Panjab University vice-chancellor Arun Kumar Grover spoke about his priorities and challenges as he visited the Hindustan Times office at SAS Nagar for a question-answer session, 'Unplugged@HT Live', on Thursday. Already eight months into his term of three years, Grover asserted that he wished to accomplish most of the targets he had set for himself during the tenure. Since he has studied on taxpayers' money as a research student, he now wishes to pay back to society near the end of his professional career.
Q What are your three main priorities, and what is the timeframe you have set to accomplish them?
V-C: My main priorities as PU V-C include inducting new faculty at the earliest; introducing honours graduate schools, which means re-engineering the PU academic set-up; and ensuring that students enroll for these graduate schools. My aim is to accomplish the maximum possible during my stay here.
Q: What do you feel are the challenges for you as V-C, and how do you plan to overcome them?
V-C: When I joined as the V-C, I felt that people had lost confidence and didn't believe in their capabilities. The main challenge ahead is to grow strong enough against the competitors, which, for PU, are central universities. We need to have high-quality research, integrated courses and also quality faculty. We cannot afford to lag behind. We can't hope for a miracle, but nothing at all will happen if we don't make a start. We have to got going and have a positive approach.
Q: Do bodies like the senate and syndicate serve any purpose, or do these bodies consist of people with self-motives only?
V-C: I don't want to get rid of them. We have a lot of learned people in both the bodies. Though there are hiccups and differences of opinion, I have to work in coordination with both bodies and demonstrate that I can get things done by working with them. I am also in favour of student council members getting a place in the senate, and have shown them the way. I am in no hurry; I don't get perturbed.
Q: What do you have to say on the faculty crunch being faced by PU?
V-C: I agree that there is a faculty crunch; we have about 400 vacant positions. The UGC (University Grants Commission) comes up with different recommendations which act as spanner, but we are trying. Now have a self-set deadline of three months to fill up the posts in any particular advertisement.
Q: Is there a financial crunch being faced by the varsity, such that it has to take loans to pay salaries?
V-C: PU is not facing a financial crisis more serious that that being faced by any other university. The MHRD (union ministry of human resource development) has informed us that they are working on getting a proposal passed wherein PU will come under the Centre and the varsity will even get non-plan grant. We will be a unique institute then -- though we will not be a central university, we will be treated like one. Grant or no grant from the Punjab government will not affect us.
Q: What do you have to say about your predecessor RC Sobti? What are his achievements?
V-C: Prof Sobti did a lot of good work. He was engaged in a lot of construction work, and as a result we have good buildings. If we want to become a centre of excellence, we need good infrastructure.
Q: What is the difference between students in your time and students now?
V-C: During my time, the varsity was a sleepy place. It's much livelier now with so many students. We have a lot of academically serious students coming to the varsity now, and even the number of girl students has increased manifold. As of now, we have around 50% women students. Among research students, 60% are women.
Q: PU did approve a teachers' evaluation by students, but in a very diluted form. Now, no one teacher will be held accountable in case of adverse feedback. What do you say about that?
V-C: The teachers' evaluation has been put in place for the sole purpose of getting feedback from students. There was so much resentment, but we have at least been able to put it in place, even if in a diluted form. With time, we will make other modifications. It was important to get it started, which we have done.
Q: What do you have to say about the security of women at PU, and do you think authorities are right in calling the police on to the campus at the drop of a hat?
V-C: Recently, an untoward incident of drunken girl happened. The girl is repentant and we should be giving her a chance. But we have now decided to have two women security officers at PU. As for calling the police on campus, why not? PU is not outside the social fabric, so why make an issue out of it? Once we have these women officials with security background, the next step will be to have permanent security picket on campus.
Q: Have teachers ceased to be role models for students? There are incidents of students misbehaving and even getting violent with teachers?
V-C: I believe that issues can be resolved only with dialogue and we have made committees to inquire into each incident. The link between teachers and students has weakened, but definitely not broken. We can still work on it and improve. I don't want to have kangaroo justice. Till the time we are seen to be transparent, things can improve.
Q: PU regional centres are in a bad shape with no proper infrastructure and are running with the help of guest faculty. How do you intend to streamline this?
VC: I agree that there are issues with the regional centres and we have started working on them. We have already advertised the post of a permanent director for the centre at Hoshiarpur. On that model, we also need a fulltime director for Ludhiana. As far as Muktsar is concerned, the infrastructure is in a very bad condition; there is no land available. We are talking to the Punjab chief secretary and the chief minister's secretary for land allotment in close proximity to where the centre is. The problem at other centres is of faculty. Faculty will be inducted in these centres year after year.
Q: There is a blanket court stay on appointments in PU's affiliated colleges because of which academic work is suffering. How do you propose to handle that issue?
VC: We have decided to visit Punjab's principal secretary concerned to discuss this issue. This should be of concern to the state government to promote higher education through affiliated colleges. The state is dragging its feet and, though it has opened constituent colleges, it is paying no attention towards existing affiliated colleges. If the state is doing this on purpose, it will backfire in their face. It is a serious policy matter about which Punjab government should be worried.
Q: Is sports among your priorities?
V-C: Sports is an integral part of our education system. The region has a large representation of youth in the army, and for that physical fitness is required. As V-C, sports is a priority for me.
Q: What about the performance of the university in sports, or winning the MAKA Trophy (named after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, it's the country's highest award for universities in sports)?
V-C: I recently asked for the data of PU's performance in sports in the past 10 years, and found that we won the MAKA Trophy only once. Our overall ranking in the country has dropped from second to third; and we are fourth since the last three years. It's an alarming situation, but things are moving in right direction. I want the top position back.