The University left no stone unturned to seek its student's release and the decision to suspend class work and get hostels evacuated was taken in view of certain apprehensions. In an interview with Greater Kashmir Correspondent Mukeet Akmali¸ Kashmir University Vice Chancellor, Prof Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi talks about the recent happenings in the campus, his vision about the University's development, teaching and research and also the steps being taken to bring about efficiency in administration
You have been in the office as Vice-Chancellor for almost a year now; where do you place the University in terms of its academic, research and administration output?
During my eight months in office, small initiatives like student evaluation of teachers, peer review for assessment of teaching standards and raising the bar of quality of selection as university teachers I think highlights our focus on academics. Hassle-free re-entry system for young researchers from best of the world universities was put in place which we think was quite remarkable to bring a profitable transformation in the quality of our research. And small technological interventions like file-tracking, biometric attendance etc. is to improve upon the administrative and support systems.
Many argue quality of teaching and research at the University is archaic and not in sync with emerging trends. How do you see this argument?
Teaching at the University has been traditionally our great strength. We have however not been where we should have been to do ample justice to our mandate of knowledge creation through research. Although science departments like Physics, Botany, Chemistry, Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Earth Science etc. have continued to maintain global standards in terms of quality and changing trends, we concede to have taken short of such recognition so far as Social Sciences and Arts faculties are concerned. I must however let you know that many departments among these faculties have started to surface as potential sparks.
Given the competition that Universities in India and abroad are faced with, how is your University aligning to this changing atmosphere. Are there any plans at hand to improve quality of teaching and research?
The international standards of quality are governed by established parameters and we are in sync to slowly and sequentially adapt all those such as to remain relevant. Return of our best talent in research from abroad has been made hassle-free. Research publications to maintain world-recognized norms are encouraged. International students to study at KU—so vital for global recognition—has been incentivized in the form of offering special reservations in admissions.
Not much is being done with regard to collaborative research and exchange programmes, which are a practice in many universities. Why?
That is not correct. The University has been working tirelessly on cross disciplinary collaborative research over the last several years and we have succeeded considerably in earning massive funds as consortia projects between multiple universities like in atomic sciences, on saffron and some social sciences projects as well. In fact we are quite good in encouraging collaborative research.
Where do you see this University 10 or 20 years down the line, as far as academics and research is concerned?
I remain hopeful to become as good as it gets nationally and in certain areas we are head on with internationally-recognized research groups to make our position even stronger.
The University administration is accused of being slack in disposing of administrative matters and files? Is the University planning to bring about efficiency in this system?
I admit we have this problem of slackness in disposal for long. I think we can't remain averse to bring in technological intervention that is bound to improve both efficiency and accountability. The whole exercise needs a makeover and we have begun modestly by introducing digital file tracking etc to follow-up with few more interventions.
Many underline punctuality of officials as a cause of concern in the University. Is anything being done to address the problem?
I agree. In that context systems are being put in place that take care of this problem once for all. We have introduced biometric attendance for officers in the first phase and other administrative staff in the second phase is almost ready. As far as teachers are concerned, work schedules are flexible to many a time extend beyond office hours—so no worries over there.
Students mostly complain delay in issuance of marks/degree certificates, as also declaration of undergraduate and postgraduate results. Aren't any efforts made to address this problem?
Our examination system is overloaded and overburdened. First thing I did as a Vice Chancellor was to strongly advocate introduction of objective-type examination at undergraduate level with the aim of bringing in transparency and efficiency and of course credibility in the university assessment and in the process lessen the workload. However, I did not succeed in generating consensus. We nevertheless are already in the process of procuring a digital solution for examinations that addresses almost all the student concerns.
The University has been in news over the arrest of its student. Why did the University close for three days and asked the hostel boarders to evacuate? Isn't that being harsh to the student community?
This was the most unfortunate chain of events as if the arrest of our student wasn't enough. The decision to close the university was prompted by the vandalism of the University property and our apprehensions of some outsiders inciting anger amongst resident students. We have since apologized for this inconvenience but it was only to ensure their safety and secure their prospect at the University.
It is said the Vice-Chancellor did not do enough to seek release of the student?
That is absolutely incorrect. You have to believe that I did everything within my capacity as head of the institution to question the authorities about Muzamil's arrest and persuade them to have him released. I got to know about the incident through HoD English, and without any delay, I called IGP several times before we got to talk. We wrote an SOS letter to DGP; had a conversation with him as a follow up, called SSP and was in loop with SP and SDPO Hazratbal all the time. I dispatched a team of university officials along with some students to visit Muzamil and was frantically trying to pacify students while reaching out to other officers like the Chief Secretary in the State Administration. I don't think I could have done anything more than what I did.
A number of reports suggested that the student was arrested inside the campus for opposing the Yoga Day?
Notwithstanding the fallout, let me explicitly convey to one and all that the University had decided not to observe Yoga Day. This was communicated to the State Government a week before. So there was absolutely no official instruction to observe it. I am however told that Sports Department had erected a tent on their own that had sparked night protests by hostel boarders. It is therefore not correct to even consider linking the arrest with Yoga Day observance. As the facts have come by about his arrest outside the campus, it vindicates our stance that University was in no way party to his detention.
University students say they were baton-charged ruthlessly by police that you sought from outside?
This is quite preposterous. Firstly every student of the University knows that KU guards do not carry any batons. Second, SDPO Hazratbal and SHO concerned were invited to visit us so as to provide an update about Muzamail to some students who were in conversation with us about the efforts we are putting in to get the boy released. The two police officials obviously came in their vehicles with escorts. Now for God's sake all of us are grown ups and we know the escort personnel do not carry lathis; so you be the judge about baton charge.
University issued an official statement that protesters got bricks and stones in their bags? What does it mean?
The landscape outside the administrative block is black-top and grass—no provision of any loose stones or bricks. If they were hurled, it is obviously they were carried. This is what we had been counseling our students about, that their protests would end up hijacked by elements from outside and it turned out to be the case.
Recently Army donated some items to the University. Are you in sync with public perception in the matter?
Post 2014 floods, I thought the state government would be under immense pressure in terms of resource management and it would be unwise on our part to press through our demands under the circumstances. So we decided to issue a general appeal all across the country including corporates, our own alumni in the US and other countries etc. Army came forward with this small package of two buses, some hostel beds/bedding, books and some computers. And we were ethically constrained to accept it and beyond that nothing more should be derived out of it.
What is your message for the student community?
My advice to them would be to focus on studies and research because there is a cut-throat competition in the world they have to face. Alongside, my message would also be that this University belongs to them as it belongs to us. So we are here to safeguard their interests and also address their genuine grievances.