Thursday, 25 September 2014

University of Kashmir: Debating the Future

Today KU is not the dream destination of above average students, not to speak of the best!

Every institution becomes compromised in a war zone. No wonder KU has been decaying in many respects especially in terms of quality human resource, top leadership, publications and seminar culture.  UGC also has had a negative role in planning certain issues that impacted.  When Vice Chancellors are increasingly perceived as failures compared to erstwhile illustrious ones especially prior to 1989; what can be expected from academicians or administrators down the scale? Where a perception remains that academics is subservient to political expediency and excellence perceived as threat to status quo, how can we expect things to be different in future? Huge expectations from our own university are currently focused on next VC’s credentials and let us hope we will not be disappointed. We have many reasons for current state of alienation and one reason is sick educational system epitomized by KU. 
Although developments in infrastructure, library network, some individual success stories of faculty or departments are quite impressive, none denies need for thorough examination of sickness that has been especially manifested after 90s.  Admitting NAAC grades we, however, can’t dismiss people’s accrediting system that ultimately reflects truer picture and must prepare to engage with a host of challenges.
The first challenge is proving attractive to best students. Today KU is not first or dream destination of above average students, not to speak of the best. According to many insiders it is one’s misfortune that a great talent is caught up in KU either as a student or a teacher. If we survey either teachers' or students' satisfaction with current scenario and views of teachers about one another, one can get a good idea of real index or health of the institution. We need not quarrel over perceptions or speculate regarding health of this institution – that is no secret.
The second challenge is to make classes interesting so that students would pine for them ( currently teachers pine for student attendance and need to resort to wasteful and terrorizing actions to ensure the same), record them or even upload them on Youtube for benefit of wider international audience and their later reference in life.
The third challenge is to produce think tanks, to produce intellectual leadership. We wouldn’t have leadership accused of almost all kinds of charges if the university had played its role. Kashmir badly needs its own Arundhatis and Chomskys and where else can they be produced? Although we know about inherent structural limitations of State institutions with regard to production of its critics but people need them. I imagine one day people will be able to run bigger institutions on their own outside sarkari system – I would argue for delinking waqf from political control (Islamic Univeristy at Awantipura can’t be called people’s university) and evolution of mechanisms that people could utilize its sources for academics. That is required for a society to be conscious of itself, to escape reign of Ideological State Apparatus. 
The fourth challenge is to downsize KU scholars’ or teachers’ book manufacturing industry. Barring few books that can be counted on fingers, we don’t see quality stuff being produced. It would be better if the very idea of linking more books to promotions is dropped. Often it is quality papers that constitute real contribution. One can write a great book in a life time. However it requires likes of Toynbee and Will Durant to write world class multivolume books or good number of books that are all worth the business. Currently we have books produced mostly from poorly written theses that  are full of errors, typographical, grammatical and factual or interpretational, more googled than written, tissues of quotations than author’s original statements or understanding.
I would suggest replacing, as far as possible, traditional method of lecturing or note dictating by carefully supervised e-content based classes in which every topic has been thoroughly researched and attractively presented by the concerned teacher or ideally the best teacher available nationally or internationally. In fact quality work is being done by EMMRC in this connection and it needs to  be applied to every subject on every topic presented in any class in the university. For further improvement and for satisfying parents or civil society which has been raising questions, live or prerecorded private television coverage of any class at any time so that teachers could shun complacency and students be assured of better quality. Student feedback must be made absolutely mandatory for promotions/release of increment of teachers as we see otherwise brilliant academics may fail to take sufficient interest in classes. Current examination system be scrapped and replaced by more creative alternatives like assignments, group discussions etc. that depend less and less on memory. 
I think one important step that nobody considers seriously is introducing philosophy not just as a separate department but as part of curriculum in every department.  Why has KU so far vetoed philosophy department? Even so-called visionary VCs have been exemplary in their blindness to this issue. Philosophy teaches no abstractions, no opinions, no logic chopping, no abstruse doctrines, but how  and why to think, to doubt, to search, to test, to deconstruct. And we are not ready for all this. None of the subjects in arts or humanities is really mastered without clarifying philosophical foundations of these disciplines. It means KU can’t excel in arts or humanities. Even sciences are not complete without teaching in depth scientific method which is what constitutes subject matter of philosophy. Critical intelligence is key to moral and intellectual integrity. And  if we corrupt this faculty we corrupt everything. Thus introducing some dose of philosophy in general curriculum at all levels for all students including those for professional courses in all schools, colleges and departments of universities will help sharpen critical intelligence and every ill we are suffering (from corruption to inefficiency to no accountability to lobbyism to leg pulling or building empires of ego) could be addressed.  Without some dose of philosophy in a world ruled by academic elite that mostly uses the idiom of philosophy we can’t be called properly educated. In the case of Kashmir that was once the land of great philosophy and is today remembered as a land of seers (who appropriate traditional philosopher’s role) we can say that philosophy education is vital component of identity of educated Kashmiri.  Philosophy is part of our cultural history, our heritage, our shared traditional spaces, our claim to recognition in the world as a great vibrant culture which contributed so much top world culture of philosophy and aesthetics. In fact such things that we are proud of, such as mystic poetry, can’t be understood except by having some understanding of background philosophy.  Will present authorities in KU take steps  for introducing philosophy? This is one question that will determine future of KU.

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