CJI report on NLSIU quotexploration and accomplishmentquot to quotdiminution and dissatisfactionquot
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CJI report on NLSIU quotexploration and accomplishmentquot to quotdiminution and dissatisfactionquot

Bar & Bench

The Chief Justice of India had appointed a School Review Commission to review the 24-year old National Law School of India University (NLSIU, Bangalore). The Commission was headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice K.T. Thomas and had Prof. Virendra Kumar Director Academics of the Chandigarh Judicial Academy (CJA, Chandigarh) and Prof. M.P. Singh Vice Chancellor of the National University of Juridical Sciences, (NUJS, Kolkata) as members.

The Chief Justice of India had appointed a School Review Commission to review the 24-year old National Law School of India University (NLSIU, Bangalore). The Commission was headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice K.T. Thomas and had Prof. Virendra Kumar Director Academics of the Chandigarh Judicial Academy (CJA, Chandigarh) and Prof. M.P. Singh Vice Chancellor of the National University of Juridical Sciences, (NUJS, Kolkata) as members.

The Times of India reported on Saturday quoting the School Review Commissions  Report that NLSIU has moved away from the phase of “exploration and accomplishment” to a “phase of diminution and dissatisfaction” and “the rigorous work culture and singular commitment, the hallmark of NLSIU in the first decade of its existence, is on the wane. The level of functioning is now far from expectations”.

Member of the School Review Commission, Prof. M.P. Singh speaking with the Bar & Bench said, “The Report speaks about the teachers, in not taking more than 4 to 6 classes per week. Most important was the academic aspect, as the students are hard working and have done well on their own accord, but whether there has been a contribution from the faculty in terms of knowledge creation, the position is very dismal”.

Bar & Bench speaks with Prof. Shamnad Basheer (pictured), an alumni of NLSIU and Prof. at NUJS, Kolkata.

B&B: Your thoughts on the School Review Commissions Report.

Prof. Shamnad Basheer: This review was long overdue and is a welcome one in that it highlights deep systemic issues, not just with NLS Bangalore, but with all other leading national law schools. These haloed institutions fall short on several counts, including a worrying lack of academic rigour in the courses taught, lackadaisical student evaluations that are often plagued with favouritism and bias, and most importantly, a stunningly severe shortage of research output and publications.

If we are national “universities”, we must live upto that epithet and expand the frontiers of knowledge and not just be passive consumers of it… In fact, the lack of good legal literature from India often means that our students study law through the perspective of a “western” lens, and we don’t have enough quality books offering an “Indian” or Asian perspective.  Apart from students, even our judges and policy makers do not have decent “India” specific material to rely on while adjudicating cases or framing policy for this nation. The Prime Minister has been extremely kind in labelling us as “islands of excellence”: but only those of us from the inside really know how deserving we are of that term, particularly when we set ourselves global benchmarks and compare ourselves with the best in the world.

B&B: The Report points to student’s lifestyle and behavioural aspects.

Prof. Shamnad Basheer: While the report is very elaborate and reflects intense investigation and homework, I have to take issue with it in so far as it traverses the “private” domain. The private sex lives of students are no business of the committee and this moral policing at the leading universities has to stop. Of course, any untoward acts in public or acts that violate hostel norms or cause “harm” to others could be acted upon…but what students do outside campus is completely their business. I am yet to see the portion of the report dealing with this aspect—so don’t really know what the Committee said on this count and am taking the TOI reporter at face value.

B&B: Your view on the number of teaching hours claiming to be 4-6 hours per week.

Prof. Shamnad Basheer: The TOI reporter appears to have been negligent in reviewing the report. 4-6 hours per week is clearly wrong. If I’m not mistaken, most students would be subject to at least 20-25 hours of teaching a week. Secondly, even assuming that the number of teaching hours have gone down, this by itself cannot signal a fall in quality or academic rigour. Leading law schools such as Harvard and Yale have few classes a week—but students have copious amounts of reading to do before each lecture…so the number of hours spent by the student per week is actually quite significant. So what has to be seen is whether or not the drop in number of classes were accompanied by more readings and a more “intensive” Socratic style discussion in class. Here again, I am yet to see the portion of the report dealing with this aspect—so don’t really know what the Committee said on this count and why they saw a reduced number of hours as problematic.

B&B: Plagiarism and whether law schools are well equipped to deal with it?

Prof. Shamnad Basheer: The ignominious levels of plagiarism and unethical practices by students are again part of a systemic issue that flows out of intense levels of unhealthy competition and deplorable levels of scrutiny by faculty. Plagiarism is a given for most students who acquire this habit from their seniors. In fact, most of the plagiarised content come out of earlier projects written by senior students. Students have evolved innovative ways of trading in projects/papers not just within their law school, but also between the various law schools. Law schools have to therefore come together and create a searchable database of all prior project submissions, as a first step. In fact, I’m actively pushing the idea of creating our own software and database on this count so that we don’t have to pay the Rs. 1 lakh fee per year that professional software providers such as Turnitin charge. But there are clear limits to this, and a machine/software cannot replace the “human element”. A large part of the anti-plagiarism strategy will depend on how careful the concerned faculty member is in reading the student submission and scrutinising it for plagiarised passages. Also a determination of what amount of “copying” amounts to plagiarism is often fact specific and cannot be performed by a software. Universities also need to evolve broad guidelines on this count. Lastly, we really have to engage with students, speak to them and help them understand that this is unethical and that these short cuts will harm them in the long run.

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