Naima Khatoon | Breaking the glass ceiling

The first woman Vice-Chancellor of AMU in a hundred years comes with rich experience in academia and administrative roles

Updated - April 28, 2024 11:57 am IST

Published - April 28, 2024 02:53 am IST

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Illustration: R. Rajesh

The appointment of Professor Naima Khatoon as the first woman Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) by President Droupadi Murmu has broken a hundred-year-old glass ceiling.

Ms. Khatoon, the principal of AMU Women’s College before the appointment, is seen as a level-headed team player who loves to delegate responsibility. Her colleagues see her as a progressive person who will uphold the secular character of the university and will find her way around the challenges that dot the campus.

To those who followed the long-drawn selection process, her appointment did not come as a surprise. Since Naima Akhtar, an alumna and senior staff at AMU, made it as the VC of Jamia Millia Islamia, there was a demand for a woman VC at AMU. From the time her name was proposed by the Executive Council, Ms. Khatoon was seen as a front-runner among the five candidates, including legal luminary Faizan Mustafa.

The move is being seen as the BJP government’s Muslim women outreach. In fact, the appointment letter was released from the Ministry of Education on the day when PM Narendra Modi addressed an election rally in Aligarh.

Ms. Khatoon took charge from her spouse professor Mohammad Gulrez, who was officiating as the Vice-Chancellor after the regular appointee Tariq Mansoor, who was on a one-year extension, retired in April 2023 and joined the ruling BJP.

Interestingly, the founding chancellor of the university, established in 1920, was Sultan Jahan, the Begum of Bhopal. Over the years, at least three alumnae of AMU went on to helm prestigious universities, including Neelima Gupta, the incumbent at Sagar University in Madhya Pradesh. However, it took more than 100 years for the AMU court to propose the name of a deserving woman for the coveted post. Old-timers say certain customs and the residential nature of AMU perhaps prevented a woman from getting the top post.

It is noteworthy that the concept of a woman VC is relatively new as the academia is also not free of patriarchy in the region. Bhim Rao Ambdekar University, popularly called Agra University, established in 1927, saw its first woman vice-chancellor in 2022. Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, established in 1965, currently has its full-time woman VC and Rohilkhand University, Bareilly, has yet to see a single full-time woman appointee.

Also read: Tracing the roots of Aligarh and its famous university, often hailed as a mini-India 

Ms. Khatoon, hailing from Odisha, came to Aligarh in 1977 after completing high school. “She stayed with us for a few days before shifting to the hostel. It was rare for an Odia girl to travel to shift to Aligarh for education those days,” retired AMU professor Kafeel Ahmed Qasmi, also from Odisha, recalls.

She completed her PhD in psychology from AMU. She was appointed a lecturer in the same department in 1988 and was elevated to professor in 2006. She continued being promoted in the department before being appointed the principal of the Women’s College in 2014.

‘A born leader’

Munira T., who has worked closely with Ms. Khatoon, describes her as a team person who has put her training in psychology to good use. “She understands the human psyche and has a knack for solving administrative problems without hurting the sentiments of contesting groups. A born leader, she was a student union leader in her college days and has served in numerous administrative positions,” she said. With the Model Code of Conduct in force, the communication from the Ministry said the Election Commission of India has allowed the government to go ahead with the appointment subject to the condition that “no publicity shall be there and no political mileage may be derived from it”. Therefore, Ms. Khatoon is not interacting with the media and the university has not issued a formal press release.

Meanwhile, different stakeholders are keen on the new VC putting an end to the culture of adhocism and removing unauthorised elements that have slipped into the residential hostels. Putting the democratic institutions such as the students’ union on track is another expectation from her. Ms. Khatoon is also facing a legal challenge as her candidature for the post was challenged in the Allahabad High Court because her name was shortlisted by a committee headed by Mr. Gulrez, her spouse. The next hearing in the case is on April 29. Mr. Gulrez has maintained that university rules were followed and that he and Ms. Khatoon should be seen as independent entities.

The Aligarh Muslim Teachers’ Association (AMUTA), which had earlier questioned the selection process, has acknowledged Ms. Khatoon’s appointment. In a letter, AMUTA’s honorary secretary Obaid Siddiqui hoped she would be fair, transparent, and impartial.

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