Published: 02nd August 2022
Meet the man behind the applause at NALSAR, VC Faizan Mustafa bids adieu
After serving as the Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR for a decade now, Professor Mustafa’s tenure ended on Saturday, July 30
“I took over at 4 am in the darkness of the night, I am going in broad daylight,” said Professor (Dr) Faizan Mustafa, as he walked out of the doors of his last open house with a standing ovation and resounding applause and love from students and faculty of the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University of Law, Hyderabad. After serving as the Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR for a decade now, Professor Mustafa’s tenure ended on Saturday, July 30, right beside his over 300 students and faculty who didn’t leave one chance to let any of his contributions to the university go unnoticed.
The Professor took over as the VC of the university in 2012 and has, since then, strived towards creating a consultative environment on campus for students. From changes in the curriculum and evaluation processes, to making laws and rules that govern students on campus, students said that he valued their opinion and included them in the decision-making process.
He reiterated the same motto in his farewell speech wherein he said, “The primary stakeholder of the university is not the Vice-Chancellor, it is the students and all the infrastructure which is present is for the students. The Vice-Chancellor must be for the students and the transformation and the experiment, which we have made in NALSAR, involves students in the governance of the university,” according to a press release.
EdexLive brings you an exclusive interview with Professor Faizan Mustafa, who sheds light on the academic and infrastructural changes he brought to the university during his tenure, along with changing the general culture to that of freedom for the students. Excerpts from a conversation:
During your stint as VC, what were some of your best contributions that students appreciated?
Every day, we were getting a newspaper story that there was a Supreme Court Judge who conducted an official inquiry into the affairs of NALSAR. There was a command and control model of administration. The students had written to me before my joining that they were living in a prison and wanted me to liberate them. So I liberated them.
There were very strict rules to go out of the campus, the libraries closed around 8 pm or 9 pm at that time. Most of the courses, which were there, were mandatory. They hardly had any choice, in terms of electives. So, during the very first year, I introduced the academic reforms that many legal news websites titled “NALSAR is undergoing a silent academic revolution” because I introduced the credit system at par with the foreign universities and a large number of electives by visiting faculties were introduced.
Then, this whole concept of a scholar in residence was introduced. In terms of universities’ processes, there was no institutional memory, there was no file noting system in the university. So, I introduced the file note system to keep the institutional memory. And then I made most of the regulations of the university because if you make regulations, then you reduce the discretion of the Vice-Chancellor. I considered that the greatest problem of Indian higher education is that, at one level, we are over-regulated and grossly under-funded and our universities are vice-chancellor centric.
I believe that universities should be student-centric. They are the primary stakeholders. So I demolished this whole idea of command and control and introduced the liberty model of administration and gave all kinds of liberties to the students and involved them in the governance of the university, so much so that in all tenders, we involved students in the tendering process. I involve them, whatever laws, by which they are going to be governed — laws are meant for them. So they must have a say and my experience is that once you take them on board, the implementation of laws becomes easy because they take ownership of those laws.
Then there are the gender-neutral degrees. After Oxford, NALSAR became the first university to give gender-neutral degrees. I removed Ms and Mr. This whole policy of gender-neutral hostels is the most recent one.
What were some other changes that you introduced?
We also amended the Student Union Constitution and made the presidential position an elective position — to be elected by the entire university in a direct election. For the first time, we completed the recruitment of reserved category faculty members, as per the Executive Council decision. The faculty strength developed. And then, I had a deficit of about Rs 12 crore. Now, we have a reserve fund of about Rs 100 crore. This is how it is. But I would say that this whole idea of how to administer a university differently is one humble contribution I made to the university. For instance, purchase of library books. Once the lockdowns were upon us and students went home, I quickly invested about Rs 10 crore in the last two years in the purchase of e-books and gave remote access to the library to all the students.
Then, I made some major changes in the curriculum — like the Master of Law (LLM) courses. In every university in India, students are admitted to a particular specialisation — civil and criminal law LLM or LLM constitutional law or LLM family law. And these specialisations are often decided for the students. But I said no. I believe that students should evolve their own specialisation. I don't want to tell you what your specialisation is, you do whatever courses you want to do — you have absolute freedom.
Financially, the university has gained stability and we are in a comfortable position. Administratively, also, we were able to tighten processes. And academically, I think we took some very innovative and bold decisions. That's why you know NALSAR got the highest rank in the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) ranking. 3.6 out of 4 amongst all the national law universities and all the law colleges and law departments of traditional universities.
What was the reaction from students when you announced that you were leaving?
I am really moved by the emotional send-off by the students. I never treated myself as a Vice-Chancellor. I treated myself as a co-learner. I learnt a number of things from them. And I feel fully satisfied and content in whatever little I could do for the university. NALSAR is a great institution and I am sure that they are going to really reach the zenith of excellence in years to come and they will not only be the best law school in the country, we will soon be comparable with the rest of the Western world's law schools. In any case, our students have been winning the prestigious moot courts at Oxford. The performance of Indian law students, as such, is rather impressive. NALSAR's performance has been quite impressive and many students have been writing articles in prestigious research journals, articles written by NALSAR students have even been quoted by the Supreme Court in its judgements. I think that the university is in great shape and, of course, I am absolutely thrilled and grateful for the kind of sentiments students have expressed for me. My association with NALSAR is a long one and I am always available to them whenever they need me.
What would you like to say about the general education climate in the country? For example, communal issues like the hijab row in Karnataka.
I am surprised that university or college students of the 21st century are more interested in the hijab. For me, it is a question of a choice, part of the right to privacy and we should not either communalise the issue or overdo it. The Karnataka High Court has given a judgement. The Supreme Court will hear appeal, so let us await the Supreme Court judgement.
How are the career prospects looking for law education in India?
Legal education has come a long way. Till the early 80s, law was the last option. Now it is a preferred option. Every year, many students qualify the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) or MBBS. But many leave Medicine and Engineering to join Law, since national law universities have transformed legal education. But as ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh used to say, “In a sea of mediocrity, you have a few islands of excellence called national law universities.”
So we must improve legal education in our traditional colleges where most of the students are there. Because in NLUs, you have roughly about 3,000 students. That's it. So about 63,000 students are in other colleges. So unless we improve legal education there, the landscape is not going to drastically change and this I would consider as a failure of mine that I could not really do much about improving legal education in other colleges. There was a time when the Ministry of Education asked us to do a refresher course online for law teachers. In the first course I did, about 1700 law teachers of the country joined. Then we were asked to do it again. About 1300 or 1400 more joined, but more is to be done. The hand-holding of law colleges, which do not have resources, is to be done by the national law universities.
What are your future plans? Do you plan on continuing your YouTube channel?
The purpose of the channel is legal literacy in the country. The idea is that we enlighten people about our Constitution and law. Ignorance of law is no defence. It is the duty of everybody to know the law but nobody tells anybody what the law is really. So I have taken the responsibility of teaching law to the entire country (through the YouTube channel). I am grateful to the Government of India for giving me a project to teach the Constitution in Hindi and English. The whole idea is that enlightened citizenry must know the Constitution, law and constitutional values. I am sure that I will now get more time to do that. We already have over 600 videos and over 4 crore viewers. The idea is to teach law in the simplest possible language for everyone.