Traveling in Greece (many years ago, before the Eurozone crisis and all that) one of the few words that I was encouraged to recognize was ΠΑΝΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΙΟ, the word for University (for the somewhat pragmatic and mundane reason so I could identify the signs to find my way back to my host…).

PANEPISTEMIO... It has always struck me that it’s literal meaning, as a place where “All the body of ideas that determine the knowledge that is intellectually certain at any particular time” has a satisfying completeness. And so much more appropriate for what it is we should want to be… “University” is too all encompassing and doesn’t quite focus on the knowledge that we hold so dear as part of what defines us.

This introspection comes at the cusp of the 11th and the 12th five-year plans, when it is time to start reflecting on where we want to be in the years to come. How we visualize our University in the next ten, twenty years… that determines the course of action we must take now. What new branches of knowledge we should propose to explore, what new fields of study we should embark upon, and what new disciplines we must forge…

The University is today composed of 10 Schools of study that contain, severally, some 15 or so Departments. And in addition, there are Centres both inside and outside the School framework. What we study, how we train the new generations, how we organize ourselves are all issues that testify to our sense of common purpose. To convert our institution into one where all disciplines flourish will take some doing, and given our framework, may not even be possible now. But the Pan-Epistemic ideal is one that I believe is worth striving for.

We should try. Do we have too few Schools? How many is too many? What do we need? Where are our (many) gap areas?  Is our structure robust enough to allow us the academic framework we need? What can we do to strengthen this? How many students should we have? Do we teach enough? Too much? All questions that are easy enough to pose, but not quite so easy to figure out sustainable answers to… I know I have posted along somewhat similar lines recently, but given that this is a constant preoccupation, I guess some repetition is inevitable. And of course, its not all repetition.

One general aim we need to keep in mind is that we should increase the number of students on campus. After we have built sufficient hostels of course, but the fact is that we must increase the size of the student body. That can’t be done simply by increasing the numbers in each class- sometimes there are just not that many takers for a given subject- but we also need to worry about what academic disciplines are attractive for those seeking education.

A number of cross-disciplinary chimeras have arisen in recent years, some with the benefit of clergy and some without. In the fitness of time they will- like the languages I wrote about in an earlier post- evolve into other disciplines, some will die, others will be born, but we do not, now, have the luxury of time. Some response to let me know what you feel is needed could help us evolve a plan to present to the UGC when they decide to ask us to make a proposal for the XIIth Five Year Plan. More “Community College” type courses? An emphasis on issues of the environment? Particle physics? Gender Studies? More M. Tech. programmes? Less of them? P G Diplomas? Brain science? Post Genomics? Let me know.


6 thoughts on “ΠΑΝΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΙΟ

  1. I think teaching the scientific method to everybody is important, including the Social Science and Humanities students. I introduced “History, Philosophy and Methodolgy of Science” in IMSc and IMA. Unfortunately the students who opted for it were only in Physics, Chem, Math and Bio. I had two students from the humanities in three years. The American University in Cairo has five courses running in parallel on the scientific method for 200 students! I wonder why the method is thought of as restricted to science and not the whole thinking process! Now that would be Pan-epistemic.

  2. This post ponders on the plans for the future keeping our University’s growth in mind in general and XII plan in particular. It is important that we shoulder reponsibility to train more students. To think of new schools and new disciplines, we must first assess where are our strengths. The Departments that have been able to cater to a number of cross-disciplinary chimeras during the XI plan could be assessed through a rigorous and meticulous evlauation system. It may emerge that some of these chimeras have closer links to at least one of the subjects that we have nurtured over years. We may groom such chimeras with utmost care (by recruiting right faculty for such expansion) and develop them into a discipline/ Department as we move along. Until a chimera matures to a discipline, it needs to be nurtured by a present Department/School. We need not be in a hurry to increase the number of schools. To confer school status to a Department we need to set academic bench marks, student strength, faculty strength and so on (and not by popularity of the term in public). Balance need to be maintained in this process. A School with 60-odd faculty and 10-times students strength, and a School with 10-times less the number of faculty and students have equal say in the decision making process in the University. The Departments/Schools may have to go through a SWOT analysis to identify the chimeras that require grooming in the next couple of years.

  3. We have too few schools perhaps or too many, depending on how you look at it. Either way it negatively impacts the democratic institutions of the university at various levels by skewing them in favor of one cluster of disciplines or the other. Administering all the departments of humanities or social sciences under one school is just not a good idea.

