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Dr. Rose Varghese was selected for the post of Vice-Chancellor at National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS) in October last year. A veteran academician, Dr. Varghese has been a teacher of Criminal Law at NLSIU Bangalore and Jamia Milia Islamia, where she was Dean of the Faculty of Law.
In this interview with Bar & Bench, she talks about balancing academic and administrative duties, reforms in criminal law, the need for clinical studies in law school curriculum and more.
Bar& Bench: Why did you choose to do law?
Dr. Rose Varghese: Since childhood, I have had an interest in debates, elocution etc. I was always an extrovert.
B&B: You spent seven years as an advocate in Kerala before becoming an academician. What prompted the shift?
Rose Varghese: I was working with Ishwar Iyer, a leading criminal lawyer in those days. I did an LL.M. in Criminal Law as I was interested in the subject. My husband had finished his LL.M. and was doing his Ph.D. in law. Soon after my LL.M., even before the results were out, Nagarjuna University wanted to take both, my husband and I as teachers. At the time, my son was four years old. So I thought that I would teach for a while so that I could give him more time. But, once I started teaching, I developed a passion for it. I was teaching Criminal Law, the subject I loved and I’ve always had the attention of my students, from then to now. My classes have always been interactive, I never went for the lecture method, even in those days.
B&B: How do you think the role of a law teacher has changed over the years?
RV: People keep saying that the role of a law teacher has changed. But, according to me, a teacher, whatever subject he teaches, has to be committed. Teaching methods have changed now, but I always believed that teaching should not be done using purely the lecture method. What I think has changed though is the scope for law. When I was doing law, people in Kerala used to think that someone did law because they couldn’t get admission in engineering or medicine.
I find a lot of warmth in the relationship with my students. I love my students and am very approachable. When I was moving from Jamia after 20 years of teaching there, they were in tears.
B&B: Do you still find time to teach, given your administrative duties?
Rose Varghese: When I was Dean at Faculty of Law, Jamia, I took all my classes. I’ve just joined here and there are a lot of things going on, so I’m just giving myself some time. When the next batch comes in, I want to make it a point to teach. There’s a lot of work in administration, but a teacher will always remain a teacher. If I do only administrative work, the academic inclination will get lost. But, the truth of the matter is that I won’t be able to take classes every day.
B&B: What changes do you plan to make at NUALS?
Rose Varghese: Everyone thinks that an institution depends on the Vice-Chancellor. But, I believe that an institution runs on the commitment of the teachers and their ability to motivate students. Here, I know I can do a lot because I have an excellent group of teachers. At the first meeting with the teachers, I told them that after five years of studying law, our students are not able to set up a practice, then there is something wrong with the teaching. I suggested that the curriculum should have a lot of input in terms of clinical legal education. It is important to have practical training, because if a client comes to an advocate for advice, and he doesn’t know something, then it’s a shame on the institution he studied in.
We’ve incorporated clinics in our timetable. If there are 6 hours a week for a subject, 1 hour minimum is devoted to clinical exercises in that subject. There is no point in knowing about writs in theory, you have to learn how to draft them. We hone the students’ advocacy skills through moot courts, which I think should be done within the university for every subject.
B&B: Do you think there is more scope for reforms in criminal law?
Rose Varghese: Most law schools host annual moot court competitions, but when I was at Jamia, I organized a national law reforms competition, and plan to host one here as well. I have been observing that crimes are on the rise, and our criminal justice system needs revamping. Some petty offences should be decriminalized and there should be some sort of a civil remedy for these. This way, the cumbersome procedure of criminal law can be avoided and everyone’s time can be saved. That way, we can focus more on serious offences like murder, rape etc. The IPC was drafted in 1860 and even now, the fine for some offences is Rs.500. The entire legislation, section by section, needs to be reviewed, for which we need another Lord Macaulay!
B&B: What would you say are differences between a traditional law university and an NLU?
Rose Varghese: People go by impressions. There is an impression that NLU products are the best. I taught the first five batches of NLSIU Bangalore and they were excellent. But, I also had students at Jamia who were exemplary and could compete with students from any NLU.
B&B: There were allegations of financial mismanagement against the previous NUALS administration in connection with construction of some buildings.
Rose Varghese: The first thing I said when I joined is that I would not look at the past, I am only bothered about the future of the institution. Also, my focus is on the academic side of things. The allegations have been blown out of proportion. The evidence they gave included a leak in one of the buildings, something which could happen to any building, really.
B&B: How has the state government’s support for the university been?
Rose Varghese: For the financial part of it, the Registrar would know better. But, otherwise, they have been very supportive. They know that we mean to bring up this institution, so they want to do something to help the process.
B&B: Don’t you think that the fees charged at NLUs is a little on the higher side?
Rose Varghese: From the beginning, the fees was different. At Jamia, the fees was Rs. 8,700 per year, but they had full support from the UGC. Whereas in NLUs, they don’t get full financial support. People want quality education and top class infrastructure. You can’t expect to have these things and keep the fees low. We have to pay our faculty, whereas in central government universities, the UGC takes care of that.
Personally, I believe that students should go for litigation. Those who have been steadily practicing for years are now doing well. Take Dayan Krishnan for example. He was one of my students at NLSIU and is a very successful lawyer today. He was the Special Public Prosecutor in the Nirbhaya case. So even if they are paying high fees now, they will surely be able to make it up after they pass out. If the fees are high without quality education, then people have a reason to crib about it.
B&B: Ever since NUALS came under CLAT, has there been an increase in the diversity of students?
Rose Varghese: Yes, there has and I’m very happy with this development. Diversity is the best part of India. People who speak different languages and have different cultures have a lot to learn from each other. I told my faculty that I want students from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
B&B: Has there been any opposition to the compulsory uniform rule?
Rose Varghese: You may think that they look like school students, but I would say that they look like future advocates! It is not a school uniform with a belt and tie and whatnot. There has been no opposition to the rule, they are all happy with it. When you are in professional attire and you are sitting in a professional course, you feel professional. If you’re in jeans or bermudas, you will be in a picnic mood.
B&B: Why should a student join NUALS over other NLUs?
Rose Varghese: I would tell them that NUALS is unique. It’s not just that our teachers are committed, but also that we place a lot of emphasis on research. Here, we have 13 Centres of Learning. The three new ones that started after I joined are the Centre for Intellectual Property, Centre for Human Rights and a Centre for Law and Economics.
The purpose of the integrated course is to make students relate to subjects like Economics, History and Sociology from a legal perspective. Each Centre comes out with research work and we plan to get Research Associates for the same.
The reason I want NUALS to be a research-oriented institute is because you cannot be a good lawyer without research skills. Those who come here will get a chance to develop their practice in law. Of course, you can’t force everyone to do litigation. But practice is more challenging.