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Vice-Chancellor, NLSIU: Yes, Permitted

Prof. (Dr.) R. Ventaka Rao has been the Vice-Chancellor of NLSIU since 2009. The Vice-Chancellor has a bird’s -eye view of Law School and the power to effect change. Quirk met the Prof. Rao in his office on September 18th, 2015 to gain an insight into his opinions about the present and future of Law School.

Are there any aspects of the student body that you particularly appreciate?

I appreciate not any aspect, but many aspects of the student body. The debating culture that Badrinarayanan Seetharaman (Batch of 2013) started is marvellous. He started it four years ago and now look at the metamorphosis that we have witnessed. Anil Sebastian Pulickel and Aniruddha Basu are God-sent. They are like the Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid of debating. The idea of debating has caught on and it has come to stay. The way NLS debates is something to be proud of. When I walk back daily and see students preparing for debates, it is a visual splendor. I used to be a student and it used to be hectic even without all the gadgets of today. How you find that extra minute for everything is amazing. I always believe it is only a busy person who finds time. If somebody says he doesn’t have time it means he doesn’t know how to organize his time and it is just what we call bahana or excuse. The SBA initiative where senior students mentor the juniors is something extraordinary. This culture of when a first year joins and in the first fifteen days we make them feel at home and part of the family of National Law School is in my opinion the unique practice of our college. That’s the aspect I like the most.

What is your short term vision and long term vision for Law School?

I always say a vision requires revision because we are in a world where today’s knowledge is tomorrow’s ignorance. The pace at which things are moving is amazing and therefore my only vision is to live up to the ever increasing and ever demanding expectations of the stakeholders, including my students. The expectations of parents, judges, jurists is something that has to be seen to be believed and my vision in the short term and long term is to firmly put NLS at the top place, where it deserves to be.

In the long term, a juxtaposition of science, technology and law is the need. Just to illustrate, you can’t study technology or engineering in isolation without having knowledge of law. Now there is DNA profiling and genetic engineering. Therefore NLS in the next decade would be focusing on the interplay of law, science and technology. The second priority is restoring the confidence level of people in the various institutions which our society has so assiduously built. When I look at the scenario I ask myself if there is a crisis of confidence in our institutions, like our electoral democracy, judicial system etc. The answer to how to restore it seems to be to focus on good governance. That’s the reason we have started the MPP course. This is my long term vision for the college, because people tell me if anyone can do it, it is only NLS and with all humility,  I feel proud of this institution.

What are the daily challenges you encounter in running your office?

Every challenge is an opportunity for me. Therefore I don’t feel like I’m encountering any challenges at all. Even when students come to me I always feel every student has a problem, but the student itself is not the problem. It all depends on how you look at it. Even if students come to me at 11PM in the night, I welcome them with a smile because I want them to go back with a smile. So every challenge is an opportunity. A school teacher of mine taught me one fundamental dictum of Winston Churchill: A successful person is one who finds an opportunity in a calamity and an unsuccessful person is one who sees a calamity in an opportunity.

I don’t really find any daily challenge in my job. If you join a job you like, you never work at all. Look at the way you people work for twenty five hours a day for Spiritus and Admit One, and at 9AM you are back in the class even when your body metabolism orders you to rest. This shows you have the spirit and I try to imbibe values like that. The only challenge is to keep NLS on the highest pedestal. If angels fall, it makes news, and NLS is of angelic proportions. No doubt about it.

Some sections within the NLS community believe that NLS has been experiencing falling standards, both in terms of students and faculty. What is your opinion on the same?

I completely disagree with it.  First, let me focus on students. The top ranking students come to NLS out of the 40,000 seekers. And these students are amazingly talented. Maybe this is my ego but year after year I find that standards are going up. But perhaps expectations are going up and greater the expectations greater the disappointment. Second, we have some of the best faculty at NLS. There are some faculty members who have been associated with Law School right from the day of it’s baptism. Like the founding fathers of constitutions they are the founding fathers of NLS. Show me one law school where you have in succession three Chief Justice’s of India working as faculty members. Marc Galanter said that NLS is in the danger of becoming victim of its own success. It all depends on how you look at it and therefore I don’t subscribe to the view that standards are falling.

In light of some really good colleges in the recent years do you believe that NLS would continue to maintain its foremost position? 

There are many good institutions now and I think the presence of such institutions is very good. It prevents us from becoming complacent. I also think that an achievement becomes meaningless once you achieve it. An institution like NLS cannot bank on its past. The moment you try to bank on the past you become fossilized, anachronistic, and out of circulation. The healthy competition we have from other institutions always motivates us to be above them. My final statement in this regard is that NLS is imitated by many but bettered by none. It is like a pole star, it will continue to be a pole star.

