A. Jayakrishnan, who is demitting office as the Vice-Chancellor of University of Kerala on December 14, says a university requires a good Syndicate and a good Academic Council.
He takes pride in being an idealist. A. Jayakrishnan says every university should ideally be headed by one. The outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kerala sums up his achievements and the difficulties he faced during his four-year term in this talk with The Hindu-EducationPlus. Excerpts:
When you assumed office four years ago, you came across to many as an idealist. There were at least some who wondered if you would be practical enough to run the University of Kerala. How much has this idealism been bruised, dented or, perhaps, even compromised by the realpolitik of governing the university?
I don’t think my idealism has been dented, bruised or compromised in any fashion. The man sitting at the top has to be an idealist; in terms of his perception about life, perception about education, perception about values, ethics, morals and everything. I think I have lived up to my conscience. I have no regrets about the past four years. I am leaving with a contented heart.
It was at a very difficult time for the university that I took over. I was told there was no one willing to come as Vice-Chancellor at that time. I often say I came here because of my ignorance and innocence. The lesson that the university taught me is that if you compromise on your ideals and idealism, you cannot accomplish anything. I stood firm by the ideals and eventually I was appreciated for that. I never did any surreptitiously. Openness was my greatest strength.
How would you say the university changed under you? In other words, what are your signature achievements?
My most significant achievement was the introduction of the School system in the university. This was talked about in the vision document of 2000. Successive vice-chancellors had not been able to push it through the various statutory bodies for reasons best known to them.
I understood that the top-down approach would not work here. We are too democratic over here. So the approach I took was a bottom-up approach. That really worked.
The School system was passed in a stormy session of the Senate wherein there came an adjournment motion. Amid the bedlam, I announced that all official items had been passed and that the Senate was being adjourned sine die.
Another major achievement was the headship rotation. This was being discussed for many years. Some department heads had been occupying that post for 25, 30 years. That was not a nice thing. Many people didn’t want this. There were many court cases we won. During my tenure, all postgraduate and undergraduate admissions were brought to a single-window system. This was an onerous task. But now those admissions are virtually paperless affairs.
When I came, no examinations were computerised, except in the case of some B.Tech. papers. Now I leave on a happy note that 90 per cent of our examinations are computerised. All postgraduate examinations are fully computerised, as are the undergraduate examinations. All restructured course examinations are computerised. For the past three years, all eighth semester B.Tech. results have been published ahead of other universities.
In an honest, self-appraisal mode, what were the things that you tried to do, but failed?
One such thing I admit is that though we have computerised the examinations, the undue delay in the declaration of results bothers me. There is delay in getting papers valued, marks tabulated … Though we have a timetable, each time we try to do things right there are forces — which even a vice-chancellor cannot control — which prevent the publication of results on time. I have no control over teaching and valuing answer papers, over the valuation camps… there are allegations that people don’t come to the camp on time, valuations being done in a not-so-scrupulous manner…
We get one too many requests for revaluation and there are substantial difference in marks. That worries me.
How far do you think you have been successful in raising the standards of teaching and research in the university?
Teaching and research in State-run universities has seen an exponential decay over the past 50 years. So standards-related problems are not unique to this university.
The quality of teachers being appointed to State universities needs to be looked into seriously. In the University of Kerala, we have 250 or so faculty positions. But hardly 100 posts are occupied right now. I was able to fill 50 teaching posts which I consider one of my greatest achievements.
A teacher coming into a class should be a celebration. The bad teacher instructs, the good teacher explains and the excellent teacher always inspires. This transforms minds, society and the nation. There are committed teachers in the University of Kerala, but their numbers are miniscule. There are umpteen complaints coming to me about teachers not attending class and even about teachers being downright abusive. For the posts I filled, I tried to get the right minds. The government should be liberal in filling teacher posts. You don’t appoint a sub-inspector on contract, do you?
Universities should offer undergraduate courses, Honours programmes. The best minds will then get exposure to research work and if then they go on to an integrated Master’s programme, the standards of learning and research will go up.
We produce one thesis too many; more than 200 a year. The quality of these theses should be subjected to a study. This is particularly true in social sciences and in the languages. There is rampant plagiarism.
You have often fought bitter battles with statutory bodies. Have you ever wished that there was a different governance system for universities?
The Syndicate is too large a body. Fifteen to 20 members would do; elected members should be there. The Senate can be done away with. In this university, this is the supreme body, in the Cochin University of Science and Technology, it has only an advisory role. Only the best academics should come to the Academic Council. A good Syndicate and a good Academic Council would do. The University of Pennsylvania has a governing council of 30-35 people. It is the seventh best university in the U.S. We should study how good universities are run and adopt their practices.
Caste and community considerations often play a paramount role in the selection of vice-chancellors. Do you think there need to be another way of selecting vice-chancellors?
In the U.S., the university has a say in who becomes its president. The hunt for a university president sometimes goes on for a year. The departments have a say. The academic council should have a say in appointing a Vice-Chancellor.
The present three-member search committee system should be done away with. There should be no extraneous considerations for selection. A good academic would be a good administrator.
What do you plan to do now?
I had co-authored science papers every year I was Vice-Chancellor. I have never lost touch with my science. I would go back to IIT, Madras.