Published: 09th February 2023
Breaking the Mold: Top women in academia, JNU and Nalanda University VCs discuss being a different kind of leader
Dr Sanrishree Pandit, JNU VC, and Dr Sunaina Singh, Nalanda University VC, spoke about the importance of diversity, handling controversies on campus, and revitalising the curriculum
Two prominent women in academia, Dr Sanrishree Pandit, Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Dr Sunaina Singh, Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University, came together at the 12th edition of The New Indian Express' ThinkEdu Conclave 2023 in Chennai, to discuss the art of being a 'Different kind of Leader' in today's academic institutions.
They offered diverse perspectives on the importance of creating space for diversity, addressing controversies on campus, and revitalising and updating the curriculum. During the event, Dr Pandit rejected the label of "anti-national" for JNU and its students. Dr Singh spoke about the need for inclusive goals and the significance of the National Education Policy. Major announcements were also made, including establishing a Tamil Studies department at JNU and the call for a remodeling of the educational funding model.
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One of the most noteworthy moments of the event came when Dr Pandit addressed the controversial political narrative surrounding JNU and its students. She rejected the "anti-national" label and stated that her students are, in fact, patriotic. She explained that criticism, as long as it remains within limits, is not anti-national. The VC also proudly noted that JNU graduates go on to serve in the Indian military, demonstrating their love for the country. Furthermore, she emphasised that her university provides a platform for a variety of narratives and interpretations, making it a centre for free and open discourse.
This represents a new perspective on the politically charged JNU campus, which has frequently been criticized as being anti-national and anti-India, leading to ongoing conflicts with its VC.
Dr Singh reinforced Dr Pandit's thoughts by stressing the necessity of shifting the "goalposts." She explained that leaders must make sure that their objectives are inclusive and can be adapted to accommodate everyone. "This is where we take another look at our institutions and our roles and responsibilities that have for the nation per se," she said. In her work at Nalanda University, she spoke about her efforts to brand and build the new campus in a way that pays homage to the ancient centre of learning while also building on academic architecture. She adds, "To recreate the magic of Nalanda yet again, was a major decision of the government of India and the journey has been great."
The JNU VC also made a major announcement regarding the establishment of a Tamil Studies department, made possible through substantial Rs 10 crore funding from the Tamil Nadu government. In the context of funding, Dr Singh spoke about the importance of remodeling the current education funding model. Additionally, she also stressed the significance of the National Education Policy, which puts Indian Knowledge systems at the forefront and moves away from the colonial-era Macaulain teaching method.
Regarding the recent controversy over the screening of the BBC documentary, the JNU VC vehemently denied any such screening taking place on campus. "There was no screening," she declared. However, she defended her students' individual right to free expression, stating that dissenting voices and opposing views should be welcomed and appreciated. "They are argumentative Indians and let the arguments stay alive," the VC concluded.