Between Decline and Decay: Why Reforming Kashmir University is an Imperative

Between Decline and Decay: Why Reforming Kashmir University is an Imperative
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As the race or even bids for the Vice Chancellor’s position at Kashmir University speeds up, it is time to stock take, review the nature, form, and thrust of the university and assess its performance and functionality. The prosaic but sad truth regarding the university is that it has over time morphed into a dysfunctional, inertia laden, gloomy institution. This constitutes not only a travesty but also a tragedy of epic proportions for the future and well being of the student fraternity of Kashmir is at stake here. The question that may be posed here is: what is wrong with Kashmir University? Any answer to this question is fraught with difficulty as there is no one reason that can be isolated or the university’s plethora of issues and problems reduced to.
But, as a starting point, two interrelated and thematic issues stand out as the structural problems that bedevil the university: one pertains to governance and the other, which actually flows from this, refers to academic condition of the said institution. All other issues could be held to be mere corollaries to these major structural debilities of Kashmir University. The governance structures of the university are not only ossified but they do not also speak to the condition, problems and the issues of the core constituency of any given university: the student fraternity. These structures then operate in ways that are at odds with the interests of students. Bureaucratization, obstructionism, careerism and inertia are the other hall marks of these structures. From an administrative standpoint, when the centre of gravity of a given institution is itself in a morass, it stands to reason that it cannot speak to the needs and interests of students. But, there is another broader point at issue here: the abysmal and decrepit nature of the academic condition of the university. There is neither vigor nor breadth or breadth to the learning and academic structures of Kashmir University.
In general, the thrust of academics in the said institution is misaligned or even out of kilter with latest developments and advances in learning. (There might be some departments which do ok). In a knowledge economy, this lacuna is a serious debility which actually marginalizes the students of Kashmir and renders them rather redundant. The pedagogical and learning approaches and methodologies employed in the university are dated and passé. The focus is on rote learning; not on critical thinking and fostering of important and requisite skills, among other things. In terms research, if the output produced by the university is not dated, it surely is not world class. Cumulatively, these factors and the issues they beget lead to an ossified and a diminished academic environment with students being short changed at the most critical times of their lives.
Admittedly, the portrait drawn of Kashmir University is bleak and dim. The question now is: can this institution of learning be redeemed? Can it be salvaged? Or, even better, can it be elevated to a position where it becomes an institution par excellence?
The answer is: it depends.
Developing Kashmir University into an institution of excellence is contingent on far reaching, wide and deep reforms. But, key here is that reform must start at the top. It goes without saying that the health of any institution or organization (even as small as a family unit) depends on the quality and nature of leadership. Kashmir University, being no exception to this general norm, needs exceptional, dynamic and innovative thought leadership, the kind that infuses dynamism to its enervated structures and generates new ebullience and energy to its academic condition. Aligning the university with latest learning and knowledge, creating pathways for students that are meaningful, developing and institutionalizing research excellence must be the key features of any reform thrust. It can perhaps only happen when the structures of the university and its academic performance revolve around the core constituent and the centre of gravity of the university: the student fraternity. Broken down , this means that the university must be accountable to students. This, of course, does not mean that students administer the university but that the locus and thrust of the governance, administrative structures and academics becomes the student. The best and most effective measure of accountability would be the overall, holistic performance and well being of the student fraternity.
It may be pointed out here that thought leadership might not be enough to counter and undercut the deep inertia that defines Kashmir University. This would be true, but only up to a point. What could be a complement to astute thought leadership would be an iconoclastic Vice Chancellor who breaks or even shatters the imprisoning ossified structures of the university and then rebuilds these structures afresh in consonance with the needs and interests of the students. Admittedly, not an easy task , it can be achieved , to an extent, by hiring expertise in the domains and fields of management and organizational behavior. (Taking recourse to this kind of expertise becomes important because any reform of the university, academic or administrative, will be met with resistance by entrenched interests). The effective way to undercut this potential resistance would then be to delegate identifying the problems and malaises that afflict the university and set up new structures to tried and tested management consulting groups like McKinsey and Co, Accenture, Deloitte and so on. Once the problems are identified and new structures suggested, the hypothetical new iconoclastic Vice Chancellor can then implement these. Rigorous systems can then be developed and instituted to hold all components of the university system accountable to high performance standards.
In essence, the name of the game in terms of reinvigorating Kashmir University is dynamic, iconoclastic leadership and new governance, management and academic structures. Can, the question is, this kind of leadership be found? While the answer to this question lies in the domain of the “unknown unknown”, but the quest should not flounder for want of trying, anywhere and everywhere. Any other approach that retains existing structures as they are, with new people merely going through the motions and filling roles would be akin to flagging a dead horse.

— The author can be reached at: [email protected]

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