, an educator, a facilitator, a conflict resolver, a resource mobilizer and also a risk taker. It would be my endeavour to be the most accessible VC to all in the campus– students, staff and faculty.

JNU NEWS: Are you planning to take any academic role in the University as well?
I am passionate about teaching and research. This provides me an opportunity to mentor my students and see them grow into positive contributors to the society. Therefore, even after taking over as the VC of JNU, I am continuing to teach and guide my PhD students at IIT Delhi. Three days in a week, I teach from 8.00-8.50 AM at IIT Delhi and soon after that I am back in JNU. During weekends, I spend time with my PhD students.

JNU NEWS: So, what are the major targets you have in mind for JNU?
We need to explore close collaborations with other higher educational institutes, in India such as IITs and abroad, to carry out more collaborative research. Emphasis needs to be put on research for Indian needs and starting of new master’s programmes in technology in different areas such as IT and renewable energy resources. India needs job creators not job seekers. Why not we start a post-graduate program which focuses on entrepreneurship so that students get trained in how to launch and sustain start-ups?

We also need to focus on (i) generating solar energy to meet JNU energy requirements, (ii) reducing power consumption by using solid-state lighting, (iii) water harvesting (need to collect every drop of rain water that comes into JNU) and (iv) reuse of treated waste water for non-drinking applications.
I would like to have an external audit of all the academic and administrative procedures to improve the Universities functional efficiency.

JNU NEWS: What do you think can be done in the short and long terms to preserve the traditions and ethos of JNU?
To retain its national character, it is important to reach out to the prospective students across the country, particularly the north eastern states. I would like to look at means to make JNU known among the prospective students. We must create and preserve an environment in which the JNU community can freely and fearlessly debate and discuss various issues that affect our country. I am a strong believer of freedom of expression as enshrined in our constitution. However, I also put equal emphasis on the fundamental duties defined by the Indian constitution. We must also ensure that multiple opinions are respected and nurtured. No single opinion should dominate over the others if we want to build a strong and progressive JNU.

JNU NEWS: One of the problems that the students are facing today is the conditions and scarcity of hostels. Many of the hostels are not maintained well and are falling apart. The facilities are not good at all. They have problems from ‘no hot water’ to ‘no water’ at all. Have you looked into such issues so far?
This is very unfortunate. We have a serious shortage of staff quarters and hostel accommodation. We are looking at various ways of raising funds to rectify the situation. Considering the fact that many poor students join JNU, I would like to seek the support from our alumni in meeting the hostel requirements in addition to knocking the doors of various ministries for providing funds. We have also started constructing some new hostels using pre-fabricated structures to partially meet the immediate student accommodation issues. I want to emphasize that we also need to run the hostels more efficiently by introducing various measures which we are examining.

JNU NEWS: What is your academic vision for JNU? What would you like to achieve during your tenure of five years as the Vice Chancellor of JNU?
I will strive to improve the learning environment by promoting excellence among teachers and students. There have been significant changes in the pedagogical approaches. Teaching should be more learner specific than teacher specific. A strong ethical and spiritual connection should be the basis for education. We should also improve the research output and bring global recognition to JNU through enhanced research culture. I will make efforts to provide access to better research facilities to the younger faculty.

I will proactively put my efforts to attract the best talent to fill the faculty positions. We need to shorten our appointment procedures and proactively identify prospective candidates and encourage them to apply.

While JNU is strong in Social Sciences, it is also important to establish close links with industry since JNU has several basic science faculties whose research can lead to innovative products or processes for human welfare. JNU is such a huge campus, why not we have a technology incubation center and help young entrepreneurs to start companies in the areas of expertise that JNU has.

JNU has several courses which can be extremely useful to students across the country. JNU can make a repository of these lectures as online videos. Perhaps JNU can partner with NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) and make these video lectures available to students across the country. This is another way of reaching out to the prospective students.

JNU NEWS: How do you perceive JNU’s social role in future?
An important characteristic of JNU is its inclusive nature. Students of JNU come from different social, economic and regional backgrounds including a large number of differently abled students. I think JNU, its faculty and students should be known for their scientific and social contributions and it should not be in the news for the wrong reasons. While being aware of the problems our country faces, students of a university should be more focused on the strengths of this country so that we can build a better India.

JNU NEWS: How would you compare the campus environment of JNU and IIT Delhi, the two premier academic institutions?
The intrinsic characteristics of students at IIT Delhi and JNU are the same – inquisitive, passionate about learning and determined to succeed in life. However, unlike many other institutes, JNU is a happening place. Everyday different seminars and workshops take place and frequently ambassadors, University Presidents, delegations from different countries visit our campus making JNU a vibrant place. As compared to IIT Delhi, JNU is a huge campus with a natural forest. This makes living on JNU campus very interesting.

Early life: My father worked as a teacher in a small village school and my mother had never gone to a school. I was witness to how my parents braved the economic hardships to educate me. I used to walk long distances in the city to reach the college since I could not afford other modes of travel. Adversities in my early life only strengthened my resolve to succeed.

Academic life: I studied in Telugu medium government schools until I went to the University in Hyderabad. My lack of English medium education up to 12th standard did not deter me from getting a first rank in the University. I then moved to IIT Madras where I finished my Master’s and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering.

Professional Experience: After PhD, I worked at University of Waterloo for three years before returning to India. I have been a part of the IIT system for more than three decades both as a student and faculty. Teaching, research and mentoring students are my passion.

Hobbies: I like being fit. I enjoy jogging and doing fitness exercises. One of my hobbies is to walk long distances along with my wife Lakshmi.

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