Amid the hijab row in Karnataka, newly appointed chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), M Jagadesh Kumar, said he has never been bothered by “students’ clothing practices”, either as the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) or as a professor at IIT-Delhi. While he refused to comment on the ongoing row in Karnataka, Kumar told The Indian Express on Saturday that clothing is normally influenced by weather conditions and prevalent “societal practice”, and at JNU “we have nothing to say about our students’ clothing practices”. “I do not know the background of the incident that took place (in Karnataka). However, if we look at my university (JNU), we do not have any such restrictions on what clothes they wear. I can only talk about my institution and the practices here,” he said. “I think clothes have more to do with weather conditions and (one’s) comfort level… (For instance) we have adapted (our) clothing (and) that is more suitable to Delhi weather. (At JNU) we have not done anything new to clothing; it is a societal practice that is going on and we have nothing to say about our students’ clothing practices,” he said. “(As) for me, I am very flexible towards the clothing that my students have in my classrooms in IIT,” he said. Kumar, an alumnus of IIT-Madras’s electrical engineering department, presided over a tumultuous tenure as JNU V-C – he was appointed to the post in January 2016. Before joining JNU, Kumar was serving as professor in IIT-Delhi’s electrical engineering department.
Although his five-year term as JNU V-C ended in January last year, the Centre asked him to stay on till his successor was picked. His appointment as the new UGC chairman was announced Friday.
Asked whether there was anything he would like to change about his style of handling protests and resolving conflict with the student community, Kumar said he welcomes criticism, but all he asks of students is that “demonstrations and protests should be done in a meaningful way and should not become violent or unlawful.”
As the new UGC head, Kumar said his priority would be “speedy implementation of the NEP (National Education Policy)” and that he would ensure that the higher education regulator talks more frequently to stakeholders and vice-chancellors, listens to their concerns and challenges, and provides solutions.
“We also need to think and prepare ourselves, whether future universities are going to work the way we are used to – the physical universities – or are we going to have networked distributed universities systems across the country providing better access and equity to students,” he said.