It is New Year once again! Year 2017. I wish you all a Happy, Peaceful and Contentment-filled New Year. May our world witness much-desired peace and harmony, all over.
I tend to look back at 2016 and see what was it like for me.
Actually, it started with my trip to Seattle University (SU) in Washington, USA. I flew to the US on 31 December 2015, and reached Seattle University on 1 January morning 2016 (US time). A 68-year old young man sporting a white beard and a red t-shirt was waiting for me outside the Seattle airport. But to get to the point where he was awaiting this little LeRoux Chair (Winter) 2016, was a herculean task. And with no mobile (with active connection) in my possession, it was real adventure!
Thanks to Prof. Russel Powell, Associate Provost for Global Engagement, and the SU administration. They selected me as their prestigious LeRoux Chair. I was nervous. I was adamant not to go to the US at that time and in my given condition. Did not want to go. But Russel would have none of it. Though I had sent the CVs of two great scholars from St Josephs College Bangalore, Russel wanted me. Then I sent four CVs of Jesuits from St Josephs College. After going through the CVs of all four of us, Russel clearly told there was only one choice, and ‘get ready!’ That was the only time I prayed so hard to God for the negative – that my plan of course (to be taught by me at SU) be rejected by their screening committee. No, it was not. Then I prayed that my visa application be rejected. I was happy when the person in front of me in the queue was grilled for almost 20 minutes by the Chennai Consulate. But -to my horror- when my turn came, the same Vice Consul spent just about two minutes, and seemed pleased, congratulated me, and told me that she would recommend me for the visa! That was the moment of determination. Then, there was no looking back.
Before I forget, I must thank Dr Etienne for his constant support and filling me with Vitamin C (‘C’ for Courage).He went out of his way to help me develop a course plan, suggesting readings, and also help clarify my LeRoux Lecture concepts and plans.
I am not sure how well did I vindicate the SU’s faith in me as LeRoux Chair. But my SU students were extremely happy with my taught module. Their anonymous feedback about me to the Student Evaluation (of teachers) says that as much. While one said she wanted to visit India and explore its culture and cinema, two others mentioned in the same anonymous feedback that they would love to pursue a Masters course in Film Studies! And many more things. I was happy.
The LeRoux Lecture on 2 March 2016 was well attended – mostly all professors from SU and a few friends of Su. It was supposed to be a 40 minutes lecture followed by 20 minutes of Q&A. I thought that the time was too short – that is, after speaking 45 minutes. The question hour went on for almost 40 minutes, and there were more questions than I could handle. But to be frank, I still believe, I could have done it differently, could have done it better.
Above all, that was a huge learning experience for me. Learning about American university administration, University-Community relationships (clear distinction unlike our Gordian knots here!), American pedagogy, American student culture, their campus culture, their faculty atmosphere, Endowed Lectures, etc. Additionally, I travelled quite a bit. Paid two visits to California – one in January to Berkley and around (like Santa Clara, Stanford, Google, Facebook, San Francisco, etc.). The second in March to LA – to visit Hollywood. I spent some meaningful time at Loyola Marymount University, Sony Studios (Columbia and others) and above all Universal Studios, Venice Beach, my friend from Hollywood Zach Miller, and what more! Thanks to Eddie Siebert. Then there was a visit to Oregon state – went driving – visiting waterfalls and other territories. I couldn’t ask for more. Met some Indian friends. Had dinners and lunches. Made friends – some for life. Watched Films and documentaries. Sight-seeing and socialising.
One thing I missed – research. Because my Masters students at St Josephs had not completed their dissertation, I had to guide them from SU! That was a bit too much. To guide about 10 students, to read their progress and suggest corrections, and to tend to my own course module, LeRoux Lecture, and the precious new interest that I had found, it needed something special. I was not upto it. I could have done more. I could have done better. I should have published at least one research paper as part of my LeRoux Chair.
Never mind. I did something else.
I returned to India towards the end of March 2016. Soon after me came a team of five SU professors as part of their week-long Immersion Programme. I was their primary contact and host (though they were the SJC guests). That meant quite a lot in terms of organising an international team programme.
Most of my April, I spent in the North Eastern parts of India – Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Manipur. My maiden visit. Wow! What a lovely place, people, and cultures! Really fascinating.
When I returned from the North East to SJC in early May, there were a couple of Call for Papers to submit papers for research. That’s when I decided this was a good chance to publish, get my act together. No matter what life is like at home. Never mind the painful and harrowing experiences. Some people -in their avatars- can inadvertently be great motivators for reasons totally opposite. I ran the gauntlet.
Thanks to Dr Etienne Rassendren (English Department) and Dr Michael Rajamathi (Chemistry Dept). Their commitment to research gave me that added fillip. In addition, in our College Research Centre Committee, I had a team of great researchers, who in addition to their regular teaching hours and other roles as mentors, heads, and so on, continue to research and publish. Researchers by passion. I being Director of that Research Centre and convenor of the Research Committee meetings, it was only appropriate that I lead by example. Earlier -at SJC- I was denied a chance to guide Ph.D.s , even though the otherwise bureaucratic Bangalore University was willing to empanel me as research guide with them (the un-academic decision was to be followed by another harsh, highly self-motivated, irrational, and blind denial in the current year). I resolved to do something radical, something different. More about it at an appropriate time in months to come. And all my energy was channelised into research. And success came my way through painful, sleep-missing, desk-sticking hard work. Research.
At the end of the calendar year, I have two papers (to be) published in international journals. One of them is already published (a few days ago). Another could take at least three-four more months before going public. But the articles are accepted.Impact Factor matters!
Then there are two more research papers accepted for presentation in their national or international conferences, to be followed by publication. So, they are under research. A fifth paper on social media and family relationships has been under research since June; should be complete by February-March.
In the meantime, two more things came on my way – unwanted. A committee to study the possibilities of upgrading St Josephs Colleges (SJC, Evening College, and College of Commerce) to Deemed University status was entrusted to me. I accepted. While this was going on, two more committees were formed to i) formulate Higher Education Policy for SJC and its sister colleges, as well as a ii) Research Policy to be implemented in these colleges. And these were given to me. I got caught/ choked in the pressure cooker of these committees.
But I had great teams of academicians at SJC to work with me and guide me – Drs Michael Rajamathi, Etienne Rassendren, Cheriyan Alexander, Dr Sandra Misquith, and Ronald Mascarenhas just to mention a few. Because of these two committees, I have read and I know (a bit of) UGCs policies on higher education, Deemed Universities, research, APIs, etc. If and when SJCs become a Deemed University, I may not be here (almost certainly); when the Higher Education Policy and Research Policy are implemented fully, I may not be here (almost certainly, though the signs of implementation have already and half-heartedly begun to show up, and no matter who takes credit for it). That is a good sign. Research must go on. Publications must be done regularly, and in reputed journals. Researchers must be recognised and honoured. Teaching must be scholarly and innovative and put a full-stop to monotonous, unidirectional, and “dictat-orial” classrooms. SJCs should become a University – preferably under a few good academicians -who have worked in higher education and also have published, without resorting to ghost publications or predatory journals- and not bureaucrats, in key positions. I would be the happiest if our planned University gets a lay person (but a reputed scholar with an independent mind and professional outlook) as its first Vice Chancellor. Ultimately, higher education, research, and innovation should be served. And students should benefit.
And that is why my heart beats – so loud and clear. For St Josephs, for higher education, and research, and for students. For quality and for professionalism – that is where our students’ future is opened.