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GNLU needs student reps, more profs, better rules on grievance and VC: Madhava Menon report

A high-powered expert commission on GNLU Gandhinagar criticised director Prof Bimal Patel’s appointment to his present post, as well as his manner of penalising students at the law school.

NLSIU Bangalore’s founding vice chancellor NR Madhava Menon and former Law Commission of India member HC Dholakia submitted a 41-page draft report of GNLU’s first ever school review in January, suggesting changes to the “defective” appointment procedure for the law school’s head.

They also raised the law school’s faculty and administrative staff deficit, the policy of extracting heavy fines from students, lack of effective grievance redressal mechanisms for faculty and students, and examination rules.

The report, which also indicated that GNLU’s quality of education may not be commensurate with the fees collected from students, was not signed by the third member of the commission, former IIM Ahmedabad director Bakul Dholakia. It was first published by legal blog Stripped Law. [Full report available on scribd]

The commission sat three times – on 1 August 2012, 24 September 2012, and 7 to 9 January 2013 - and considered written faculty submissions, views expressed in two rounds of faculty meetings, a “voluminous memorandum of facts and opinions” signed by 450 GNLU students, and suggestions in meetings with the administrative staff.

Professorial void

While the law school’s sanctioned faculty strength was 65, including five professors, GNLU currently had only 35 faculty members including one professor who was promoted to the designation after March 2012.

The commission noted that this was a “sad situation” because management committees at the universities were being headed by assistant professors or associate professors “lacking requisite experience”.

It didn’t find it appropriate that senior academic positions such as that of dean of academic affairs or co-ordinator of research studies were held by assistant or associate professors.

The commission pointed out in its report that:

“the university certainly needs atleast half a dozen senior faculty members (Professors) to handle P.G. classes, supervise work of centres of studies, guide the research and training activities of the institution and assist the Director in administration.”

“If competent persons are not available for regular service, they may be engaged on contract for five years or more from among retired scholars or other scholars of eminence. This is an urgent necessity for GNLU to pick up speed in its academic development.”

It also pointed out that the law school’s chairman post was lying vacant and that the post of whole-time regular registrar was not yet filled.

Outstanding vice chancellor

Taking note of Regulation 9 of the GNLU Act, which provides that “the Director shall be an academic person and an outstanding scholar in law with published work of high quality to his credit”, the commission criticised the current selection procedure for filling the post at GNLU.

Currently, clause (4) of Regulation 8 of the Act gives GNLU’s executive council the power to override a statutory search committee’s recommendations for the post of the director and bring in their own choice. The commission wrote:

“This clause (4), in effect, nullifies the recommendations of the Search Committee and tends to defeat the very purpose of a search by an expert group. Further it provides for the appointment of a person whose name may not have been found fit by the Search Committee, or even rejected by the Search Committee. This provision – Clause (4) – in fact, makes a mockery of the provision for a Search Committee.”

Patel was appointed to his present post after GNLU’s executive council overrode the recommendations of a statutorily appointed director search committee, according to the minutes of an 11 September 2008 executive council meeting seen by Legally India.

Barred association

GNLU has prohibited students forming a student bar association and instead provides the following redressal mechanism, according to a note from Patel:

(a) Free access to Director and members of the faculty to seek redressal of grievances.

(b) An Appeal Council to provide a platform for staff members in case of an irregularity or contestable decision by any functionary of University.

(c) Mentorship by faculty members of students and regular mentor meets to address personal problems of students

The commission noted the existence of “communication gaps” between the students and the administration, and “apprehension of victimization” on voicing grievances on part of the students:

“An effective grievances redressal mechanism need to be set up, or the existing arrangement revamped, so as to inspire confidence amongst the students and the teachers, that their concerns will be effectively addressed by the administration.”

“Effective steps may be initiated to set up a Students Bar Association or a Representative Council and a Faculty Consultative Council so as to provide constructive outlet to ventilate the aspirations of the students and teachers.”

Policing school

The commission expressed a low view of the strict disciplinary measures and examination rules at the university, which it thought were unnecessary.

“Discipline is variously understood in universities. Fine, suspension, expulsion etc. are to be reserved for extreme situations which seldom happens in an elite law school aspiring world class status. Commanding attendance in class under threat of detention does not speak well of the quality of teaching.”

In later passages it added that “examination is a vexed issue which has already created some mistrust between teachers and students at GNLU. Therefore it needs immediate attention and necessary correction”, recommending a grading system instead of a marks-based system and teacher autonomy in regard to evaluation crieria for GNLU’s examination system.

Legally India had reported that five GNLU third year students had challenged its examination rules in the Gujarat High Court last year and that one student made a criminal complaint of atrocity against Patel after having been frisked and fined for possessing cigarettes.

Truly world class

While the commission praised the campus facilities at the university, it noted that GNLU could use a “policy of insisting on teachers living in the campus”.

“Already teachers are grudging that they are being compelled to stay on the campus for eight hours a day which they consider to be violative of UGC rules!! There is need for change of this attitude and teachers should voluntarily stay in the accommodation provided by the university.”

The commission did not find the need to conduct a detailed financial audit, given that it perceived no financial irregularities at GNLU.

However, the commission did note that “the per capita expenditure is fairly high compared to the expenditure on legal education elsewhere in the State”, with 1,200 students admitted to the law school seeing Rs 150 crore capital expenditure on infrastructure and Rs 12 crore annual current expenditure.

It wrote that 76 per cent of this expenditure was recovered from fees charge to students.

“This can be justified only in terms of high quality education offered comparable to the best in the circumstances. In other words, GNLU may sooner or later will be confronted with the issue of quality of instruction in relation to the quantity of fees collected,” concluded the report.

Patel did not respond to phone calls and messages seeking comment.

In 2012 a similar report on Nalsar Hyderabad also identified problems in college administration, while in 2009 Justice KT Thomas lambasted NLSIU Bangalore in a report for decreasing academic standards and students’ lifestyles.

Read full report on GNLU Gandhinagar here (scribd)

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