The Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha-led administration in Jammu and Kashmir has truly broken the glass ceiling with the appointment of Kashmir University's first woman Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nilofar Khan, a daughter-of-the-soil.
This appointment does not merely acknowledge the fact that women can lead academic institutions as big as Kashmir University from the front, it also expands the boundaries for Kashmiri women in other fields to take up the leadership roles in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is also an acknowledgement of the fact that women in Kashmir have braved odds and conflict and yet reached the pinnacle of their success within and beyond the vast world of academia.
And for breaking this glass ceiling that has hit women of Kashmir off and on, the Manoj Sinha-led administration deserves applause for its commitment to the cause of women empowerment.
Having said this, Prof Nilofar's appointment, covered prominently by local and national media as appointment of the first woman Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, comes with a huge set of hopes and expectations both within and outside the four walls of the University.
It now puts the first woman Vice-Chancellor in the first line of the whole nation's expectations to see how the LG administration's stroke of breaking the glass ceiling works on the ground.
And this in turn puts a big spotlight on the three-year tenure of Prof Nilofar Khan as Vice-Chancellor of Kashmir University, starting May 20, 2022.
On the institutional front, Prof Nilofar has, in the eyes of vast segments of academicians who have hailed her appointment, a huge challenging task at hand. It is true, as Prof Nilofer herself said in an interview to this newspaper, "I come from within (the institution). I know the system. It should not take me much time to get going with my priorities."
But it is this "I come from within the institution" truth that raises the levels of expectations of all genuine stakeholders in the University from Prof Nilofar Khan to see how fast and how seriously she goes about addressing all internal issues and conflicts that have plagued the University's academic, administrative and research spheres lately.
It is this truth that shouldn't let the new Vice Chancellor beat about the bush to bring the derailed academic and administrative system back on track with immediate, short-term and long-term interventions.
Needless to reiterate for the "insider Vice-Chancellor" the level of administrative anarchy and academic indiscipline that have eaten into the vitals of this once-prestigious institution which has otherwise produced luminaries, including the present Vice-Chancellor herself who now holds the distinction of being the first woman Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir. And history will always remember it, and therefore also remember her contributions too.
Prof Nilofar must get going with her priorities, as she has listed on the day of joining her office, to infuse a fresh lease of life into the University's functioning on all fronts: academic, administrative, research and student welfare.
She must engage with all internal stakeholders, not just once but very frequently if she is to steer this institution on the real path of academic excellence.
Since she comes from within the system which she has served in important capacities in the last 30 years, she knows who is who in the University and this is where she must stay ahead of time to score a point.
Also, she now represents Kashmiri women and must focus on progress and safety of women faculty and research scholars, some of whom have approached the National Commission for Women against alleged harassment by their own Ph.D supervisors.
A stern message must go across on this front to ensure a secure environment for women at their workplace which is now headed by a no-nonsense woman Vice-Chancellor. The top priorities listed by the new VC include the implementation of the all-important New Education Policy in the KU and its affiliated colleges.
This has to be a cause of concern amid the start of new academic session. The new VC must personally supervise smooth implementation of the NEP-2020 in the University and its affiliated colleges so that students also sync with the new system without any hassles and delay.
The J&K government itself has listed NEP-2020 as its priority area. The new VC can play a pivotal role in taking a lead in this regard.
It is a new dawn at Kashmir University. The new VC must make a new beginning by initiating an urgent course correction for all the wrongs that have happened in the preceding years and have brought disrepute to the University in the eyes of the public. The recent PG admission fiasco 2021 is a case in point.
The goals have to be set and timelines fixed by the new VC. Any corrupt elements in the system, who have spoiled the University's image, have to be shunted out immediately to provide a neat and clean administrative set-up. The students have to be eased on all fronts.
The degrees have to be awarded in time. More Examination reforms have to be undertaken with greater technological interventions. Academics and officials resorting to defaming the institution have to be tamed. The inter-departmental rivalries among teachers have to be addressed and plugged. The Rules, Statutes and the University Act have to be respected and followed in letter and spirit.
A strong message that academic indiscipline, corruption and administrative malfunctioning cannot be tolerated at any cost, any longer, must go from the new Vice-Chancellor urgently to all the stakeholders. Any delay in initiating the much-needed changes and reforms has a great potential to stain the image of the new Vice-Chancellor who is being watched by the whole nation.
Moreover, the new VC must take all stakeholders, including senior faculty members, along for an all-inclusive approach to academic progression of the University, of course with the application of her own wisdom and farsightedness after carefully weighing the implications of all decisions to be taken.
Exclusion of faculty members merely on the basis of personal likings and disliking and at the expense of merit of individuals has a tendency to cause internal frictions and conflicts which eventually impact the functioning of the University Vice-Chancellor.
No doubt, an iron hand is required to deal with elements found involved in academic and administrative indiscipline. The VC must ensure sustained focus of faculty, non-teaching staff and students on academics and research, alongside pushing their involvement in sports and extracurricular activities.
There has to be no room for any favouritism in selections to faculty and non-teaching staff. The evil of favouritism has to be nipped in the bud.
The last thing the new Vice-Chancellor can afford is to ignore the levels of expectations that the public have from her. She is not only the representative of women's valour in Kashmir now, but is also the representative of people's great expectations and hopes. Prof Nilofar will be evaluated eventually on the basis of her performance and the reforms that she brings in the University.
She has to prove everyone right, including the LG administration which has "given her a chance to serve the institution as its first woman VC", as she said in the University's official press release on the day of her joining. In its true essence, she has to lead and further break the glass ceiling for all women of Kashmir who will now aspire to become VCs after her appointment to the Kashmir University.
To conclude, the new Vice-Chancellor's time, as the saying goes, starts now!
Prof Nilofar Khan: A brief profile
Prof Nilofar has a teaching experience of more than 30 years and has served the Kashmir University’s corporate life in several important academic and administrative capacities, including Dean College Development Council, Registrar, Dean Faculty of Applied Science and Technology and Director Institute of Home Sciences. She also holds the distinction of being the first woman Dean Students Welfare of the University and Founder Director, Centre for Women’s Studies and Research.
Prof Nilofar has been a member of various important decision-making bodies of the University, including the University Council, University Syndicate (KU), University Syndicate (Jammu University), Academic Council, Finance Committee. She has also been chairperson of Students’ Grievance Committee KU and Co-Presiding Officer of Internal Compliance Committee of Central University of Kashmir, and Chairperson Internal Complaints Committee KU.
Having visited a number of countries abroad, Prof Nilofar has a vast exposure in the fields of academics and administration. In 2003, she visited several universities in the USA to study academics and the examination system under an international visitors’ programme.
She has also visited a number of universities and colleges in Australia, Malaysia, Sudan and UAE. Prof Nilofar has also supervised more than 20 PhD scholars, 09 M.Phil scholars while her publications have figured in several journals of national and international repute.