Prof Jalees Ahmad Khan Tareen, ex-Vice-Chancellor of Kashmir University, spoke to Narrator over phone from Mysore about the past, present and future of the varsity he headed from 2001 to 2004. Here are the excerpts:
Q Many people consider appointment of a VC for KU as politically motivated. How true is it?
At least mine was not. The university needed someone from south with a Muslim name. So I was chosen. That is it.
Q What did you do during your three-year tenure (2001-2004) to make the KU a better institution?
I made Kashmiris to work. That is what a leader has to do. He has to break the inertia and set the train in motion. Any even if the engine stops, the compartments have gained enough momentum to move on and cover the extra mile.
When I took the charge as the VC, the university was in a bad condition. It was closing down. A three-year programme would run for seven years. Such was the state of KU.
However, at the same time I didn’t import anyone. All I had to do was to channelise the talent that was in front of me. That is why I say leadership is important. I believe that university is a community work and personal benefits shouldn’t be achieved through it.
But there were certain rascals that time who would put hurdles to stop you from doing your job. That is why the carrot and stick policy has to be maintained to run an institution like a university. I was a planner and a scientist and I had the courage to take independent decisions for the betterment of the institution.
Then there was another aspect: the conflict situation. I received threats a number of times from militant outfits. Whether the threats were true or false is a different thing, but an outsider would have shivered and left the place immediately. But I stayed and did my work with good intentions. Later, I came to know that some teachers would fake some threat letters.
Q You decided to quit even as you were asked to continue by the then government. Why?
There were some people who tried to blackmail me. When they failed, they started a vicious campaign against me, a below the belt propaganda. I wrote a letter to the then Chief Minister Mr Mufti Sayeed and said I quit. I can’t work in a dirty environment. So I decided to call it a day.
Kashmiris are a thankless people. I started 18 new departments, built infrastructure, and offered a platform for research. The university was granted ‘A grade’ soon after. But my name has been erased in such a way as if I didn’t exist in the past. My successor ensured that the building that I laid the foundation stone should be credited to his name. This is disgusting.
Q Did the political establishment meddle in the functioning of the KU during your tenure?
No. I was given all the space to work for the betterment of the institution. The then Governor, S K Sinha, and the then CM, Mufti Sayeed, used to call me in advance and seek appointment before coming.
Q Why is KU’s standard falling by the day?
It’s not only KU, rather most of the universities in India, are failing to make an impact because of the absence of well-defined policies. Most of the Vice Chancellors are clueless, as they can’t think beyond their nose. They don’t make critical observations.
With regard to Kashmir University, there are many mischievous and terrible fellows at KU who will make life miserable for other people. These are the people who are responsible for the misplacement of Kashmiri talent. With the result Kashmiris have become so lazy that they don’t want to work anymore.
Q What steps should the authorities take to ensure an overall progress of KU?
It all depends on leadership. And the faculty should trust the leader. The authorities should tap and utilise the talent and move forward. Other things that will help the university to grow are: Restoration of full autonomy; punishment and reward for employees; accountability; self appraisal; appraisal by the students.
Q How far do you think that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir hinders the growth of educational institutes here?
To a great extent. You need to understand that the Valley youth are not normal children like in other parts of India. They have grown up in an atmosphere of fear and terror. So they are vulnerable. And if the adults won’t treat them as children with special needs they are then fools.
The land belongs to India, but not the people. And to vitiate the situation, the national media has added fuel to the fire. And your local media is also corrupt.
Q Is working in Kashmir different from working outside?
Definitely yes. Kashmir is a conflict-ridden and a fearful place. During my tenure, the challenge was to restore the academics, bring in normalcy, bring back its past glory which was masked by 20 years of dust accumulated due to the militancy, give the youth a helping hand to come out of fear and conflict psyche, and open up the university to rest of India. The excellence of their talent was to be tapped.
In three years I could attain a 200 per cent growth, bring back academics with several new programmes and new infrastructure. I was glad that youth got connected again to several universities. The annual convocation was held after seven years, and I brought the PM, Vajpayee to the campus for the convocation.
Q Briefly, how to gauge performance of a university?
Performance is a perception and perception is build over the years. There is a perception through the eyes of a student, a parent, and an employee. If the student produced by a particular university is esteemed, then that university if performing well. Consider a fellow at Harvard University. The moment he says I am from Harvard, you start admiring him. The reason is the institute he comes from is performing well.
And, perception doesn’t come overnight; it is a gradual process. To perform well, you need to have high-quality and committed teachers and proper infrastructure.
The interview appeared in January issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com for details