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JNU V-C Jagadesh Kumar: Can engineers effectively head a largely social sciences university?

Kumar, an IIT Madras-educated engineer, is facing student and faculty demands for his resignation following the attack on students protesting fee hike.

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JNU Vice-Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar, an IIT Madras-educated engineer, is facing student and faculty demands for his resignation following the attack on students protesting fee hike. Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh has said there can be no dialogue until he is removed from his position. Former HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi also said that Kumar should not be allowed to continue.

ThePrint asks: JNU V-C Jagadesh Kumar: Can engineers effectively head a largely social sciences university?

Jagadesh Kumar is a technocrat who refuses to toe the line of Left. That’s why campus is on boil

Sangit Ragi
Department of Political Science, University of Delhi

One of the leading universities of India, JNU has been on the boil for the last three-and-a-half years ever since M. Jagadesh Kumar has taken over charge as Vice-Chancellor. The sole reason is that Kumar happens to be a technocrat and has refused to toe the line of the Left in the campus and allowed non-Left intellectuals into the university. He also changed certain practices in faculty admission and appointment, which had been used for nurturing the dominance of the Left.

This has annoyed the Left and made them take to the streets and disrupt academic activities in the garb of democratic protests. No democratic protest permits physical violence and use of abusive language. But Left-leaning students often do so against Right-leaning teachers. Last year, students allegedly confined deputy dean Vandana Mishra in a classroom for 29 hours, and obstructed an ambulance when professor Umesh Kadam fell sick with high blood pressure.

This time, the violence started because the Left-leaning students manhandled and forcibly prevented students from registering for the semester. They also disrupted the functioning of the information system.

JNU is certainly an excellent institution but, it is equally true that it is a breeding ground of intellectual and political comrades who have pathological hate towards the Right and are fashionably opposed to the state and the market. So, they oppose the Modi government in general and the JNU dispensation, in particular. They will keep digging for issues in future too, after the current one is resolved.

JNU-VC’s real shortcoming is his inability to hold dialogues, not that he is an engineer

Manisha Priyam
Political analyst, researcher and academic

JNU V-C M. Jagadesh Kumar has failed in his responsibility to lead a large campus in a collegial manner. Academic leadership around the world comes with its challenges – the young have ideas, they believe and argue about their positions, and challenge hierarchies. It is not unusual for students to protest on issues that matter to them, as also on wider political situations.

The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley challenged America’s racial bias and its involvement in Vietnam War. University of California Chancellor Edward Strong resigned on account of his inability to handle student protests. The police arrested 800 students. Meyerson, who replaced Strong, was a town planner with a science background like Jagadesh Kumar. But he was able to talk to students and defuse the situation.

So, the real shortcoming of Kumar is not that he is an engineer, but his inability to hold dialogues with the students, even more so with the faculty who are his colleagues. In this din, I have not heard him say that he will meet his colleague, professor Sucharita Sen, an eminent scholar who was injured by lathi-wielding outsiders.

Disciplines and predilections for enlightened thoughts do not necessarily foster liberal views and behaviour

Dinesh Singh | TwitterDinesh Singh
Former V-C, University of Delhi

Implicit in the question is the inference that discipline limits an individual’s mindset. The debunking of such a notion is necessary and important not just for the well-being of the higher education institutions, but also to set right the image that such a question engenders of a true engineer.

Ironically, the question seems to betray a kind of superciliousness towards the broad and noble realm of human endeavour for which the catch-all term is ‘engineering’. I have seen some of the most enlightened of human thoughts emanate from the minds of outstanding mathematicians such as G.H. Hardy, and I have also seen some of the vilest of views emanate from outstanding mathematicians such as P.J. Teichmuller and L.G. Bieberbach who were avowed Nazis.

It is, therefore, important to acknowledge that disciplines and predilections for the so-called enlightened realms of human thought do not necessarily foster liberal and enlightened views and behavior. Hansa Jivraj Mehta, with a background in sociology and philosophy, inspired some of India’s leading young scientists to join the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda during her outstanding tenure as its Vice-Chancellor. So could the eminent mathematician U.N. Singh during his distinguished stewardship of Allahabad University. (Full disclosure: I happen to be his son).

Let us also not forget that Hitler displayed fine and sensitive taste in music. His favourite composers were Beethoven and Wagner. Did that help make him a better human being or a great leader?

So, my response to the question is resoundingly in the affirmative.

One expects an IIT prof to possess scientific reasoning ability. Jagadesh Kumar seems to be an exception

Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi
Social historian, teaches History and Humanities at Krea University

In theory, an engineering background shouldn’t be a shortcoming in the ability to administer a university, particularly for an IIT professor, with exposure to best practices at international research and education institutions. However, professor Jagadesh Kumar has single-handedly succeeded in making us question this theoretical premise. His singular inability to understand either the nature of academic activity or the civic culture of the university he was tasked to lead, the Jawaharlal Nehru University, is truly baffling.

