In his 15 months as vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Lt Gen (retd) Zameeruddin Shah has been consistently in the news. Most recently,for issuing edicts (later retracted) on appropriate clothing for students,and on bringing in more retired army men to head committees in the university.
Shah says he is being unfairly criticised by vested interests who are upset by his reform measures. He says he is caught in a pincer grip between those outside who dont like the idea of a Muslim university and those within who resent his tough measures such as expulsion of students which he feels are necessary for setting things right. He says he is focusing on restoring the lost glory of sports at AMU,setting up a hockey academy,updating the curriculum and modernising the mess kitchen (the menu is a hundred years old),increasing accommodation for 2,500 students,making it a green campus in four years,restoring historical buildings with the help of the Aga Khan Foundation,and offering coaching classes for the armed and central police forces exams (we had two candidates this time and both have made it,a 100 per cent success rate so far).
He finds the media coverage about certain controversial decisions distracting. Reports,he says,have described his advisories as a farman thank God it was not called a fatwa.
The decision to bring in a retired general to head a university continues to be criticised by his detractors. Shah says he is proud of his credentials. It is a misconception that military men are undereducated. One network termed me a class 10 pass VC,not knowing that I had joined NDA after Senior Cambridge and subsequently obtained my MSc from Madras University and an MPhil from Indore University. I have also taught in and headed several institutions of learning in the Army,so I do not lack academic experience, Shah says,in an interview to The Indian Express.
Management is the forte of army officers. If you have a vice chancellor who is an academic and an administrator,is there a problem? In the ridiculous argument that why are academic institutions being headed by non-academics? A professor cannot head the military or police force,the complainant is very right in the latter part of his assertion. If he were given military responsibilities,he would bring disaster to himself and his command.
Asked if the government could contemplate sending an army man or even a civil servant to Delhi University or any other central university,he says,The situations faced by AMU or Jamia Millia are different. The other universities you have mentioned have never faced the kind of unfortunate violence that AMU and Jamia have witnessed. Did you know that Najeeb Jung (former VC of Jamia Millia) was nearly murdered? And that the vice chancellors lodge at AMU was burnt down,all because of the reign of terror let loose by some students?
He says someone needed to take tough decisions as the downward slide of Aligarh Muslim University had to be halted. It chose a military man with a long track record of services not only in war and insurgencies but also in serving and heading institutions of learning in the Army.
Speaking on the dress code,for which a notice was first sent out in April and was then followed by one that girls should wear salwar kameeez with dupatta (withdrawn two days later once it was criticised),Shah emphasises tahzeeb or the traditions of AMU,and the Muslim ethos,which he says is accepted by non-Muslims in AMU. If you dont believe it,ask them. They would tell you it is outsiders who want to disturb our interwoven fabric.
Shah says he doesnt want to revert to the burqa but wants certain traditions observed. Parents and students seeking admission know they will be entering an environment with a Muslim flavour. The bulk of our students are from conservative Muslim families and dresses worn should not undermine Muslim culture or hurt their sensibilities. This does not mean we want to revert to the burqa, he says.
I myself studied at St Josephs College,Nainital… an institution with a Christian ethos. It frankly did me no harm; in fact,it strengthened my beliefs in my faith.
He has been under pressure to reverse an earlier convention on not allowing students from Womens College to attend coaching classes or the Maulana Azad Library. He says that needs to continue,as all books girls need would be made available,and because the 2-km road from the college to the library is frequented by chain snatchers,eve-teasers and criminals. He says he wrote to the parents of the girls on June 10,asking them if they would take responsibility for their girls going to the library or coaching classes. Not a single parent has written back to grant permission,he says.
But why would adult girl students need their parents permission? Parents send their young girls to us on the assumption that they will be fully secure. Many of them are from rural areas and have never been to a city before. We cannot take the responsibility of exposing them to the outside world without parental consent.
Shah says he wants to make AMU Indias best university by 2016. He says he has got the alumni to fund at least 100 classrooms to be turned into smart classrooms.
On the much debated decision to expel the students union president on grounds of indiscipline and financial irregularity,Shah says,Students union leaders use it as a launchpad into politics. They are financed by faculty and disgruntled politicians. Elections were held but the student leaders were kept on a tight leash.