AMU founder’s dreams still relevant in India

Prof. Tariq Mansoor

By Shams Ahsan

Saudi Gazette

Jeddah — As Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), one of India’s premium central universities, celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, his dreams are as relevant today as they were during the time when he established Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875.

“Sir Syed always propagated tolerance, large-heartedness and scientific temperament. These are as relevant now as they were at his time,” Prof. Tariq Mansoor, AMU vice chancellor, told Saudi Gazette in an interview here.

Prof. Mansoor was here to attend the bicentennial celebrations of AMU’s founder organized by the Jeddah chapter of the university’s alumni, who call themselves “old boys”.

He said that indiscipline and intolerance among some Muslim students and indifference to education among Muslims are some of the main ills plaguing the 120-million-strong community in India.

And while the vice chancellor was giving this interview in Jeddah, a group of armed students allegedly attacked the house of the university’s pro-vice chancellor in India for apparently suspending two students who were found to be involved in an alleged assault on a university official.

The same day as the vice chancellor was in Jeddah, a number of students issued an ultimatum to him and demanded an apology for what they construed as invitations to ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians to attend Sir Syed’s bicentennial celebrations in the university.

“We don’t encourage politicians to come to the campus from any political party unless there are some specific programs,” he explained.

Prof. Mansoor admitted that on-campus hooliganism was a big menace. “Some lumpen elements are always there. Most of the AMU students are academically oriented, but a microscopic minority represents these lumpen elements. These elements give a bad name to the university.”

“Indiscipline is a big problem,” he repeats, adding that Muslims must change their mindset, put stress on education and be tolerant.

“The problems of Muslims are very complicated and complex. There are no simple solutions. However, education is very important,” said Prof. Mansoor.

“AMU can only be a catalyst for Muslim education. The Muslim population is so large, one university cannot cater to the needs of the entire community.”

It has only been six months since he took over the reins of one of the most vibrant universities in India, but his more than 35 years of association with AMU are an advantage in his attempt to identify shortcomings and find solutions.

Mentioning his priorities, Prof. Mansoor said, “The syllabus and the curriculum need to be revised. New emerging areas such as environmental studies should be incorporated in the syllabus. New employment-oriented courses should be started.

“We are starting a college of nursing and a paramedical college. We are planning a diploma in 10 courses such as endoscopy technique, physiotherapy, dental hygiene and ophthalmic assistance. We are also planning to open a veterinary college.”

Talking about Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), Prof. Mansoor said that he is planning to start a scheme for Indians abroad.

Under this scheme children of NRIs will be invited for a 15-day to 3-month internship in the university. This will expose them to the culture and values of AMU.

The vice chancellor has also opened the doors for foreign academics under the AMU Open University program.

“Initially we started this program with alumni from the US. Alumni who are academically oriented come from the US; they give lectures and interact with students. We have organized several programs.

“In the last six months we have invited at least 10 academics in the medical college and engineering college, as well as the management and biochemistry faculties.

“We are going to expand this program to include alumni from Europe and the Middle East.”

AMU has been criticized for resorting to academic inbreeding. The University Grants Commission-appointed audit committee also mentioned this in its recent report.

However, Prof. Mansoor categorically dismissed the criticism.

“There is no academic inbreeding. We have students from 31 states and union territories. There is no question of academic inbreeding. We follow due procedures in selecting our faculty members. Every post is advertised. A nominee of the president of India is also on the selection panel. The selection committee is constituted as per the UGC directive. The selection is also done as per the UGC regulations,” he asserted.

Prof. Mansoor mentioned the university’s top rankings in the three recognized ranking systems: Times Higher Education Ranking System, QS World University Rankings, and Shanghai Ranking.

Prof. Mansoor has big plans for the university and its students. “We must start new employment-oriented courses, put emphasis on research and innovation and inculcate discipline,” he said, adding: “Many of these things will come from within. I can only facilitate and coordinate. We have to introspect and try to improve these things.”

“Children of NRIs can visit the university for a 15-day to three-month internship. This will give them exposure to AMU, to its culture, its values and its campus life. They will develop an emotional attachment,” he said, explaining that other institutions in India are already pursuing this scheme.