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Ahead of tomorrow’s EC meet, NLS students put out wish list of what they’d like of their future VC: Much research, faculty hires, alum outreach

Prof Venkata Rao’s successor should be strong on research and international perspectives, pray students
Prof Venkata Rao’s successor should be strong on research and international perspectives, pray students

NLSIU Bangalore’s Student Bar Association (SBA) has released a statement to express its wishes in the ongoing vice chancellor (VC) selection process.

NLSIU’s Executive Council (EC) is set to meet tomorrow to decide on Prof Venkata Rao’s successor as VC of India’s oldest national law school.

The students have stated they would like their next VC to be, amongst other factors:

  • “well-versed with contemporary international perspectives on legal education”, which would help to attract “motivated and competent faculty members” and leverage its strong alumni network.
  • the new VC should have a strong focus on research, the state of which at NLSIU was currently fairly dire.

The said they’d hope a VC who met those metrics would ensure the law school would avoid complacency causing it to lose the earned “prestigious status of being known as India’s best law school” (as backed up by National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings prepared by the government).

Full students’ letter below:

We are releasing this statement on behalf of the Student Community at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore. We feel that it is our obligation to express the collective concerns of present students at this point of time since the Executive Council (EC) of NLSIU is scheduled to meet on July 6, 2019 in order to discuss the appointment of the new Vice-Chancellor. We hope that the Hon’ble members representing the Higher Judiciary, Bar Council of India, Bar Council of Karnataka, Government of Karnataka, the NLSIU Faculty and other stakeholders will carefully consider the views expressed below.

We would like to briefly state our aspirations for the future of NLSIU. While our institution has earned the prestigious status of being known as India’s best law school, it is important for us not to become complacent. It is vital to keep pace with reforms undertaken in the legal education sector at a global level so as to emerge as an internationally recognised centre of academic excellence. In order to pursue this goal, we hope that the new Vice Chancellor will be well-versed with contemporary international perspectives on legal education, especially through personal teaching experience and research engagements. These attributes will help in mitigating the difficulties faced by the institution in recent years, especially when it comes to (i) shaping an institutional environment that is conducive for producing high-quality research and (ii) attracting motivated and competent faculty members. Apart from these two core academic functions, the new Vice-Chancellor should be in a position (iii) to leverage the institution’s strong alumni network while also carrying forward its liberal campus culture in addressing the day-to-day problems and anxieties of students. We have attempted to elaborate upon these concerns in the following paragraphs.

(I) Cultivating High-Quality Research

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) published by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has consistently recognized NLSIU as the best law school in India, after accounting for the relevant criteria in an aggregative manner. However, in the most recently published rankings, NLSIU was ranked Eighth (8th) among Indian Law Schools in the category of ‘Research Productivity & Impact (RPI) with 0 faculty citations and less than 5 research-based publications. None of these publications have appeared in internationally recognised peer-reviewed journals, such as those which are part of the SCOPUS or the ‘Web of Science’ lists. This is the unfortunate reality at a time when several other Indian Law Schools are reporting a much better output on this count. Hence, there is an urgent need for an institutional leader who has first-hand experience in designing and delivering credible research outcomes. The objectives should be to encourage faculty members, research scholars and advanced students to publish articles in internationally recognized peer-reviewed journals apart from contributing chapters and essays to books brought out by the most credible academic and professional publishing houses in the world. This requires many steps, such as attracting external funding for longitudinal research projects, putting into place rigorous processes for research supervision, the frequent hosting of seminars and workshops to enable deeper scholarly discussions as well as constant interactions with practitioners and policy-makers.

The Vice-Chancellor should be able to lead by personal example when it comes to promoting a culture of participating in scholarly discussions and producing thoroughly crafted published writing. This can indeed be done by creating suitable incentives and assessment policies for the teachers and students respectively. The existing Research Centres and Extension Activities at NLSIU need to expand their output and impact by closely involving students enrolled in the taught programmes. It was in recognition of the close relationship between public policy and law that NLSIU launched the Master of Public Policy (MPP) programme in 2014. Thus, the new Vice-Chancellor should have experience with research and networking in both of these fields.

