Fall from glory: teacher holds up a mirror to India’s oldest law college

Prof. Pithawalla, who has been teaching at the GLC for 46 years, says lax attendance, poorly-paid teachers are among its sore spots

October 02, 2018 12:31 am | Updated 12:31 am IST - Mumbai

 Homer Pithawalla.

Homer Pithawalla.

Prof. Homer Pithawalla has been witness to the peaks and troughs at one of Mumbai’s iconic institutions, the Government Law College (GLC). As a teacher at the GLC, Asia’s oldest law school, for over four decades — 46 years to be precise — Prof. Pithawalla (72), says the most heartening thing for him is that many of his students have become High Court and Supreme Court judges. What saddens him is that the functioning of the institute has deteriorated over the decades. Prof. Pithawalla is a solicitor and an advocate at the Bombay High Court (BHC) and has practised competition law at New Delhi. But his love for teaching trumps everything else. He enjoys going back to the classroom every morning to see faces eager to learn.

The GLC, established in 1855 has “three masters”, says Prof. Pithawalla: the State government, the University of Mumbai (MU) and the Bar Council of India. “Sadly, I have seen the college standard deteriorating.” He talks to The Hindu about how the university keeps coming up with ways to change legal education, its flawed online marking system, the new 60-40 rule and the possibility of having cluster universities.

What ails GLC?

The biggest problem is the falling levels of attendance. Once upon a time we used to tell people that if you can’t attend lectures then don’t come to GLC. Now, everyone sadly seems to feel that GLC is the place where you need not attend lectures. This change of reputation is harming the oldest law college. This college counts Babasaheb Ambedkar, Lokmanya Tilak, Nani Palkhiwala and Chief Justices of India among its alumni, but for how long can you hold on to the past? For approximately 10 years, every principal has held office for a few months, and there is no continuity. On three occasions, we had temporary principals who had no law degree and this is unimaginable; that ought not to have happened at the country’s oldest law school.

Someone once told me the college reminds him of an orphan. There is not one person at GLC who will take the credit for all the good things and responsibility for all the not-so-good things. My hopes were raised when four eminent persons who had studied at the GLC: former President of India Pratibha Patil, former Attorney General of India G.E. Vahanvati, Maharashtra’s former Higher and Technical Education Minister Dilip Walse Patil and former Advocate General at the BHC Ravi Kadam were in office together and could do something about their alma mater. But nothing happened.

What can be done to change things?

GLC was and is running on part-time professors who teach and go away to their offices. As per the recent changes, there are only seven part-time professors who are now adjunct professors, and the rest are appointed on a clock-hour basis, which pays them ₹250 per hour. A good lawyer makes ₹25,000 or more in an hour. That is why it is difficult to get good people to teach.

I was earning ₹800 per month after teaching for 35 years. Later, and until recently, part-time professors were paid ₹12,000 a month. One must remember that our professors don’t teach for the money; in fact, they spend more than they are paid. So unless you pay better, you won’t get good professors.

What is MU doing to improve the situation?

The university came up with correcting exam sheets online. So, once the student has written the exam, the answer sheet is scanned and put on the computer for it to be corrected. There have been instances when out of 40 pages of the written supplement, only 36 or 38 were scanned. Then some professors were unable to read the answer sheets as there is a choice to answer them in Marathi. When some students take more than one booklet, the system gets confused because the first booklet has a certain bar code while the second one has another bar code, so it marks the student on the basis of only one supplement. The papers are lost in cyber space and students have to keep going to the university’s Kalina campus to fix this.

This system was supposed to make marking quicker but because of this, results are abnormally delayed. The vice-chancellor who introduced this had to go, but the system continues. The only change the university made is that it restricted this to the last year, which is the most important year.

What about the other things done by MU?

They have now come up with the 60-40 system, which means the college gives 40 marks to the student while 60 marks are for the written examination. This is a good system but cannot work in law colleges; 40 marks have to be given for class participation, attendance and assignments, but part-time professors don’t have the time to do this.

Will cluster colleges work?

I don’t think Elphinstone College, GLC and Institute of Science will ever be brought together. The implications would possibly only mean getting academic autonomy but not financial autonomy, as the college will still be under the State government. Instead, the National Law College and Government Law College could have been combined together. The State government should give top priority to education.

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