The newly-appointed VC of JNU is on a mission to create an inclusive and accessible campus. To do so, Sopory has begun one-on-one interactions with his students, staff and professors, to discuss ways for making JNU an inclusive university. In July, he met members of the JNU Disabled Persons Association (JNUDPA). Later, he spoke to EDU regarding some of his plans
Q. Tell us how you plan to deal with the special issues that have been put before you by JNUDPA?
A. My plans are generic for now. Whether it involves general or special students, my focus would be on twin fronts academic and campus. I want to focus on individual problems: whether be it related to the students, the staff or the professors. I wish to micromanage, which is going to be difficult. However, looking at individual cases is important because thats how problems will receive the attention that they deserve. Ive asked students, staff or professors, who have a grievance, to meet me at the beginning of every month. This month the members of JNUDPA met me. I listened to their problems and have made a list. Ive also asked them to do the same to highlight issues according to priority.
Q. On the academic front, how do you plan to assist the special students?
A. As a guide. Thats my role as the vice chancellor and my commitment to every student in JNU, whether falling in special or general category. I am not going to take a piecemeal approach to the issue of education. I admit that academic, and administrative, concerns got derailed in the university in the recent past. So, we've decided to set up an internal quality assessment cell (IQAC), which will assess academic quality issues in each department of JNU.
Then there would be a group called JNU 2020 Vision. This group will include associate professors and professors who will contact former students, faculty and the general public and listen to their present views on the university and find out where they want to see the university go from here. It would be this groups task to prepare a document with the IQAC. Then we will stand back to see where JNU should be in terms of world ranking and where we wish to see it reach in the next 10 years. The most important task of a university is to fulfill its social commitment we have a commitment to making JNU an inclusive campus.
Q. Any specific plans for the students in the special category?
A. At JNU theres an active Equal Opportunity Cell (EOC). From this year, we will hire two teachers who will impart English and communication skills to people chosen by the EOC. Even the most meritorious student needs a little bit of help while dealing with the real world. And our attempt would be to help the students learn communication skills to handle life after the university. Also JNUs computer centre will initiate courses that help students learn specific programmes which they may need to use on a daily basis or for course work.
After meeting the members of the EOC, I spoke to the administration regarding expansion of funds so that caretakers can be paid more. Also, there will be a dedicated technical officer in the Helen Keller Library who would be helping students with their everyday work scanning documents. We are also going to load all the programmes that students need on every computer in every school.
Q. EDU found that in most campuses students with disabilities were encouraged to take up either humanities or commerce. The reason being that science laboratories are either located at a higher storey or there arent enough teachers to deal with students in special category. Is JNU equipped to allow students to take up subjects of their choice?
A. JNU science laboratories have a special advance instrumentation research facility which is also available to outside researchers. Honestly, I dont know if they are accessible enough. But its an issue that I am willing to look into.
Q. What are the immediate issues that you plan to look into?
A. The EOC members came up with a request in the last meeting. As you probably know, the over arching three per cent reservation is further sub-divided between orthopaedically challenged, visually challenged and hearing disabled students. The EOCs request was to fill up vacant seats in any of the sub-categories, with applicants from the most crowded sub-category. This way, the members believe, the quota would be justified. Why leave empty seats just because there are less number of applicants in a certain sub-category? However, to make this into a norm, I will have to talk to the UGC and other bodies. Thats on my to-do list.
In our XII Plan we are going to ask for more grants from the UGC. Some OH (orthopaedically handicapped) students who rely heavily on their caregivers or escorts need to raise the allowance thats paid to them. That is another issue that we will deal with. Till that extra grant comes in, Ive requested the alumni and the faculty to start contributing, however, minimally, to a fund that may be used for this purpose. I am trying to sensitise the faculty regarding this as well. I am happy to note that there have been two to three members of the EOC who immediately agreed to contribute. Weve also requested the authorities to consider students in special categories for the Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship or make a separate category of fellowship for them.
Q. How about the campus?
A. I move around the campus, eat in the canteens, get a hair-cut in the regular saloons. The point I am trying to make here is that I am aware of the certain areas which may be inaccessible to some students. But making the campus accessible is an ongoing process and its on. JNU is sensitive to the needs of all its students, and where its not, we wish to change that.
Q. Tell us about the Monday meetings.
A. Let me make this clear that this is a meeting thats open to all students. Problems related to academics or infrastructure vis-a-vis degrees, lectures, professors or classes are discussed here. I want every student to get her degree. I will personally intervene in these matters when they come before me. Obviously, I expect people to respect the fact that only very serious cases will be dealt with in these meetings.