JNU: Problems and Prospects
by N S Rajaram on 26 Jul 2018 7 Comments

The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was established in 1968 as a centrally funded university, to be a premier national university. It claims to be India’s top university, though it does not specify on what grounds. In the United States where this writer taught for over twenty years, JNU graduates are not given high standing when being considered for admission. That distinction goes to graduates of IITs, IISc. and some older universities like Delhi, Mysore, Calcutta and others. It may not be entirely fair on my part to compare them as I was associated mostly with science and engineering programs in the U.S. But my inquiries at various humanities programs in the U.S. and U.K too showed no great appreciation for JNU.


Even in India, the reputation of JNU is not the best, daily going from bad to worse. It seems to come into limelight only when there is a protest of some sort, often in support of unworthy causes. Some insiders, including students, have called JNU the hub of anti-national activities with some faculty members using students to promote their left-wing political agendas, at no cost to themselves. In effect, they were accused of using students as scapegoats - a serious charge, but worth looking into.


To try to understand the phenomenon, I consulted two young JNU alumni know to me, who have gone on to have successful careers. One is a graduate of political science who obtained a Ph.D. from a foreign university and now works in the private sector. The other is an M.Phil. in economics, who has become a successful entrepreneur, forming a company of her own. Neither was a science or technology graduate, so there is no bias against humanities students or faculty.


What they told me should be serious cause for concern. Over the years, JNU has deteriorated greatly and some students try to hang on as long as possible by getting some faculty members to support them. This way they are able to live in reasonable comfort on a generous scholarship amounting to as much as Rs. 30,000 per month and more. The problem, according to my sources, is that employment opportunities once they graduate are minimal to non-existent.


JNU was started with the best of intentions, but its emphasis on humanities at the cost of the sciences and professions has taken a toll on the future of the students and of the university itself. And left-leaning faculty biases have turned the university into a Left-wing seminary, intolerant of alternate viewpoints.


I was myself a scholarship student in the U.S., but the courses and duties were quite demanding. I not only had to maintain a high grade point average, I had serious work responsibility as well. This could include assisting students and reviewing publications, especially research papers sent for publication to scholarly journals. It was a valuable learning experience for I had to report regularly to my faculty advisor who would send an evaluation of my performance to the chairman. There was always a time limit within which I had to complete my course work and research. But upon completion (of Ph.D. in my case), my faculty advisor would try to find a position for me, usually at another university. I didn’t stay at the university, but went into high technology industry, but that was my choice.


The faculty advisor would also be evaluated on the basis of the performance of his or her students. So there was accountability at all levels. There were occasional complaints that some faculty member would plagiarize his (or her) students’ work and publish it in his/her own name. It never happened to me though my research was well regarded both academically and in the hi-tech industry, including NASA.


This kind of accountability appears to be lacking at JNU. Many of them, far too many to my taste, end up as junior faculty members at JNU itself. This is unhealthy, for the university will get to be filled with clones of its own aging faculty and get little in the way of fresh ideas. We already see signs of this in the history department at JNU. The other options are politics and NGOs calling themselves think tanks, which are continually in search of funding. There are simply few opportunities.


As one who had contacts with several think tanks in the U.S., including the RAND Corporation and Stanford Research Institute (SRI International), I noticed that much of their funding comes from Government Agencies, notably the Department of Defence and the Armed Forces, and have specific goals. I was myself the recipient of funding from the U.S. Air Force and NASA. The NASA grant was specifically for automating mission control operations using artificial intelligence. They had no use for any ideology or political activism. At JNU, the situation seems to be the opposite of this, student activists are patronised mainly by political parties.


At JNU, political activism appears to be excessive, but serves little or no purpose. It claims to support liberal causes, though it is difficult for an outsider like myself to see support for a convicted terrorist like Afzal Guru or the Tukde-Tukde Gang as liberal. Let us not forget that it was a supposedly liberal President Barrack Obama who ordered the killing of Afzal Guru’s hero, Osama bin Laden. No think tank is needed to support terrorists and anti-national interests. The political activists have little future in the real world of politics, but can at best be pawns of political parties, to be used and discarded.


As far as I know, only one JNU graduate has made it big in politics, Nirmala Sitharaman, the current Defence Minister. Not many will make it to that level. I have to wonder though, if Ms. Sitharaman would be welcome as a speaker at the JNU today, no matter what anyone might say about Freedom of Expression.


Here is another cause for concern: the implacable hostility to the armed forces and national security apparatus in general. They are demonised while Naxals and even Pakistan backed terrorists are glorified. This is what has turned the public against JNU.


To get to the main point, what is at stake is the future of JNU, especially its students. They must be made to realise they have no future in serving as political activists and pawns of political parties. And the faculty should be made more accountable and made to serve as role models to their students. In this, the faculty have the greater responsibility. Some of them will say a university has a higher function than training employable graduates, and must pursue knowledge for its own sake. They can afford to say that because they already have comfortable jobs. It is like a rich man saying “money is not important in life.” But most students at JNU and elsewhere are not so fortunate. Their future lives are at stake.


Something drastic has to be done for the prospects look bleak, especially for the students of JNU. And there may not be much time left. It may be now or never.

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