With the new VC of the Kashmir University (KU) starting off her three-year tenure amid huge expectations and a focus on empowerment of women, stake-holders are looking for more radical changes in areas of teaching, research, administration, infrastructure management and introduction of new courses so that the University progresses on the right track.
Some of these issues and concerns expressed by the stake-holders are reproduced here:
The new Vice-Chancellor must order an academic audit of all courses being offered by the University to determine their present relevance and future prospects.
If any of the courses has lost its relevance, the same can be remodeled vis-à-vis curriculum to make it relevant with the current trends in academia.
No university can afford to have courses which are archaic, except for the traditional ones which build the fundamentals of students like Physics, Chemistry, English, Political Science and Sociology etc.
New courses being introduced in the University must be society-driven, market-driven and should define clearly their relevance 20 years from now vis-à-vis employability of the aspirants and social impact.
The University has previously launched several courses where, if their present situation is evaluated in an unbiased manner, the students are only suffering for want of faculty, facilities and infrastructure.
Such courses have largely been introduced on personal considerations of few academicians to help accommodate their personal acquaintances at the expense of other students who have a bleak future to stare at.
It would be the biggest contribution of the new VC if current courses are evaluated, and future ones are introduced with a clearly-defined roadmap.
Moreover, satellite campuses need special attention and can be converted into fully-specialized campuses so that students from Srinagar and other parts of J&K are offered courses in satellite campuses which are not offered in the Main Campus.
Even if some courses need to be relocated to meet this goal, the same should be done.
It is good that the University continues to create more infrastructure for its faculty, students, hostel boarders and other non-teaching staff. However, the new VC is duty-bound, both morally and professionally, to have an infrastructure audit done for optimal and right use of the University infrastructure.
There are several departments in the University which are doing quite well but are suffering for want of space for its students and faculty. Some departments like Nanotechnology, Social Work, Anthropology and others are operating from dingy accommodations and need better infrastructure to grow.
The present new infrastructure coming up in the University therefore must be appropriately utilized to meet the requirements of departments that badly need space to provide education to students in the right environment.
A high-level committee can be constituted to determine right utilization of new infrastructure so that future requirements of departments are met at this stage only.
The University cannot go about constructing buildings endlessly because the same is not in sync with the environment of the University Campus which was once known in the world for its pristine beauty.
Ugly constructions can only turn the university into a concrete jungle where there may be no space for students to breathe. Compartmentalizing University with brick walls will only take sheen off its beautiful landscape which is already shrinking.
Common Policy for HODs/Directors
Professors in the University of Kashmir have largely preferred to stay away from classes to lobby for administrative positions particularly those involving official vehicles and a sense of babudom.
This has deprived students of the expertise of Professors who have outsourced their job of teaching to contractual lecturers who are not even paid half of the basic salary of Professors.
The new VC must crack whip on this kind of a bad practice and see to it that all teachers assigned administrative positions do not stop teaching in their departments since these administrative positions are handed over to them in addition to their own routine duties.
In some departments, the situation is such that there are more contractual lecturers visible despite permanent teachers in place.
These teachers have been demanding increasing their retirement age from 62 years to 65 years. The argument given is that this will help retain expertise of professors in the departments.
However, if professors don’t attend their classes to offer their expertise to students, how can increasing the retirement age help achieve this cause?
The new VC has already made some changes and has given additional charge to some HODs like HOD Sociology who has been made new Dean Students Welfare and HOD Hindi who has been made Provost Girls Hostels.
This must not be at the expense of the primary job of teaching by these academicians. There should be a uniform policy in this regard that all teachers getting additional charges should not dispense with their teaching jobs.
Furthermore, the rotation policy of three years for each HOD/Director should be strictly implemented in all cases, at all levels. There are some In-Charge Directors who continue in their present positions for as many as six consecutive years.
This not only looks like a violation of well-established policy but also smacks of favouritism in case of few blue-eyed persons which sends a wrong signal about the administration’s intent and functioning.
The new VC should order a uniform policy in this regard to give a chance to new people to assume leadership roles.
If an academic institution like KU cannot become a role model of transparency for all government departments, autonomous institutions and society at large, then it may be failing in its duty.
Therefore the new VC’s mantra should be to follow the principle of complete transparency. The rules to be followed have to be the same for all, rather than vary from face to face, individual to individual.
All have to be treated equally. In this regard, the University must have a very transparent policy of recruitments, promotions and procurements etc.
Every transaction that the University makes, every order that it issues, every proposal that it moots should be available in public domain on the University website for all external stakeholders to see.
This proactive disclosure by the University can be well appreciated by the civil society and can become a guiding principle for all other institutions to follow.
There have been instances in the past when orders related to appointment of people to top positions have not been shared with the internal stakeholders like HODs, let alone the external public.
This puts a big question mark on the transparency claims of the University.
Furthermore, many news reports have suggested that several investigating agencies like ACB and Crime Branch visit the University daily related to complaints of varied nature like alleged possession of fake degrees by some officials, DOB issues, violation of rules and regulations etc.
This does not augur well for the University’s image and reputation in the public. After this even if the University brags about its rankings and grades, it would mean little for the public when they lose their trust in the institution’s credibility and sanctity.
The new VC must see to it that all dealings in the University are done in a fair manner in adherence to all norms and rules so that it has minimum complaints and RTI applications.
If sources in the University are to be believed, there are more RTI applications made in the University than any other institution in J&K. This should be a cause of concern for the new VC.
Grievance Redressal Mechanism
The new VC of the University must listen to grievances of faculty members and students with an open mind. If the university’s VC does not listen to grievances, it will only make people look for ‘justice’ outside the University system by going to press/media with their pleas.
This can further dent the University’s image and reputation in the eyes of the public and give an impression that there is no grievance redressal mechanism in the University where people could voice their concerns.
The new VC must give ample space to the faculty to voice their concerns because she has already promised to “take everyone along” in her mission to “take the University to new heights of academic excellence.”
Not listening to people can agitate many and create more internal conflicts which can become a big headache for the new VC to address at a later stage.
In her first interview to the media, Prof. Neelofar Khan said “even trees of Kashmir University know me”.
She was referring to her long stint at the University where she has served in important positions in more than three decades of her illustrious career.
Since she is a VC from “within” the system, it is expected that she doesn’t require much guidance on what is wrong in the system and where.
It is expected that if each tree in the University knows her, the VC in turn is expected to know each such tree.
A lot of focus has been put on women empowerment in the University where some female academicians have already got some lead roles like that of DSW which is a central organ of the University system.
More proactive and radical measures must be taken without any delay to promote transparency, accountability, fair practices, common policies and unbiased approach in all matters so that University’s image is not further spoiled.
A good team of credible administrators can make this happen. Public may not give the new VC much time to show results because she comes from inside the system, and is not an outsider VC who may take six months to settle and then get going.
Needless to say that Prof. Neelofar Khan is being looked at by the whole society with great expectations.