    Attempts at increasing student strength should be planned and executed with extreme caution. Over the years there has been a steady decline in the quality of our intake as compared to quantity. We now have larger classes but far less teaching, partly because quality of student intake imposes severe restrictions on how much or what can be taught.

    A dedicated school for “continuing education” offering courses in liberal arts, history of science and ideas, scientific methodology and various skills and applied technologies is worth considering. Both faculty and graduate students could be involved in the teaching programs of the school. It could generate substantial revenues for the university while increasing its visibility with a whole new strata of clientele.

    We also need to worry about basic infrastructure and accountability with respect to its maintenance: a place to eat without worrying about Salmonella infections and usable restrooms; basic medical facilities in case of emergencies.

  4. Man will often stumble on the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and proceed- Bertrand Russell

    “To convert our institution into one where all disciplines flourish will take some doing, and given our framework, may not even be possible now. But the Pan-Epistemic ideal is one that I believe is worth striving for.”

    Whatever you do, we attain equilibrium with the rest of the country very promptly. It is certainly possible to have several excellent departments but I doubt if it will ever be possible to have all the departments as good enough. It is certainly not worth even trying for this goal. Lady luck is not on your side.

    Contrary to the popular belief, money is not the problem. We did excellent work when money was scarce and the quality did not improve when lots of money came. It is the people who does work and it is the people who are responsible for the quality. You will always end up with a mix (this is the equilibrium mix) of people: some serious and some not at all serious. We have professor(s) who has not taken a single class in the last four years- can anything be done? The answer, unfortunately, is no. We have to live with this system. We have, also, one-man centre, devoted to the promotion of some obscure science with no teaching or training involved. Could this have been stopped? The answer, fortunately, is yes.

    On the other hand it is still possible to develop excellence under trying conditions. To paraphrase an ancient IBM advertisement, we do not know how does it happen and far less understand why does it show up at the most unexpected places and times. We need to recognise the “good” from the “evil” and gently encourage the “good”. That is all it takes to make a good university a great university.

    Creating more departments or schools does not help. It is time of introspection and we can all see clearly what we have achieved so far. If we are reasonable, we shall not need a vote to prove 2+2=5. We must ask ourselves now! what we have done to prove ourselves! Recently I heard that one of our toddler school has achieved international fame. Why we are resisting tooth and nail “student evaluation of the teachers” for last 10 years or so? Trivial questions always have non-trivial answers.

    Last time we received support from UPE to run several teaching programs and some of them were promptly shut down after the UPE grant was over. It is time to see what were the claims made at the beginning and how much of that objective was achieved.

    Solutions? Well, there are several:

    1. Merge student selection (the infamous entrance examination) with the JNU or other national selection exams. You will save some money at least (and I am not talking of other things for the time being). You will at least learn who are the people against this and why.

    2. Bring transparency in the teacher selection process (and this will be the least controversial reforms)

    3. Maintain teacher attendance (hornet’s nest! it will be fun)

    4. make decent class rooms centrally maintained and ensure compliance (the less said the better).

    5. talk to the teachers, often. It will save some headache later.

    6. Get a decent canteen for all (easier said than done)

    7. Make all departments take 50 students for each M.Sc. program.

    8. Get decent M.Sc. labs for all schools. I suggest a central M.Sc. teaching lab building (for all the schools) free from the interferences of the heads and deans. When you make a building, put the plan on the net and invite comments and suggestions.

    9. Get a decent central instrument lab and put all items from univ funds costing more than 10 lakhs there.

    10. Computerise the F&A section. We have been trying to do this for more than 15 years. Perhaps we cannot trust the dumb machines with so much money. But no harm just trying- it will be illuminating!

  5. Choice 1: Let things evolve along a chaotic path – schools, more of them, centres within schools, centres outside schools (and orphaned graduates, called to the dais on graduation day by the pro-VC rather than their academic heads..), associated institutions, external centres, undergraduate colleges with Principals and all..

    Choice 2: Slow, orderly growth – seemingly static – schools with or without departments, centres outside schools with facilities for interdisciplinary research but no faculty or students which they can call their own..

    Choice 1 would require a large number of highly talented and resourceful people at all levels. It will never lead to any where near equilibrium. Choice 2 will produce good results even with more or less average people (not necessarily mediocre) and the system will seem to be close to equilibrium though not really there, for true equilibrium is akin to death.

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