Nothing demonstrates Jagadesh Kumar’s failure more than the ridiculous idea he had in order to inculcate patriotism among JNU students: he planned to display an Indian Army tank in a prominent location in the university campus. He didn’t comprehend how in the classrooms of the School of Social Sciences, teachers and students debated and questioned the very idea of patriotism that he wanted to foster. Perhaps, a political actor wouldn’t understand that nothing is sacred and beyond questioning in these classrooms. But the Vice-Chancellor of JNU should know that it is only through rigorous inquisition of ideas and discourses that new knowledge is produced.

Jagadesh Kumar’s inability to perceive this simple truth coupled with his failure to realise the nature of student politics of JNU has had tragic consequences for that university. He has caused a precipitous decline of the finest Indian university, public or private.

Whether professor Kumar’s limitations are attributable only to his engineering background is debatable. One expects an IIT professor to possess scientific reasoning ability and understand the necessity of academic autonomy. Jagadesh Kumar seems to be an exception.

Also read: JNU violence: Student bodies turning as intolerant, confrontational as national politics?

By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint

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  1. He is a bad administrator and seems like a callous person. Nothing else – his background, experience etc helps even a bit.

  2. One can either be a RSS ideologist or an intellectual, not both.
    Earlier times, they could but not now. When their bosses prevent them.

  3. Jagadesh Kumar the V.C. of JNU if human should have consoled the injured students in hospital and thereafter. At first should have called the police to avoid the bloodshed in advance. Secondly should have stood by the side of the JNU students and demanded a fair probe against the culprits. We all know that Universities are among the best and top places of academics and initial level of Politics is learned during the students election councils leading to a wider platform of being a regular politician. Many examples are available wherein stalwarts from various political parties were student leaders of their times. The Vice chancellor has simply played into the hands of the Govt. and left loose his students to suffer the brutality of the criminals who roamed freely for hours putting up a huge show of strength without fearing the law. Do they think the law is abolished for them and copyright is given to display their brutal version on students protesting peacefully within the perimeter of the University Campus. The V.C. has shown extremely low profile of his chair and hence faced criticism from all corners. Whoever commits violence and tampers the public property should be taken on account, instead the Student Union president Aishe who suffered 15 stiches on her head is awarded FIR on her name as culprit. The V.C. even after 6 days for the event could not gather the courage to face the students who finally demanded his resignation and in case this happens, it would be disgraceful to him. The V..C. remains a chief custodian for the students of the University to protect his/her life and future and overhear he seems little bother to even listen to the cause of the masses gathered in the University to agitate the Fees hike. Was it so difficult for the V.C. to talk to the students, finally he was appointed to do his job is securing the students future. Hence it would be fair if he is allowed or even forced out of the chair.

  4. Just do not hold elections in the Universities. i do not understand why we have such university elections and unions. Student unions are causing all this problem. They are fully politically aligned.

  5. Is the VC responsible for the present crisis in JNU? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because it appears to have no communication with the various students’ groups in the university. Although digital and internet communication can be a useful tool, it cannot substitute face to face, real life interaction. A technocrat may not understand this vital difference. Thus it seems that managing a complex scenario in JNU was beyond the capabilities of this technocrat. However, the answer could also be no, as JNU has become hotbed of political fight between the Left and the Sangh Pariwar. The blame for the latest incidence of violence has to be shared by both. Both are equally guilty, as violent means are not anathema to both of them and this is not the first time that the JNU is witnessing such a ghastly scenario. Therefore, to manage the affairs of this University appear to be beyond the capabilities of not just the present VC, but just any other educationist. Yes, JNU specialises in Social Sciences and produces mainly bureaucrats and a few political leaders. It has hardly any significant contribution towards Science & Technology. This being the nature of the Institution, political confrontations, scuffles, hot debates, unrest, morchas, protests, rallies and processions is a normal feature in this institution. Perhaps a retired political leader acceptable to all the political parties could manage this institution.

  6. One would not hold the VC’s engineering background against him. Although it may have been better to have had an academic who had distinguished himself in the humanities. He has been tested, and found wanting on so many parameters. He should have been a better communicator, accessible to faculty and students. On an issue that bothered so many students, a sincere effort to both convince and be convinced. Personally I think it is a travesty that positions of such eminence are being bestowed upon undeserving ideological fellow travellers. 2. If he blocked the police from entering the campus and either preventing or nipping in the bud the assault, that is a cross he will have to bear for the rest of his life.

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