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Currently in his third year as head of NALSAR University, Prof. Faizan Mustafa has introduced a number of changes at the university. In this interview with Bar & Bench, the Vice Chancellor talks about reducing the problems of CLAT, shortage of faculty, and why everyone ought to study law.
Bar & Bench: You have been at NALSAR for close to two and a half years now. What are the changes that you have introduced at the university?
Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Well, we have introduced a number of changes in the recent past. Let me tell you quite frankly that [NALSAR] is no longer competing with the other law schools in the country. We are introducing courses that no other law school can even dream of; courses such as “Judicial Engineering with Socio-Economic Rights” (Justice Muralidhar) and “Gendering Legal Education” (Prof. Archana Parishar).
When I first came here, I sat with the faculty and we reviewed our course structure. In the last two years, we have launched several specialized law courses, such as Masters in Aviation Law, Masters in Telecommunication Law, MBA program specifically designed for Court Managers. We are also contemplating of starting a state of the art 3-year LLB course but that is still in the planning stage.
Originally there used to be close to 47 compulsory courses in the five-year course. Now we have reduced that to 31 compulsory courses. Let the students choose what they want to study. After all they are here to study. They must enjoy the learning process.
I had even proposed doing away with the system of five projects a semester. I wanted it to be reduced to one project per semester. But I could not create a consensus on this. As an alternative we have diversified our projects which include writing of dialogue, movie review, article review etc. The truth is that students today are under too much academic stress. I want to reduce this stress. We are indeed teaching them too much.
B&B: This was something that the AP High Court had also taken cognizance of.
FM: Exactly, that was a matter regarding student suicides in the university campuses. The High Court had appointed a committee under my chairmanship, and we called the heads of various institutions to discuss this problem. We have given some very innovative suggestions that the High Court was kind enough to accept.
Today, students are under so much stress right from the start. And the pressure never lessens; it becomes worse over the years. And the maximum pressure is on the students who come through affirmative action programs. These programs may allow access but then what? You want them to sit through the same exam as the others, and expect them to perform just as well? That is hardly fair now is it? I think we must come up with reasonable accommodation policies for these students.
B&B: Earlier, you had mentioned that there is a drastic shortage of good faculty. How has NALSAR tackled this problem?
FM: See, we can’t pay our faculty more than what the University Grants Commission allows. So that is one disadvantage. How else are you going to attract young talent to academia? I am not saying that the salaries should be the same as law firms, but you have to pay them competitive salaries.
Since we cannot do that, what I have done is to try and create an academic environment and ambience at NALSAR which would attract them. We regularly have faculty meetings, and the course curriculum is discussed together.
More than two years ago, I had written to the Bar Council of India to make the B.A. LL.B [degree] instead of the LL.M [degree] as the eligibility requirement for teaching law. That would go a long way in fighting faculty shortage. But there has been no response yet.
When I came to NALSAR, I wrote to our alumni, asking them to come here and take short-term courses. And the response has been quite encouraging. They frequently come here, and they do take these one-credit, two-credit courses where classes go on till 11 in the night. We have experts from various branches of law coming here and taking these courses.
B&B: What is your take on CLAT?
FM: See, I don’t think it is working to our full satisfaction. Every year, some new university is taking charge of CLAT and it is like reinventing the wheel every year. If I had my way, I would take NALSAR out of CLAT but that is a difficult thing to do. I am not in favor of asking questions on Law of Contract, Constitution, Criminal Law and Law of Tort etc. in the name of legal acumen. It is unethical to test them in law without teaching them. Coaching centres are making lot of money due to faulty design of our test. If the number of applicants goes to one lakh or so then CLAT would become a good test.
You see, CLAT needs to have a permanent Secretariat; it needs to be a permanent body. And ideally, it should be used for admission into law courses across the country. No institution, including traditional universities and law colleges, should be allowed to conduct their own test. The way things stand though, a lot needs to be changed.
B&B: Last question, why do you think anyone should study law?
FM: Law is there from cradle to grave, the minute you are born, there is a law to be followed. When you die, there is a law that needs to be followed. I don’t think there is any other subject in the world that follows our lives so closely.