(II) Attracting and Retaining Competent Faculty Members

NLSIU needs to initiate the transition from domestic competition to global excellence, where the traditional pedagogy accounts for the best practices evolved elsewhere. Currently, there are no International faculty members at NLSIU, and only a few of its Professors have acquired the credentials or reputation to be invited to teach at Foreign Universities. The QS World University Rankings, on the lines of other global indexes, values ‘International Faculty Ratio’ and ‘Citations per Faculty’ at a combined 25%. NLSIU fares poorly on both counts. As explained earlier, in order to compete globally, NLSIU needs to satisfy international research standards, which can only be achieved if there is a sizeable pool of faculty members with cross-country experience in teaching, research and clinical education. Thus, the institution requires a Vice-Chancellor who has already demonstrated the ability to recruit faculty members with qualifications from the best known Universities in the world. It would be even more desirable if the individual chosen for this position personally possesses such credentials and is hence closely clued in to transnational academic networks.

The prompt hiring of competent and motivated faculty members is particularly important during the present academic year (2019-2020). At present, NLSIU has only 13 teachers in permanent positions out of the 47 teachers who are delivering courses for the B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) and LL.M. students. A majority of teachers are engaged in temporary positions through annual contracts that can be terminated without assignment of reasons. They have been given different designations such as ‘Ad-Hoc’, ‘Visiting’ and ‘Adjunct’ Professors. While some Senior Professors are continuing with teaching in these roles after their formal retirement (from NLSIU and other Universities), there are as many as 17 relatively younger teachers who are engaged in ‘Ad-Hoc’ positions. Some of them have been serving in such temporary positions for more than 6-7 years. While some of the ‘Ad-Hoc’ teachers have taught well and produced good scholarship, there are also several among them who have consistently failed to meet the student’s expectations. This has led to considerable disengagement on part of the students, even in several compulsory courses. We have arrived at this sorry situation because no teachers have been recruited to permanent positions over the last decade. We fear that if a formal process of recruitment to permanent positions is not conducted soon, NLSIU risks losing the more competent teachers among the pool of ‘Ad-hoc’ faculty. It goes without saying that the present situation where more than 70% of the teachers are in temporary positions also amounts to neglecting the applicable norms laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Hence, there will be a dual onus on the new Vice-Chancellor to attract the best teaching talent that is available from other institutions while also ensuring the retention of the better performing ‘ad-hoc’ faculty members by giving them proper service conditions.

(III) Leveraging Alumni Networks and Engagement with Students

The biggest asset of any educational institution are its students, and in the longer-run its alumni. NLSIU is fortunate to have a close-knit alumni network, with many graduates having distinguished themselves in their respective lines of work. Their mentorship and support towards current students needs to be deepened through structured programmes. To facilitate continuing and meaningful alumni participation in matters such as curriculum reform, skills training, instituting scholarships for students in need and providing assistance with employment opportunities, the new Vice-Chancellor must enjoy close proximity with and have great credibility within the NLSIU alumni community.

At the center of NLSIU’s achievements over the last three decades is its liberal ethos- an across-the-board platform it provides to students to express their opinions and voice their concerns, and the liberty granted to students without constant moral policing. Unarguably, it is this liberty that has contributed to students of NLSIU becoming more involved and free-thinking members of a community. The liberal ethos is best reflected by greater student awareness and participation in addressing issues like Mental Health and Sexual Harassment, made possible by the empathy demonstrated by the administration. In wake of the #MeToo movement, it is integral for the new VC to lead and support the strive towards a gender equal and harassment free campus. The VC should be intolerant towards any identity based discrimination and work towards strengthening the rules and systems prohibiting the same on campus. Thus, the liberal fabric of the NLSIU community must be promoted by the new VC whilst also demonstrating empathy on requisite issues concerning the student body.

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