Can a change of guard get NLU Assam back on track?

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The National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam has seen its fair share of tumult over the past couple of years.

The University’s students have, on more than one occasion, highlighted the administration’s failure to provide them with adequate facilities. This, despite the fact that the annual fees at the University is one of the highest among the CLAT law schools.

Last week, Prof JS Patil, founding Vice-Chancellor of Karnataka State Law University (KSLU), took charge as the new Vice Chancellor of NLUJAA. The question is, will the appointment of Prof Patil prove to be a turning point in the history of the University?

At this point, it is relevant to delve into the troubled past of the fledgling NLU.

In September 2014, the students had gone on a hunger strike to protest the state of affairs at NLUJAA. The dramatically titled A Saga of Grieved Souls, a memorandum on the state of affairs at the university, highlighted the absence of permanent faculty, insufficient books in the library, and lack of medical facilities, among other problems. At that point, the University did not even have a Vice-Chancellor.

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Prof Vijender Kumar, who is now VC of MNLU Nagpur

In stepped former NALSAR Registrar Prof Vijender Kumar, who managed to steer the University to relative safety after making several changes.

However, towards the end of his tenure in May this year, the University would be hit with another controversy. This time, the students protested the University’s decision not to refund the Student Bar Association fees collected over the years, when there was no Student Bar to speak of. They were also miffed with the delay in shifting to the new campus in Amingaon, which was scheduled for December 2015. During that protest, things got rather ugly, with police forces being deployed on campus.

Prof Kumar would then shift to the new Maharashtra National Law University in Nagpur, with Professor Yugal Kishore taking over as ad-hoc Vice-Chancellor. Prof Kishore had been holding the post till October 5, when Prof Patil took charge.

The newly appointed Vice-Chancellor has a fair bit of administrative experience, apart from having been an academician for almost forty years. He started his career in 1979 at the law department in Mysore University. He has also served stints at the Universities of Dharwad and Gulbarga in Karnataka. Prof Patil is credited with the formation of KSLU, to which over 92 law colleges in the state are affiliated.

On his vision for NLUJAA, he says,

“I am a very ambitious person. I want to transform NLU Assam into one of the most reputed and vibrant law universities in the country. With my experience at KSLU, I should be able to build this institution into a university wherein we provide world standard quality legal education and produce graduates who put service before self. I want to transform the North-East into a legally conscious society, because we are the only NLU in this region.”

Ambitious indeed.

But first, there are smaller fish to fry, particularly with respect to fulfilling his students’ demands. On how he plans to resolve the friction between the administration and the students, he says,

“I am going to every classroom and talking to the students. According to me, these are not very big issues.

I will talk with the students and resolve the issues. We have to cater to the needs of the students and see to it that they get all the facilities required.”

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Prof JS Patil expects NLUJAA to shift to the new campus in January

The shift to the new campus, he says, will most likely happen when the University reopens for its next semester, in January 2017.

“The construction is in a good phase and we should be able to move into the new campus soon. We haven’t finalized a date yet, but we should be able to start our next semester in January from the new campus.

That is the understanding we have with the Chief Justice and the Assam government.

The academic block and administrative block are already completed. The interiors for the boys and girls hostels have to be worked out; that will be done in a month or two.”

For now, it is fingers crossed for the only NLU in the North-East.