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The power of students cannot be underestimated – NUJS’ Akshat Gupta & Adithya Iyer

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Last week, the student body at NUJS released its Performance Report for 2013-15, highlighting a number of changes introduced in the university over the past two years. Changes that are quite extensive in nature, ranging from renovating the hostel toilets to facilitating the weekly visit of a psychiatrist.

In an e-mail interview with Anuj Agrawal, the student body’s former President, Akshat Gupat and Vice President, Adithya Iyer talk about how they went about identifying the issues, working with the administration and the lessons learnt over the past two years.

(Excerpts below)

Anuj Agrawal: Where did you start? How did you go about getting the administration to listen to your views?

Akshat Gupta: We had a lot of things in mind that we wanted to work on and realized that we had just one year to bring about all these changes. We used the 2 month long summer break to identify and prioritize issues so we could commence work from the very first day we assumed office.

In the first month, we flooded our Vice Chancellor and Registrar’s offices with a string of petitions. In addition to this, persistent and persuasive dialogue helped merit our sincerity and firm determination to get the issues resolved. Additionally and more importantly, we not only highlighted why a change was required but also indicated how best that change could be brought about. We must add here that once the administration was convinced of the genuineness of our demands and sincerity of our efforts, we could both leverage each other’s strengths.

We also realized that with the kind of changes that we sought to bring about, intervention of higher decision making bodies would be imperative. For instance, in an unprecedented move, we made an oral representation before the Academic Council as early as in the 3rd week of assuming office. Here, we highlighted the falling academic standards and the alarming levels of faculty attrition.

AA: How has the online faculty review system been received, by both students and faculty?

AG: We believe that a fair and transparent faculty review system is a sine qua non of high academic standards of any University.

The old system had lost its value because the students’ felt that their reviews were not taken seriously. To restore confidence, a new system with transparency, fairness, reward or punishment had to be introduced. We persuaded the administration and faculty, with much difficulty, that strict action should be taken against faculty who received bad reviews consistently. We felt that this may not be enough to fully restore confidence. The new review system had to not only be different in substance but also in form. Accordingly, an online review system was introduced with adequate safeguards for anonymity as well as with the provision for publication of collated responses of all students.

The new system has only been used once and we can only hope that it will have the desired effect in due course of time.

<span style="color: #800080;">Akshat Gupta &amp; Adithya Iyer</span>
Akshat Gupta & Adithya Iyer

AA: A lot of your achievements hinged on adequate financial investment (toilets, additional accommodation for girls, quad levelling) – Was this particularly difficult to complete? Any methods used to check potential misappropriation?

AG: Indeed a lot of changes hinged on adequate financial investment. We recognized that as a student body, securing additional financial resources was going to be extremely difficult. Thus, we had to work with the available resources while continuing our efforts to secure additional funding in the long term.

To secure changes with the limited resources, we employed a 2-fold strategy:

  • To ascertain the extent of resource crunch, we pleaded before the administration to share with us financial documents like annual budget, proposed budget outlay, receipt and expenditure of grants (if any). These documents helped us understand the financials of the University and also revealed the receipt of a sizeable grant from the UGC. Hereafter, we carefully aligned our demands with the budgetary allocations under the respective sub-heads making it almost impossible for the administration to shoot down our requests on grounds of financial limitations.
  • We rationalized our demands keeping in mind the financial considerations. For instance, quad levelling was done to fix the only available outdoor play area on campus for our students. A better option was to demand for the quad to be lined with synthetic turf in addition to levelling. Similarly, the additional accommodation for girls’ hostel was secured by clubbing it with another long standing demand of a guest house on campus.

Here, we must acknowledge full cooperation from our Vice Chancellor to effect these as well as other monumental infrastructural changes.

Adithya Iyer: Moreover, we realized that the inadequate infrastructure was more because of a lack of push from the students which resulted in tardy progress of even the already planned infrastructure. While ideally, such things should be done automatically by the University, lack of pressure from the students contributes significantly to inaction, both on the policy front as well as in implementation. It is imperative that this pressure is maintained consistently and in a constructive manner.

AA: What has been the student response to the college psychiatrist? Do you think there is a need to make this a permanent position?

AI: This was a welcome development which we feel is essential to have in any educational institution. Although a strict level of confidentiality is maintained in these matters, the response seems to have been great so far. We are definitely planning to make this a permanent fixture in college.

AA: Any lessons learnt along the way that you wish to share with other law students?

AG: In essence, “Be persistent and uncompromising.”

Additionally, I would say living up to people’s rising expectations is always difficult. But one should not let that dishearten you. Rather, the burden of these rising expectations should act as encouragement and motivation to work even harder to try to deliver as best as one can.

Further, it is important to have a good team working alongside you and team members should be given enough space to work independently. We were extremely fortunate in this regard. Both times we had a very hard working and committed team working alongside us. Also, the core Outlawed team deserves a special mention here. Outlawed is what it is due to their vision, belief, hard work and dedication.

AI: Quite a few, actually. First and foremost that the battle of perception is almost un-winnable entirely. No matter what the results are, there will always be people denying that work has happened or that you have helped it happen or worse still that your motives were insincere. So we learnt to ignore that the best we could. This became easier after we were allowed to continue for a second term by the students. Another big learning was that one must not underestimate the power of students in a University. When channeled constructively and in a focussed manner, not only do demands get met, the bargaining power that future batches will have with the administration increases considerably. The challenge is to seem reasonable yet uncompromising on core issues.

Most importantly, it is essential to have a supportive student body and faculty members. By God’s grace, we have had both and our job became easier. Not one bit of the work could have been done without the constant encouragement and support we received throughout our term.

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