Interview with Professor Faizan Mustafa Vice Chancellor of National Law University Orissa

Interview with Professor Faizan Mustafa Vice Chancellor of National Law University Orissa

Bar & Bench

Associate Editor, Anuj Agrawal spoke to Professor Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor of the National Law University of Orissa. In this interview (taken before Mustafa was appointed Nalsar VC), Mustafa talks about this experience of building a young law school, the lack of good teachers in law schools and the need for a serious rethink in legal education.

Bar & Bench: A few words about NLU Orissa and your experience so far?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: NLU Orissa is a new law school which started in 2009. Now this university is aiming for something that we call integration of knowledge. Therefore even though you are a law university, many law universities are just one-department universities. Therefore you need to have different disciplines and there must be some convergence of those disciplines.

That convergence is to be appreciated. Because the real knowledge is at the intersection of disciplines. That intersection of disciplines, I am sorry to tell you, is not appreciated or is not given the attention which it should be given.

Bar & Bench: Do you mean an inter-disciplinary approach?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: It is not merely an inter-disciplinary approach. Say if you are doing law, and you are doing two courses of history or two courses of political science or two courses of sociology. That is not integration of knowledge. Integration of knowlegde is that legal knowledge and the knowledge of political science must converge.

Say I want to understand the concept of justice then I must sit with a political thought expert who has read all the theories of justice from Plato to Amarty Sen to Hobbes……that kind of application, that kind of dialogue between experts in two disciplines, that is I think the hall mark of NLUO. That is if I am teaching justice than a political science expert has to go with me to class.

And what is the society’s perception of justice, a sociologist has to tell me. Therefore a sociologist should also be in the class.

Bar & Bench: You are heading a relatively younger law school. So what are the positives or advantages of heading a younger law school?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: That question is wrong. If you say positives, then you are looking at me. For me it is a climb down, from being a Registrar of a Central University (an institution of national importance mentioned in the Constitution of India) to come to a state university which has no money, isnt it so?

Initially the statute said that the state government will give a one-time grant of 5 crores. It is not comparable because in Aligarh the annual grant was 535 crores. So it is a climb down. So don’t say “my” positives because that is not the issue.

Bar & Bench: Let me rephrase that question. What are the postives of a younger law school?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Since I have been in legal education for more than 25 years, I know what are the deficiencies of traditional departments of law and what are the shortcomings of full-fledged law schools. And one thing that was always in my mind was there is a difference between a school and a university. Therefore if you are only offering only one course (BA LLB) then in my opinion then you are a law school and not a university.

To be a university you have to have many disciplines. Therefore, NLUO has honours programme in political science, in management, in finance etc.We have Mass Communication as a discipline.

You need to have many disciplines to justify your claim to being a “university” otherwise your claim is only based on a statute. Just because the law says you are a university, you are a university. But you don’t justify it on facts.

Bar & Bench: You mentioned the fact that NLUO offers Mass Communication as a subject. What was the reason for introducing this?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Well, look at the prominence which court decisions or legal news get in mass media today. There are plenty of job oppurtunities and nobody in the country, NLUs, law schools, law colleges, no department of law in the country has integrated mass communication with a degree in law.

And there is an acute shortage, paucity and urgent need to give trained legal journalists to the country. Whatever observations are made by judges during the hearing, they [the journalists] think is an order. I will give you an example. In the FCI matter, the judge said that “If the wheat is rotting, distribute it for free.”

There was never such an order. It was just an oral observation not an order. All the newspapers and TV channels flashed this “breaking news” the entire day without understanding the difference.

They failed to understand that the Court cannot pass such an absurd order; an order which did not specify who should distribute, how it should be distributed etc.

Therefore there are plenty of job oppurtunities in the electonic media, print media etc. In order to take advantage of such opportunities, you must know the law so that you know what is the ratio, obiter, what are the passing observations etc. You must have an understanding of the legal system.

And you know also something about journalism and mass communication, elecronic media, print media, ethics of media. Hence the decision to introduce mass communication. And we are the leaders in this: to integrate mass communication and journalism.

Bar & Bench: In terms of challenges faced by NLUs, one of the common ones is a lack of good faculty. There are new colleges coming up without the faculty required to back it up. Do you see any solution to this?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: You see one solution is to train your own faculty. If I were to start a law college and I was to say that first I will have a teachers training institute for five years and then I will start the law college, no one will accept it.

Therefore from day one we took certain decisions. One decision was that I would not hire anyone who does not have any experience with the NLU system. Therefore teachers from traditional law universities are not taken.

Either we take graduates of NLU’s or graduates from foreign universities or people who have taught in NLU’s. This was the first decision.

Secondly, we always encourage our younger teachers to do “co-teaching”. So, initially if someone is recruited then we would prefer to let him attend the classes of senior teachers and sit there for a while. At times this might not be possible but generally this is the policy.

In the initial years, this policy was rigorously followed. Fresh recruits would be attached to a senior teacher for a period of time and then would be given more topics to teach. The fresh teachers would be given feedback [on how to improve].

