New Delhi: Jamia Millia Islamia is trying to shed the widely perceived "superior madrassa" tag, says Vice Chancellor Najeeb Jung, asserting that his job is to position the 90-year-old university as a modern, secular institution of learning for one and all.
"We are not a superior madrassa. I don`t know why many people think we are some kind of a Muslim university," Jung told agency in an interview at his well-appointed campus office. "We want to change that mindset of people. That tag. I am convinced of it.
"We are a great institution. We are modern and secular. There is no other institution in the country as representative of India as Jamia," he said, adding that "the institution was established by great nationalists who were opposed to the idea of Pakistan".
Jung is from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and was a surprise choice to succeed Mushirul Hasan four months ago. The university, established in 1920 by an act of parliament, has around 19,000 students. Jung said his students were from all religious denominations and not just Muslims.
The university celebrates Ramzan and Diwali with equal fervour, he said. "You can see our boys and girls are hanging out in the lawns and cafes. There is no restriction."
Asked what he is going to do different to shed the `Muslim label` of the university, Jung said: "Its very difficult. This is no magic wand. There is no formula that you will use to change it from tomorrow. It will happen over a period of time.
"We need to consolidate what we have. Children come here with hope that they will go with highest education. When they leave they should not go away with the feeling that there is something missing from the side of administration. I am for bigger classrooms, better laboratories.
"That`s why I am working on emotional, social and educational sustenance of students. Students are coming to the institution from the interiors of India.... They must leave as finished article.
"When my students are coming here, they should not feel that they have come to some alien world. We want to tell our students and parents that its a home away from home. They must feel that they are in the company of surrogate parents. My people should learn that they are our children."
He said he was inviting faculty from foreign universities to teach at Jamia that has had such illustrious persons as former Indian president Zakir Hussain as its vice chancellor for 26 years. The faculty exchange programme, Jung feels, will help the cause.
The university has signed agreements with around two dozen foreign institutions. "Its a long serious task (to shed the tag) but I believe in next three-four years it will change.
"We are also trying to bring more students from farflung areas, from Kashmir to Kerala. We are going to open entrance examination centres in Kerala, Bihar, Assam, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal ... from where we can get students.
"Clearly the idea is not to get only Muslims. The idea is universal education."
The vice chancellor, who was pursuing a fellowship at Oxford University when he was sounded out for the job, said he has forgone his salary that would be used to find the education of poor girl students.
"It is going to a corpus and my aim is to fund bright girls who cannot fund their education. And it would not be on religious lines."
Ask him what he has achieved in the last four months since he joined, Jung, who says he is wary of media publicity, said simply: "I now have a great rapport with my students. I take pride in that."
How does the faculty view him as he was earlier seen as an outsider? Jung said: "There is no bias among faculty towards me. It is sometimes good to be an outsider. You can take decisions objectively."