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This article, like many others, was first published exclusively for long-term supporters, 2 hours before everyone else got to read it.

NK Chakrabarti interviewed: As NUJS seeks 16 new (maybe young) faculty, VC hopes to undo NIRF rank drop with focus on research, infra

Although NUJS had dropped a spot in NIRF: Its VC has taken note.

First hires under new VC era of Prof NK Chakrabarti
First hires under new VC era of Prof NK Chakrabarti

NUJS Kolkata has put out a notice for 16 permanent new professors (including three full professors and three associate professors), is looking to fill two chair professorship positions in addition to one guest faculty role open to local former judges, making this potentially the first permanent recruitment drive in Salt Lake at least since 2017 and the largest in even long.

They are also the first potential hires under new(ish) vice-chancellor (VC) Prof Nirmal Kanti Chakrabarti.

We reached out to Chakrabarti for comment about the recruitments, and he said that the executive council (EC) had signed off on this call for applicants around December of last year, and that this followed another, smaller round of recruitment of around four or five faculty members in 2017, before he had become VC. Of those, three eventually joined.

The notification had also been published in newspapers, such as the Times of India, so he said he hoped there would be many suitable applicants.

Chakrabarti added that the plan was to “improve the university” from all angles, including infrastructure, research and teaching, which was an additional “new challenge” under Covid-19. He said another priority was how to “make [NUJS] attractive and how we can reach out to students properly”. “We have to very much I think experiment and encourage our faculties to make [online teaching] attractive,” he said.

Part of the backdrop to this improvement drive, is NUJS having been overtaken by NLU Jodhpur in the 2020 National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings, where it is now in sixth place.

“In the last NIRF we were not in a good position, so we have to improve our rank also, so that would be our aim also,” said Chakrabarti. “That is my target.”

The open positions notified (download PDF here) include calls for:

  • 3 new law professors (in criminal, corporate/business and constitutional law) at the Rs 1.442 lakh per month pay band 14; each should be “eminent scholars” with: (i) a minimum of 10 years of teaching experience (including “outstanding professional[s]" with a PhD that might not have previously held assistant professor+ rank at a university), and (ii) research publications in peer reviewed journals “preferably” listed in UGC CARE or Scopus indexes (see below),
  • 3 associate profs (in corporate / business, public and IP law) at the Rs 1.314 lakh pay band 13, with a minimum of eight years teaching experience and seven publications, and
  • 10 assistant professors of law, at the 10th pay level equating to Rs 57,700, who must have cleared the UGC’s National Eligibility Test (NET) or a similar UGC test or who have obtained a qualifying PhD allowing exemption from the UGC’s tests (see the fine print in the full notice, below).

Out of the 16 permanent faculty positions, seven are reserved for candidates from scheduled tribes, castes and other backward caste (ST, SC and OBC candidates). All of those were “as per government of West Bengal notification”, explained Chakrabarti.

The application deadline is fairly generous, at 31 August 2020.

If NUJS manages to fill all the positions, this would significantly increase its corpus of faculty, which stands at a total of 44 at the moment, according to Chakrabarti.

The notice follows hot on the heels of NLSIU’s first recruitment call (in more than 10 years) but also under a new VC, resulting in at least nine offers made, including for many alums to return to (what some of them affectionately and/or ironically call) ‘Law School’.

The pay bands offered by NUJS are more or less identical to those in NLSIU’s recruitment call.

We will be exploring some more details on those positions below.

Chair professorships

Advertisement for Ford Foundation Research Chair at NUJS
Advertisement for Ford Foundation Research Chair at NUJS

In addition, NUJS is also looking for candidates to fill two research chair positions, both ads dated 6 July with a tight 20 July deadline.

First, there is the honorary Ford Foundation Research Chair at its Centre for Human Rights and Citizenship Studies, which includes a so-called sitting fee of no more than Rs 30,000 per month with up to Rs 10,000 per day.

Previous occupants of the chair include the heavyweights Prof Upendra Baxi and Justice Ruma Pal.

The chair had been empty since around 2018, before he had joined, said Chakrabarti.

