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Last month, V Arun Roy was appointed Registrar and Vice-Chancellor-in charge of Tamil Nadu National Law School (TNNLS), Tiruchirappalli. The IAS officer is the first NLSIU graduate to be Vice-Chancellor of an NLU, and at 36 years, is also the youngest to hold the post.
In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, Roy talks about performing damage control at the fledgling National Law University, how knowledge of law helped during his career as a civil servant and more.
Aditya AK: What prompted you to take up the civil services as opposed to a conventional legal career?
Arun Roy: I did a few internships with law firms and realised that I may not enjoy a corporate life. Having said that, I didn’t completely rule out that option. While I was studying for the UPSC exam, I was working with ITC for a year or so. I thought I would enjoy working for the government more, because it gave me job satisfaction and a sense of purpose.
What attracted me most to the IAS was the diversity of the jobs. That meant that I would not have to be stuck doing one thing. Today, I have a posting at a law school, something even I never imagined I would be doing!
Aditya AK: Did your legal background come in handy during your career in the civil services?
Arun Roy: It did. Administration is nothing but application of law in a given factual scenario. As an IAS officer, very often we are required to apply legal principles. In a tricky situation, it always helps to know the first principles. I wouldn’t say that knowledge of ‘x’ section of this Act would really help, but there are things like rule of law and natural justice that come in handy.
Aditya AK: How did you come to be the VC-in charge of TNNLS?
Arun Roy: There was no offer as such, I just got an order to take up the post of VC and Registrar-in charge and I joined. The civil service works in such a way that you don’t have a choice of posts. Of course, there may be some instances of lobbying to get posts, but at our seniority level, it doesn’t happen. We are given a posting and we are required to join, no questions asked.
So, one fine afternoon, I received the order to be Registrar of the law school. The Chief Justice of the Madras High Court then issued a separate order asking me to officiate as Vice Chancellor till an alternative arrangement is made.
Aditya AK: Your predecessor, Prof Murugavel stated that he resigned because of differences with the Executive Council. How much freedom does a VC of an NLU have?
Arun Roy: As per the Act, the Chancellor is the head of the Executive Council, which is highest body of the university. So, technically, the Vice-Chancellor is bound by the express directions of the Executive Council. This is the setup in most universities which are constituted by Acts. The Council delegates powers to the Vice-Chancellor, who in turn delegates powers to the Registrar, Controller of Examinations etc. Policy decisions are taken with the approval of the Executive Council.
I have found the Executive Council to be more than supportive. After I took charge, they’ve been kind enough to approve everything I’ve asked for. The members come from varied fields of the legal profession – there are Senior Advocates, members of the Bar Council, High Court judges, Law Secretary and the Advocate General. It is very unlikely that they have axes to grind to serve their own interests.
If you ask me, Executive Councils here or in other universities don’t interfere with the day-to-day affairs of the university, which is the Vice-Chancellor’s job. The things we need to change in a university like this are academic standards, more faculty, etc.
Aditya AK: What challenges did you face when you joined?
Arun Roy: The biggest challenge was that there were no regular teachers. During my predecessor’s time itself, some interviews were taken and the Executive Council had approved the appointment of a few teachers. I issued appointment orders and asked them to join immediately. That wasn’t sufficient, so we made advertisements in newspapers, did telephonic interviews and got CVs via email.
We hired some fresh LLMs from various law schools. The students are also fairly happy with them. We also got some teachers from nearby management and arts colleges. My biggest challenge was to get five hours of classes running every day; that was a problem students were facing – there were no regular classes. So far, we have not had any problems ensuring this, so my first target is achieved.
My biggest challenge was to get five hours of classes running every day; that was a problem students were facing – there were no regular classes. So far, we have not had any problems ensuring this, so my first target is achieved.
Another challenge I faced was the library, which was very weak. Now we have identified some books and have ordered them. I visited NLU Delhi and NLSIU Bangalore’s libraries. I sat down with the librarians and made a list of books and online journals to subscribe to. So, the library is being strengthened presently.
Aditya AK: Do you think the high fees charged at NLUs is justified?
Arun Roy: On one hand, to ask a student to pay more than two lakhs a year is a tall order. The problem with that is it becomes an automatic barrier filtering out students from financially weak backgrounds. As a result, the student community becomes highly elite – that is a trap many law schools have fallen into. So the entire purpose behind creating a law school is defeated.
But from an administrator’s point of view, to maintain the faculty, physical infrastructure, and to meet the reasonable expectations of students costs a lot of money. Our running costs can only be met by charging high fees.
Aditya AK: What about state government funding?
Arun Roy: The state government only funds the infrastructure, which is why we can afford this present day campus. They have already spent 75 crore on the infrastructure, which is more than what they would have spent on traditional law colleges in the last few years. So it is unfair for us to ask for more money.
Aditya AK: But doesn’t that mean students who can’t afford the fees are denied an education?
Arun Roy: It does. Ideally, I believe all NLUs should evolve a progressive scholarship policy, as NLSIU has done. That would, however, take some time for an institution like this, which has just come up. NLSIU, of course, is well established and can afford to have one now. This seems to be the only alternative, because I feel that NLUs will continue to charge high fees. This is the reality, even though I believe that it breeds a sort of elitism.
Ideally, I believe all NLUs should evolve a progressive scholarship policy, as NLSIU has done.
Aditya AK: Given the way this year’s CLAT was handled, do you think it’s time for a permanent body to run the exam?
Arun Roy: I would definitely recommend it, though I haven’t attended a single CLAT meeting yet. I feel that the best practice for any exam is to have a permanent secretariat handling it. It need not be a private entity, the law schools themselves can set up a common agency comprising some staff who develop an expertise in the area. But there definitely needs to be a permanent core group running the affairs, because it involved very technical work. To expect one university to conduct the whole exam process is too much.
Aditya AK: What does the future hold for a relatively new university like TNNLS?
Arun Roy: The relevance of a new school lies in the possibility of developing a niche expertise in a particular field of law in the future. Right now, it’s too early to think of the larger perspective. It’s not even my mandate; I have to hand over the baton to the next Vice-Chancellor. I’m more of a disaster management man, I set things right and move on. Probably the next VC who joins will have a vision and hopefully he’ll stay on for more than five years.