Is Kashmir University’s New VC a ‘Messiah’ for Students?

By Gazi Muzamil

“INDEED, after darkness cometh light”, a friend told me as we finished the Human Rights class and walked out of the classroom. He made this remark in reference to the dark phase that he witnessed as a student at the University of Kashmir.

Soon after we poured into the lawns of the University, where one-and-all had gathered to discuss the appointment of its first woman Vice-Chancellor Professor Neelofar Khan. The pulse on the campus was dicey. Some had a critical pessimism and others braved a logical hope. All-in-all, Raj Bhawan’s appointment circular had injected a new news for dissection in the student’s community.

Those disappointed by the decision were of the opinion that Professor Neelofar was already part of the system that buckled them for years and they can’t put any hope on a person who is very known and dear to the already faulty system. Those opposed to this narrative felt that as an insider, she knew the rotten system within the administration block and would urgently mitigate student’s issues to put the University back on track.

Being a university insider, I cannot help but vacillate between hope and despair about the appointment.

Professor Khan is a distinguished academic and administrator with an educational expertise of about 30 years. She had served the University in important academic and administrative capacities including Dean College Development Council, Chief Registrar, Dean Faculty of Applied Science & Technology, Dean Students Welfare, Founder Director of Centre for Women’s Studies and Research and Director Institute of Home Sciences. In addition, she has been a member of various important decision-making bodies of the University.

While it is premature to pass a verdict on her still incipient role as a VC, shadows of doubts are already setting in within campus circles. However, many from the student community are still rooting for her to undo the damage that was done by the previous VC.

Professor Neelofar had started with setting the record straight in favour of the students. Reiterating her awareness of student’s issues, in her first statements as VC, she had said that students are very close to her heart and that their welfare would be among her top priorities. Infact, in her first interaction with the Class Representatives from all campuses of the university including its main campus at Gandhi Bhawan, she vowed that “my doors will be always open for students”.

This was the university’s first student engagement since 2017. Expectedly so, the student community was buoyant and spirited about it. However, the interaction was anticlimactic and discomfitingly familiar to the older order. CRs from different university campuses and departments were not allowed to present their suggestions, grievances or issues they face. Prof Neelofar directed that she would take only ten brief questions among a full packed hall of students.

This was the first impression students got about their VC.

The institutional power resides in its students. They are the institute’s high-profile ambassadors. Stakeholder reputation, prestige and perceptions of the University have declined significantly over the past decade. It can be determined by the fact that a student in enrolment or even an employee, if asked, will never vouch for the University.

Of the many problems that the University student’s have faced, one stands out. This is the much-talked-about arbitrary closure of 24×7 Reading Room Facilities that the University was providing to its students. This happened following the August of abrogation in 2019. This has diminished reading culture and affected the academic environment of the University. Even after the Reading Room was opened for students following backlash, the open hours are inconducive. It is open for a limited amount of time and is closed on holidays – when students need it the most. Even local and national papers have been out of sight at the Allama Iqbal Library since August 2019.

The faulty examination system that results in delayed degrees needs to be addressed. Results are not uploaded on time. Examinations are not held as per schedule. Never in the history of academics of KU was the academic calendar followed in letter and spirit. The Examination wing needs necessary technological interventions to cope with the delivery of student services within time.

After receiving A+ grade from the NAAC accreditation in 2019, students were hopeful that education would become cheaper, if not free, as the varsity would receive more grants from the central government. Instead of reducing the amount of examination and semester fee, KU has hiked it in many cases even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. As a public university, this too puts the reputation of the university at stake.

This isn’t where the plight of students ends. The University is quite expensive for students. The main campus which is home to tens of thousands of students coming from different social and economic backgrounds across Jammu & Kashmir, don’t find anything good to eat except Paratha inside the campus during the university hours. Everyone can’t afford a good meal but everyone deserves a balanced meal. The lavish Canteens in the campus offer few meals at costlier rates which is unaffordable for the larger section of students. The University must understand that canteens, cafes and Dhabas must be directed to adopt a healthy menu chart at subsidised rates.

Additionally, as the soul of the campus, students need to have a system to democratically organise and feel empowered. The concept of Student Activism or Student Politics has been injured, discredited and disrespected to a greater extent for many years now. Its revival inside the campus is incumbent. It is ignorant on the part of the academic-administrator to deem any union of students perverse for the university. Why make an enemy out of the students?

Student unions represent the voice of the student community. This instils in them the spirit to lead. A lack of it might account for the institute’s failure to produce visionary leaders.

There’s a red tape culture in the University which has created bureaucrats out of academics. The VC often mistakes himself a bureaucrat as soon as he receives the guard of honour from men in uniform. VCs should know that they are experts in academics and should think, act, behave and deal like academicians, not like bureaucrats.

Additionally, there should be checks and balances on the amount of money a department is utilising. That utilisation shall be put on public domain. Let every student know where their money goes.

Prof Neelofar should work impartially, independently and with integrity to achieve goals in a student-friendly environment. Her team at the New Administrative Block will be working with her. She has the power to dictate to its staff, not the other way around.

The student community is pinning its hopes on the VC. We expect her to have cordial student relations that are the precursors for achieving the goals she had set in place before her. She should be the resilient hope of students which she considers are the most important stakeholders in the University system. There should be hassle free access to her office. The so-called colonial protocols and procedures for a mere appointment must be stopped. She should listen to the students and seek their valuable suggestions on how both can together march in their journey towards academic excellence in its true sense.

It is she who will decide whether her name will be fondly embossed on the precious walls of the university and on the deeper memory of students or be among those who did nothing but ‘events’ in the past four years. The ball lies in her court. She has to decide whether she will carry the legacy of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement, negligence and administrative highhandedness in the university or take the university to its new heights.

Her tenure as VC will determine the fate of KU’s academic and administrative excellence which, on the whole, was lost during the previous VC’s tenure.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a Law Student at School of Law, Kashmir University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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