The third thing that we did was to try and train, give degrees to our students and encourage them to become our teachers. It was with this objective that we started a unique LLM PhD program which is the first of its kind in the country.

Bar & Bench: A masters in law and a PhD?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Yes. You have an acute paucity of good law teachers in the country. What is the reason for this? The reason for this is that UGC norms require that to be an Assistant Professor you must have an LLM.

All graduates from NLU’s will not go for an LLM. Good graduates of even traditional law universities might not go for an LLM.

Therefore people from all kinds of 2nd grade and 3rd grade colleges do an LLM andd while doing the LLM they are also preparing for the judicial service exam, civil services exam etc.

The worst lot will be ones who have completed the LLM and were unable to qualify for any of these exams. This is the lot available to be recruited as teachers. And this is not the best of the lot to teach the best of the students.

Bar & Bench: So then how do you attract good faculty?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: You have to take some policy decisions. Now in the whole world, the LLM is one-year program except in India. Therefore I said that we should have a one-year LLM, tried to pressurise the UGC, wrote many letters etc. I even took the matter to my Academic Council but they just said “No no”

Then I took a resolution from the Academic Council that the Vice Chancellor should find a way to start a one-year LLM as per UGC norms.

Now, the UGC says you can only have two-year LLMs. Therefore what I did was I looked at the rules and played a little trick. The trick was this: I combine an LLM and a PhD. Now LLM, as per UGC norms, has to be two years. PhD also, as per UGC norms, has to be at least two years.

The UGC permits that if you club two courses together, then one year will be relaxed. This is how it has become a 3-year LLM PhD programme, two years for the PhD and one for the LLM.

And this LLM is not a formal, classroom type LLM. It is a unique programme. Because I told you that unless you give them training in teaching, they will not become good teachers. Therefore you have to train them. That is why we have a full course here on educational psychology and learning methods. One semester they must learn, they must read on this. These are guided readings.

They are given a class, they are given a tutorial, they are asked to set a question paper, how to evaluate.

Last semester we had a new recruit. I saw that in his course, many students were getting O’s and A’s. This was the first time he was evaluating. So I asked him to speak to me. I picked up 3-4 answer sheets. I told him that I am going to evaluate like this and he realised his mistakes.

That is the whole point. We have to train them. This is the kind of LLM where we teach them teaching methodology, seminar courses. Then initially four hours of teaching under a supervisor and then independent of the supervisor. They also get a PhD at the end.

This is a paid programme. In the first year, we pay them Rs.15,000 and in the remaining two years Rs. 25,000. Furthermore, in the advertisment [for the LLM PhD course] it has been mentioned that all of them [the LLM PhD students] are likely to be absorbed by NLUO.

I believe that LLM is only required for becoming a teacher. Therefore to practice, to become a judge etc you do not require an LLM. So LLM I would give only to a person who is having academia as a career and therefore I have to train him from day one.

Therefore you will have to write papers, I will not have any classes-vasses. I need papers [to be written].

I also think that a univerisity should train teachers of other law colleges and offer regular refresher courses for its own teachers and teachers of other schools. This would allow for a constant upgradation of teaching skills and also knowledge. Mostly law schools are having young people teaching various courses. They have not been exposed to real law teaching. So let Upendra Baxi come here and conduct classes for teachers for a couple of days. This will have an impact.

Bar & Bench: So there is no doubt in your mind that the quality of teaching is suspect and requires urgent attention?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Definitely. The future of all law schools would depend on the kind of faculty they would have. Because infrastructure, this brick and mortar and AC’s, that is not a university. A university is about knowledge creation and how you disseminate it. What are your teaching methodologies, learning methods etc. A teacher has to learn.

I don’t mind my teachers going for training themselves. Therefore in the last Finance Committee meeting, I made a provision of 5 lakhs that my management teachers will go to IIM Ahmedabad, spend 3 months there, they will get their full salary, I will take care of registration fee etc and then come back.

I am offering management courses and hence they should be on par with IIM Ahmedabad. And I made this very clear; the resolution [made by NLUO] clearly states that every year there will be two teachers going to IIM Ahmedabad.

Bar & Bench: The other important pillar in a university is the quality of the student. So what do you think about CLAT the exam per se?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: You see intially, when we were in the first year by the time I took over, the last date for CLAT was over. So definitely we could not have joined it. So we conducted our test and our test evaluation was done by a number of websites. For three consecutive years, my admission test has been rated as the best in the country. For three consecutive years!

And the whole idea was to test students on certain parameters. It is not just an elimination kind of thing. So you will see in CLAT or other law entrance papers, legal acumen is not tested. Legal knowledge is tested. So you are asked who is the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court and who is the Chairman of Nalsar and who won the Adnan Shah Hockey Cup.

I don’t want to test all this. If you look at our question paper, you will find that there is a scheme of testing.

Bar & Bench: One of the factors on which law schools are ranked are the publications or journals that it can produce. Are there any plans to come out with publications?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Definitely. But you may be surpised to know that we have a very impressive list of publications by the faculty within the first two years itself.