One issue with the position had been a “paucity of funds”, which is why there was an effective maximum remuneration and time limit per month on the position, so it would be more of a position to “guide” the research of several other faculty members.

Ashutosh Mukherjee chair is looking for occupant
Ashutosh Mukherjee chair is looking for occupant

There’s also one call for hires into the Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee Chair for law and social science, named after the legendary barrister, mathematician and freedom fighter, which had been previously occupied by retired Justice Tarun Chatterjee.

The Mukherjee chair position, with a tenure of three years, aims “to promote research in the area of law and social sciences, particularly law and society in West Bengal”, and comes with a honorarium of Rs 50,000 per month, plus research expenses.

Chakrabarti explained that the chair was funded by an endowment by the state of West Bengal.

Guest seat from Menon era

Finally, there is also a position for “guest faculty from retired judicial officer” to teach procedure law and get knee-deep into helping NUJS’ Legal Aid Clinic. Remuneration is Rs 35,000 per month, but unusually it’s only open to “retired judicial officer from West Bengal Higher Judicial Service” who are below 65 years old, which may narrow the field of applicants somewhat.

Chakrabarti said that this requirement and restriction in the chair were historical, having been created during the late Prof Madhava Menon’s time as founding VC of NUJS.

Most recently, it had also been occupied by a retired judge.

The process

While the selection committee for the faculty positions had not yet been set up, besides Chakrabarti himself, every member would be external to the university, he explained.

In addition, while previous recruitments had been carried out by a single selection committee for all posts, this time was different. “Now, as per our decision in executive committee, for each subject there will be a [separate] selection committee,” he said. “Now... the selection committee also has specialisation [in each subject area that candidates are being interviewed for.”

'Number of years' won't determine selection

Many of NLS’ recent offers had been made to young alumni faculty and we had recently reported (young) NLS VC Sudhir Krishnaswamy making statements that young applicants for faculty should also be encouraged at other NLUs.

We asked whether young applicants would be welcomed or whether seniority would be the ultimate arbiter of who got the jobs.

Chakrabarti explained that anyone who satisfied the criteria in the advertisement were eligible, though he was just one member of the selection committee, so ultimately it was not down to him alone but also the other senior professors on the selection committee.

However, he added: “It is not the number of years [that will determine selection]. We are going for a minimum essential criteria, thereafter we will go for merit, and who can... help NUJS to grow.”

“I think anyone, if willing to join, is welcome.”

Fixing the NIRF and other steps forward

The emphasis on helping NUJS grow appears to be key, particularly in light of its NIRF performance.

When asked if he could explain the drop, Chakrabarti said that while some assessment parameters of NIRF, such as the somewhat mysterious “perception” score were not “very clear”, it had also identified more fundamental issues that needed to be addressed internally at NUJS.

“I‘ll not complain on procedures, but better look at my how I can improve, instead of looking at gaps in the rankings systems,” he said.

While there was “not only in one respect we can improve”, the primary areas of potential improvement lay in faculty, teaching quality and public engagement, he said. “We have to improve our infrastructure, our teaching quality, teaching method, our research publications too.

“In research publications, we are not very much comfortable and satisfactory stage, I’ve realised, I have to improve in publication.”

Pushing for research

To that end, there had been a push, as at many other law schools (in part to game international and domestic rankings that rely on these) for faculty to publish in journals indexed by the Scopus database. “Every time I meet them [faculty], I encourage them that Scopus journal is only being recognised by NIRF. We have to publish in journals, but in journals that will count.”

In the last two months there had been a “discernible increase” in NUJS’ Scopus publications, he said. “It is a very hard task but a challenging task that we have started.

“In one or two years, I have the confidence that I will definitely be in a better positions in our publications.”

Research too, would therefore be a priority in the recruitments. “In our recruitment, particularly senior faculty, associate professors and professors, they have to show their research and publications. [We require a] minimum 120 score as per UGC pattern, and for associate professors 75,” he said.

“And we expect more,” he added. “Make us see how many, what is the score.”

Hat-tip and thanks to all readers who shared information, thoughts and questions about this faculty recruitment call.

NUJS recruitment notification

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