Never told students what to wear at JNU: Newly-appointed UGC chairman

Amid the hijab squabble in Karnataka, newly appointed University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman M Jagadesh Kumar said he has never been bothered by “student dress practices” nor as vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University ( JNU) or as a professor at IIT-Delhi.

While refusing to comment on the ongoing feud in Karnataka, Kumar told The Indian Express on Saturdays, that dress is normally influenced by weather conditions and prevailing “social practices”, and at JNU “we have nothing to say about the dress practices of our students”.

“I do not know the background of the incident that took place (in Karnataka). However, looking at my university (JNU), we have no such restrictions on the clothes they wear. I can only talk about my attitude and the practices here,” he said.

“I think clothing has more to do with weather conditions and (someone’s) comfort level… (For example) we adapted (our) clothing that is more suitable for the weather in Delhi. (At JNU) we haven’t done anything new to clothing; it’s a community practice that’s going on and we have nothing to say about our students’ clothing practices,” he said.

“(As) for me, I’m very flexible about the clothes my students have in my classrooms in IIT,” he said.

Kumar, an alumnus of the electrical engineering department of IIT-Madras, chaired a tumultuous tenure as JNU VC – he was appointed to the position in January 2016. Before joining JNU, Kumar was a professor in the electrical engineering department of IIT-Delhi.

Although his five-year term as JNU VC ended last January, the Center asked him to stay on until his successor was chosen. His appointment as the new president of the UGC was announced on Friday.

When asked if there was anything he would like to change about his way of handling protests and resolving conflict with the student community, Kumar said he welcomes criticism, but all he asks from students is that “demonstrations and protests in a meaningful way and should not become violent or illegal.”

As the new head of the UGC, Kumar said his priority would be “rapid implementation of the NEP (National Education Policy)” and that he would ensure that the higher education regulator talks more often with stakeholders and vice chancellors, according to their listens to concerns and challenges and offers solutions.

“We also need to think and prepare ourselves, whether future universities will operate the way we’re used to — the physical universities — or whether we’ll have networked, distributed university systems across the country that give students greater access and equality,” he said.

Sajal Jain
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