Our college is a highly liberated and open campus, but at this moment there is a raging discussion happening within the student body about how, in some some cases, the attitude of college administration, more particularly the college guards and our mess/disciplinary committees, is highly sexist. Were you aware about this and what is your opinion on this?

I was not aware about this. We have to understand that NLS is part of a larger society. I have seen many institutions, and comparatively, our college is very liberal. I also believe that a raging discussion is a positive sign. The word sexist does not exist in my lexicon. As far as guards are concerned, whenever there has been a complaint regarding their attitudes, action has been taken immediately. Our college is a small place, where everyone knows each other and speaks without any prejudices. Law School is a place where liberty, in the holistic sense of the term, is granted and that’s its brand value. If there is any problem, my office is always open. There is no iron curtain and no ungodly hour. My dictum has always been passion for what I do and compassion for whom I do. Students are welcome to come anytime and meet me regarding any issue.

It would be wrong to assume that everything is perfect. That would indeed make Marc Galanter’s statement true. At a very basic level, what problems would you identify as existing problems in NLS?

I believe that perfection is always an ideal. If you think everything is perfect then unwittingly complacency will seep in. Sometimes I ask myself, are we really coping with expectations and demands of the course curriculum and delivery system in classroom? Are we responding to the bigger things students aspire towards? I’m always cognizant of this fact and it keeps me on my toes. If we fail to meet the expectations of student community, then something is wrong with us and not the students. I also want students to remember one thing. Please always remember standard of life is more important that standard of living.

Sometimes students get frustrated at institutions in our college but feel they shouldn’t raise their voice for they are afraid. A previous edition of Quirk from 2005 carries an article by a foreign exchange student from Osgoode Law School wherein he says that he felt no revolutionary zeal at NLS. What would is your message to such students?

There is a similar debate raging all over the country. Have students lost their revolutionary zeal and have they also started believing that change will come through evolution and not through revolution? Everyone says our defiant spirit of the 70s and 90s is no longer found. I respectfully disagree. Today students are not prepared to settle for even the second best and they only want the best. We were never this aspirational, we were content with what we were getting. I think their revolutionary zeal is not patently manifested but latent and if one understands the body language of the students, they will be able to see the fire and spark in them.

I also think students in NLS do not have any problem with raising their voice against issues. They may not raise their voice collectively, but individually my students openly discuss with me performance of different stakeholders. I always give them a free hand because I approach any issue with an open mind. Many times in the past they have raised their voice and I have done my best to solve their problems.

Published in Conversations


  1. Sidharth Chauhan Sidharth Chauhan

    A Vice-Chancellor is supposed to be both the academic and administrative head of an educational institution. Prof. R. Venkata Rao has certainly been proactive on the administrative front, especially in terms of ensuring quick approvals and generous financial support for student activities, hosting conferences as well as authorizing fresh construction. These are tangible goods which are immediately visible to stakeholders such as current students, administrative staff and members of NLSIU’s governing bodies. However, his performance on the academic side has been horrendous and undeniably the worst among the five heads of institution that NLSIU has had so far. There has not been a regularisation of faculty members since 2006. This means that substantial reliance has been placed on teachers in ad-hoc positions for several years. Barring a few exceptions, these ad-hoc teachers either consist of recent LL.M. graduates (who barely have any exposure in the subjects that they are asked to teach) or retired professors from larger universities who are simply not accustomed to the intensive academic environment that had been painstakingly cultivated at NLSIU. This has led to sub-standard teaching and evaluation in most of the mandatory courses. The best faculty members have either retired or left for other institutions, thereby only leaving a handful of teachers who are truly committed to academic excellence. In the long run, the full-time faculty is the true backbone of the institution.

    There is also the myth that a highly selective admissions process ensures that the best students are attracted to the institution. While the applicant pool for the CLAT exam has been increasing, there is no guarantee that this is correlated with better potential for learning among incoming students. In fact, there have been numerous anomalies in the CLAT process in recent years which are reason enough to cast doubts on the presumptive quality of students. Furthermore, the highly selective nature of the school has bred a misguided sense of complacency among students. Current students assume that academic and professional success will follow simply because of their admission in a prestigious institution. This disincentivizes students from putting in the effort required to improve their comprehension, research and articulation skills. In a bid to be popular with students, Prof. Venkata Rao has repeatedly used his personal discretion to grant numerous concessions such as undue extension of term paper deadlines, condonation of massive attendance shortages and worst of all the untrammeled use of the provisions for re-evaluation of written exams so as to ensure that students get passing marks despite having initially failed by big margins. This is nothing short of academic corruption and has damaged both the institution and the students’ prospects in the long-run. Till date, the student body at NLSIU has not initiated an honest public conversation about these malpractices. It is easy to be bought over with such short-term doles. However, in the long run his tenure will prove to be disastrous for the school. I say this as a concerned alumnus and not because of my termination from an ad-hoc teaching position in February 2013.

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