If you look at publications made by our students, we have had around 20-25 articles written by students within the first two years itself. In terms of books, 8 teachers have written books and got them published abroad, all in two years.

My publication list is very impressive because I told my teachers that they can “publish or perish”. If you do not publish, you will go.

Bar & Bench: So there is a lot of emphasis given on research?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Most definitely. There is no question. If they do not publish, I won’t keep them. I made it very clear to them.

Bar & Bench: How do you deal with plagiarism?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: We have a plagiarism policy written within our course structure itself.

Bar & Bench: But policy is one thing, what about actual practice? What are the repercussions?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: We come down heavily on plagiarism. Marks are deducted, students are failed, they are penalised. They are not allowed to go for moots. Some of my best students were found guilty of plagiarism and the moot court society told them that they cannot go for moots for on year. Strict action is taken.

In fact, in that sense, my teachers are far tougher than I am. Because my interest, as a VC, is that my best team should go. But the faculty makes it clear that plagiarism will not be tolerated and I can’t over rule them.

Bar & Bench: In terms of fees, most NLU fees are quite high. It automatically means that either you take a loan or you do not apply. This then affects the eventual career choices available to the student. Do you think there is any solution to this?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: The solution is that there should be a central statute for all law schools, just like all IITs and IIMs. We should come under the central government. Every year, some of the recurring expenses should be taken care by the government.

So if each law school gets even 5 crores from the government, it would enable the law school to reduce its fee drastically. If you want us to run as a self-financing institution and you want us to pay UGC pay scale and have the best of the infrastructure then these law schools will have to have these kind of fees because the money is not coming from the government.

So the whole idea that law schools should be self-financed, that has to go.

The government should start giving a recurring grant of around 5-6 crores (which would mean less than 100 crores for all law schools put together). This investment will give rich dividends; law schools will be able to attract people from lower strata of society, there will no burden of taking an educational loan.

And in the longer run, it will help fulfill something that NLUO is aiming at: producing the best litigation lawyers.

I told Bar & Bench two years ago, that we need to produce “socially relevant” lawyers. That is my job. Because if I am producing corporate lawyers, I have been hi-jacked by the corporates which is something I do not want.

And since the focus of most law schools was on producing corporate lawyers, I said “Ok this is the space for me” and the space for me is to produce the best litigation lawyers. That is why I emphasized on producing litigating lawyers.

I tell them that their job will not be monotonous. Names of corporate lawyers are not known to people but names such as as Sorabjee, Palkiwala and Nariman are household names. In terms of material rewards as well, litigation is far more rewarding. For the first few years, you may earn less than what your friend in a corporate firm would earn. But eventually that gentleman is going to come and brief you!

That is what NLUO is aiming at: to give the country the best litigating lawyers and from these lawyers you will get the best judges. Because that is my mandate: I should be able to enrich the Bar and the Bench. This is something I cannot do if all my students are going to corporates. I am not saying that they should not go, ultimately it is their choice but the focus of the univerisity is to produce the best litigating lawyers.

Bar & Bench: Studying law is still considered as a second or third option for most students. Why do you think one should study law?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa:I can’t be an independent observer in a subject in which I have spent my entire life. I feel that from cradle to grave, there is no escape from law. We live in a highly regulated society. And therefore be it technology or science, law is everywhere.

And any society which is becoming modern, technology-savy etc must have some of its best brains in law. Otherwise how do you deal with, for instance, drafting trade agreements with other countries? So for diplomacy you need law.

If you want to become a politician you should know law. That is why some of our greatest leaders were lawyers. And in the United States even today, the best people go to law.

It was because of a decline in law in the ’60s and ’70s that people started shifting to other disciplines. And this is a kind of mindset you know, with this recession, now already the market for BTechs is saturated. There are not so many jobs for management graduates.

But lawyers can have a good time because even if a company is going to be wound up, you will have a job. Therefore there was actually a job increase during the recession in 2008-09 for lawyers in the United States!

Therefore you should do law. It gives you a job, satisfaction and it allows you to empower other citizens in realising their rights. The satisfaction that you helped one individual to have what is his rightful due, that satisfaction cannot be measured in money. In any case, law gives a lot of money. And you are safe. No Income Tax officer will ever come to your house and search your premises (laughs).

Bar & Bench: And for you? What do you like most about law?

Prof. Faizan Mustafa: Teaching. I enjoy teaching law.

Generally constitutional law but any branch of law other than corporate law. I enjoy teaching law. Because I feel that the questions you get from students, that becomes the basis of research. Therefore I encourage a lot of student participation.

They are younger minds, they are ahead of me …… in any case I feel that it is the duty of every teacher in every university. Because a student has the pressure of 5-6 papers, youngsters will have other exta-curricular engagements as well….I am teaching only one course. That is why it is my responsbility that I must read all my articles, the relevant case law and then I should be able to bring that knowledge to my students in a manner which is easy to understand.

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